Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

January 1, 2010

Long Canyon, But For How Long?

by Curt Kommer

Experienced local hikers like Sedona Westerner Bob Shuman usually save the Long Canyon hike for the summer. The mature alpine forest of pinion, juniper, Arizona cypress and old growth ponderosa pine, combined with the deep-cut creek bed and steep canyon walls usually guarantee a cool hike on a hot day. Recently, in an effort to see the canyon from a different perspective, Shuman and fellow Westerner Jack Leahy led a group of “Rough-Rider” hikers up the canyon on a chilly December Saturday.

Smiley Trio in Long Canyon. Photo by Gini O’Brien.

Autumn changes these deep canyons. The air is clearer, trees have shed their leaves, and the ground greenery retreats to a fraction of its summer explosions. As the foliage drops away, Long Canyon reveals much about its history. Like much of Red-Rock Country, the four mile trail carves through 400 years (900-1300) of Sinaguan Indian occupation, and, since the 1860’s, the canyon has also been refuge for various bootleggers, smugglers, and explorers, all of whom have left their mark.

Hiking Long Canyon without its summer camouflage, however, also revealed much about this old canyon’s current and future health. Some Westerner members have been walking this canyon for over 20 years: some even helped build the Long Canyon trail, and their keen eyes and experience tell them this: Long Canyon, like all of Red-Rock Country, is a fragile treasure.

This canyon’s potential troubles begin at the trailhead where a golf course and gated community abut hard against the National Forest. Bulldozers rake a nearby hill as development continues, and there are legitimate concerns about the effect this may be having on Long Canyon’s wildlife and water table.

Further on, well into the National Forest, bicycle-tire tracks remain plentiful. Despite prominent signs prohibiting biking on the Long Canyon trail (and other National Forest trails), this continues to be a problem. Biking can dramatically increase erosion on these trails, and when bikers go off trail to avoid steps and other obstacles they can destroy extremely fragile ground cover.

Cryptobiotic soil is part of this ground cover. Literally “hidden life”, it is a concoction of lichen, moss, and bacteria that forms a delicate but effective superstructure for the sandy soil. It resists erosion, fosters other plant growth, and is the dark, grainy lattice-work that covers the luckiest patches of ground. Walking or biking over cryptobiotic soil destroys it, and even nature’s most fervent attempts to repair and regrow this soil can take up to 100 years. The Long Canyon trail revealed many area of obvious damage to the cryptobiotic layer.

As enthusiastic hikers, and stewards of the Sedona wilderness areas, the Westerners realize that every local adventure has the potential to adversely affect the forest. And yet, they hike; and it was agreed by all that the Long Canyon trail was and is a fantastic hike. A hike like this one, where nature reveals its vulnerability, can teach a powerful lesson. The Sedona Westerners listened on this crisp autumn day, and would like to pass on the following:

1. Stay on established trails.
2. Bicycle on designated trails only.
3. Don’t litter.
4. Take a hike, and enjoy it.

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, January 14th, beginning at 7 p.m., at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley.