As the Dogies hikers assembled on a Tuesday morning recently, it was apparent that more apparel was coming out of the hiking bags and on to the huddled bodies. Everyone was prepared for the cool weather, but wind was definitely going to be an added factor that morning. It is well-known Westerner lore that the coldest part of the hike is while standing at the Posse Grounds parking lot and that shedding layers on the trail is always easier than trying to add clothing that was not brought in the first place. Hike leaders Len and Olga Olstrom explained that carpools would round up at the Boynton Canyon trailhead before setting off on a favorite Westerner hike to a unique rock formation known as the Mushroom.
The path hugged the north side of the canyon at the beginning, and because the sun had not shone here yet, the ground was still frozen. As the group progressed past a resort and private homes, the sandy trail opened up and meandered through stands of tall Emory oak and juniper trees, many of which were alligator juniper. Good time was being made as well as lots of chatter and conversation.
Olga and Len led the way up a series of slick rock ledges and some looser, rockier footing. The sun was shining brightly on this location, and there were a few stops for “clothing adjustments” as layers were shed. The vegetation on this open slope had changed to scrub, agaves and lots of prickly pear. Morning coffee break was next on the agenda, and it featured gorgeous views looking west across Boynton Canyon where ice on ledges sparkled and dazzled the eyes.
Onward and upward, twisting and turning along ridges, hikers were treated to walks underneath huge overhangs that dwarfed the humans but featured tiny wonders of hanging plants clinging to bits of moisture in the walls. Vistas of side canyons elicited awe at every turn, and then hikers were back in the trees as the path edged up a steep notch. It was agreed that the moist soil made the going easier here as boots had a better grip than when the loose soil was dry and crumbly. In true Westerner fashion, each member assisted another when a hand was needed. The Mushroom loomed above as each hiker finished the last steps to the top and after a hop, skip and a jump, the group was perched atop this flat topped, narrow- necked formation.
There was plenty of room to spread out for lunch, some in small clutches of conversation, alone, or stretched flat out resting.
The gusty wind made another clothing adjustment necessary, as those extra layers were taken out again. Everyone took time to absorb the magnificent beauty from the 360-degree view; snow seen clinging to the high slopes all around, an adjacent lone, tall ponderosa pine, and the white rugged Coconino sandstone layer rising high above the Mushroom. Squaw Peak was seen in the distance, as were “Hawk’s Head” and “Honey Bear”, aptly named by Westerners. After goodies were shared and lunches finished, came the five-minute call to get ready to go back, and the mention of that great Westerner fib “It’s all down hill from here”.
Olga and Len followed the same route in reverse, but the return never looks exactly the same. Gordon Scott pointed out that canyon live oak in one spot had differently shaped leaves on the same plant, even on the same branch, some leaves lacking the serrated-looking edge of its neighbors. At another location, fossilized tracks were spotted in a sandstone layer and the hikers also noticed a forest of mature manzanita with gorgeous burgundy swirled bark.
With a “horse to the barn” quickening of the pace and a slower rate of conversation, there was still much chatting about holiday plans, travel, and that Westerner favorite, food. The sandy ground that was frozen in the morning had thawed but was not muddy enough to form pounds of extra weight on the boots, so spirits were still light when each hiker reached that last wonderful sight any trek, the cars.
The Westerners always welcome new members! If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website www.sedonawesterners.org. You may also join by attending the next monthly meeting which will be on Thursday, January 14th, beginning at 7 p.m., at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley.