Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

April 2, 2010

Sedona Is Sinking


by Mickey Gershtenson

March 24, 2010, was a wonderful day to go underground and there is nobody else on Planet Earth any better than Paul Lindberg to guide the Sedona Westerners for the day. This was not so much a hike (a total of about 3 miles) but an educational experience for the Trackers – the educational arm of the Westerners. The group was anxious to get started and if you know Paul then you also know that he is the right person to run the show.

John Schleich (far left) & Jerry Walters preparing ropes for descent into Nolan Draw sinkhole. Photo by Mickey Gershtenson.

There are 7 sinkholes in the Sedona area and the Westerners will visit 3 of them this time. The first sinkhole was the less than infamous Sinkhole #4543. It is still in its infancy so we could all easily go down into it and feel the air movement, as well as hear the whoosh of the noise. Paul also explained here that when there is a high pressure the air is going into the sinkhole and the opposite when a low pressure is present the air is coming out. The demonstration was one of the more sophisticated ones of the day with toilet paper being sucked up into the hole as it was a high pressure system. Don’t be concerned as he left no litter.

Next we went to Nolan Draw Sinkhole. This one was our most “exciting” sinkhole of the day as we lowered ourselves on ropes and ladders to get down the first section of the descent. It definitely pumped up the adrenalin for this hearty group as 90% of the hikers went over the edge. We were greeted with both phenomenal sites and, unfortunately, trash. In the true Westerners spirit we spent the first 6.5 “hiker hours” cleaning up junk and then proceeded to see the stalactites, stalagmites, bats, and had our classes. Lindberg first saw the sinkhole about 25 years ago (he says jokingly that he was not the first human to see it as it dates back to the ice age) and he mapped it in November of 2009. There is very little drainage in the sinkhole; therefore it was generally muddy.

Nolan Draw Sinkhole being so old had the distinction of having both sharp edges and many areas that were smooth and rounded at the rim as old sinkholes tend to be; and in this respect it is similar to the Turkey Creek Sinkhole. It also had some scarps – faults that are topographic expressions attributed to the displacement of the land surface by movement along the faults. Fault scarps often contain highly fractured rock of both hard and weak consistency. All of the Sedona area sinkholes have a northwest opening and a predominately southeast exit. We did see this in the 3 sinkholes that we explored.

Paul also pointed out caliche, a sedimentary rock and hardened deposit of calcium carbonate. This calcium carbonate cements together other materials, including gravel, sand, clay, and silt. It is found in arid or semi-arid regions and expecially in the high desert of the western United States and Sonoran Desert.

When the group began its ascent out of the sinkhole everybody pitched in tying bags of trash to the lowered ropes so the “pullers” atop the cliff could handle it from their location. Some of the trash will have to be handled in a different manner.

There was a longer hike to the last of the sinkholes with superb views and nasty cacti. Gini O’Brien used her duct tape (the color was not the best) to repair both boots of one of the other hikers. When we say ‘repair’ it is a real understatement. They were destroyed. While approaching the last sinkhole we saw several trees with mistletoe. Although it looks pretty it kills the tree and it is also a plant parasite which is poisonous to humans, cats and dogs. Red Canyon Sinkhole is the largest of the sinkholes in the Sedona area. It is about 100 feet deep and has an unusual configuration. Unfortunately there is not enough space to discuss this sinkhole at this time.

The Westerners always welcome new members! If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website