Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

October 30, 2009

Westerners See Both Sides of Sterling Pass


by Jan Johnson

On a recent Tuesday morning, the Dogie group of the Sedona Westerners gathered to hike the Sterling Pass Trail. Leader Mickey Gershtenson and co-leader Jan Johnson divided the group with Alan Gore and Joan Scott volunteering to be tailgaters.

Dogie hikes are typically led at a moderate pace and this hike would be about five miles round trip with a significant cumulative elevation gain of 2100 feet.

The Sterling Pass Trail ascent begins immediately and steeply. The trail crosses an unnamed drainage several times as it continues through the remnants of the burned out ponderosa pine forest. The trail was closed for some time following the Brins fire during the summer of 2006. The fire moved downward through the forested mountain and as a result the trail is no longer as shaded as it once was. However, the Forest Service did a great job reestablishing the trail and now hikers are able to enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the sandstone cliffs and rock formations as the trail ascends.

Slickrock below Vultee Arch. Photo by Alan Gore.

Shrub oaks and Bracken Ferns are abundant along the trail and occasionally the red of the Arizona Thistle and Hummingbird Trumpet catch the eye of the observant hiker. The white and purple asters as well as the changing color of the poison ivy are reminders of the autumn even though the temperature is definitely summerlike.

The trail becomes steeper with short switchbacks as hikers approach Sterling Pass, a narrow gap between two towering cliffs. Upon reaching the saddle the group is rewarded with a well-deserved snack break.

Jean Kindig, a Westerner and author of “Sedona Area Places and Names”, writes that Sterling Pass is named for Charles Sterling who was charged and tried for cattle rustling and counterfeiting in 1885. She also mentions that Sterling is memorialized with five place names in Oak Creek Canyon despite being a rather shady character.

Following their rest, the Dogies continue the hike down the other side of the pass into Sterling Canyon. This section of the trail descends steeply through a series of switchbacks. The sun shining on the red canyon walls with the brilliant blue sky in the background is always a breathtaking view. After a descent of about 950 feet the hikers reach the junction with the Vultee Arch Trail and continue on a short distance to a large slick rock area. The leaders point out a plaque on the rock which is dedicated to Gerard and Sylvia Vultee who were killed in a plane crash in the area in 1938. Vultee was a noted aircraft designer from California.

Most of the hikers choose to find a shady spot on the slick rock to rest and have lunch. However, two intrepid Dogies chose to accept Gershtenson’s invitation to continue on to Vultee Arch. It is a short distance but the trail is narrow, rocky and steep, crowded with manzanita and scrub oak bushes. The arch is an impressive sight. It is a sandstone bridge 50 feet long, 40 feet high and about 5 feet wide.

After rejoining the rest of the group Gershtenson announced a contest to guess the number of switchbacks on the descent into Sterling Canyon. Each hiker in turn called out their estimate. There was a wide range of guesses but one person was closest with a guess of 19 while the “official” count was 17. The lucky hiker, Stefka Regelous, was rewarded with a special trail bar.

Soon it was time to pack up and begin the arduous climb through the switchbacks and back to the pass. Following a brief rest the hikers were ready for the last leg of the hike. After the climb up then down and then up again, they were relieved to know it was all downhill from there.

"The Westerners always welcome new members! If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website You may also join by attending the next monthly meeting which will be on Thursday, November 12, beginning at 7 p.m., at the Jewish Synagogue and Community Center."