Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

February 26, 2010

Fay Canyon Overlook Is A Westerner Favorite


by Julie Zabilski

On the last day of January, after several powerful storms had lashed the Sedona area in previous weeks, the Drovers set off in partly cloudy weather to hike the Fay Canyon overlook. This is not to be confused with hiking Fay Canyon, which is almost level and forested -- the overlook is much higher and more challenging than the floor of the canyon.

Westerners Sharon Wilson, Barbara and Len Lewis and others enjoy the January sun atop the Fay Canyon Overlook. Photo by Julie Zabilski.

The Drovers group of the Sedona Westerners hike on Sunday afternoons beginning at 1 pm, which means that although the hikes are often challenging, they are shorter in miles than the Dogies, Mustangs and Rough Rider hikes. They are usually 3-4 hours in length, which allows busy people to take advantage of the outdoor experience.

About two dozen hikers showed up for the hike, so two groups were formed to conform to wilderness guidelines. Kevin O’Connor led one group and Al Vander Peut led the other. Perlina McCombs and Heather Baker were the tailgaters for the groups.

Westerners carpooled out to the trailhead and began the hike along the Bear Mountain trail. It goes north through a sloping meadow scarred with several deep gullies formed from years of rain and snow run-off. Perhaps the cuts were accelerated by cattle overgrazing by ranchers in years past. This grassy section is alive with wildflowers later on in the spring.

The trail quickly climbed steeply up the face of the cliff and O’Connor and Vander Peut set a brisk pace. In one crack in the cliff face, hikers climbed huge boulders like steps in a narrow passage to come out on the fairly flat first bench. Here the Westerners left the official trail and turned eastward on an established social trail which continued up, but far more gradually. This gave people time to cool down a bit after the first steep climb.

The trail followed the contours of the cliffs and, in places was very narrow with a few steep drop-offs along the way. The author has done this hike many times and at several times with patches of ice and snow on the rocks, which added an element of drama. Many cactuses and scrubby shrubs cover the ledges. In some places, trees and shrubs have grown over the trail, or dead trees have fallen down, so new and safer paths must be created to avoid these obstacles.

Everywhere, the views were expansive and fabulous. Most Westerners never tire of the intensity of the color of the red rocks against the blue sky -- it just never gets old!! The groups were approximately at the same level as the top of Doe Mountain, looking down into Fay Canyon most of the way. Off into the distance, the back of Thunder Mountain rose majestically in the clear winter air.

The clouds appeared to thin out and bright sunshine was the order of the day. As hikers arrived at the giant peninsula that comprises the overlook,

some elected to take a small side trip with Vander Peut to explore some caves once used by bootleggers underneath the ship-like overlook. Others sat on the rocks and relaxed to enjoy their snacks while basking in the great scenery.

A few “old hands” took some moments to reminisce about Steve Nahmanson, a friend and former Sedona City Council member, who died while hiking on this very overlook two years ago.

It was then time to start the trip back down to the parking lot far below the mountain. Returning the same way always seems to go faster than the way up, and the two groups made very good time. The clouds began to thicken up a bit, but there was little chance of rain. However, since it was late in the afternoon on a winter day, there were a few clothing adjustments as the sun went down behind the mountains.

By 4:30 pm, everyone was back down at their cars and satisfied with the challenge and beauty of the hike. This hike is a favorite among many Westerners because it has lots of variety, amazing views, and very few other hikers along the way. Although it is slightly less than four miles, it feels longer and more dramatic than most. A great hike almost any time of the year!

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, March 11th, beginning at 7 p.m., at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley.