Mustangs Launch a New Hiking Season
The Sedona Westerners inaugurated the 2010-2011 hiking season on Sep. 9 with a 5.2 mile climb to Ritter Butte via the Harding Spring Trail. Meeting at the Posse Ground for the 8 am sign-in, club members carpooled to the trailhead near Cave Springs in upper Oak Creek Canyon. Newcomers as well as old hands were briefed on the club's safety procedures by Mustang Boss Andy Beeler, and a preview of the route was given by leader Jerry Walters. It was a beautiful day for a hike.
The Westerners left the pavement of US 89A at an elevation of 5165 feet and followed a well-marked trail switching back and forth through a mixed forest of pine and spruce. Late-season Indian paintbrush and penstemon were still in evidence. As with most of the trails on the east side of Oak Creek Canyon, the hard part comes first. The leaders were careful to set a comfortable pace with frequent rest and water breaks on the way. About an hour and 900 vertical feet later, the Mogollon Rim was attained.
The Rim at this point offers a beautiful view across the canyon to eroded yellowish sandstone cliffs and, back toward Sedona, green treetops and a winding canyon road. It was a perfect spot for the group's first real break. The break began with members scattering into the woods for a signature Sedona Westerners pit stop. Motto: "There's no waiting in line up here, is there?" Following the pit stop, hikers took in the views and enjoyed a well-earned snack.
Hike leaders with the Westerners always scout the trail in advance, and do some research as well. Sharing a bit of the Harding history, Jerry Walters told the group that the trail was blazed in the 1880's by Colonel O. P. Harding, who homesteaded land and planted fruit trees near the present Cave Spring Campground. Basically, he made the trail in order to shorten his trek to Flagstaff. Later users included US Forest Service crews and firefighters. About halfway up the climb, hikers passed remnants of "hitching post" style railings which anchored pumps for fighting fires on the Mogollon Rim with water drawn from Oak Creek, far below.
From the vista where the hikers enjoyed their first snack, the trail becomes uncertain, as most hikers apparently return the way they came at this point. With the aid of their previous scouting of the route, the leaders led the group through a gradually up-sloping pine forest for a mile or more. Since the terrain is forested and otherwise pretty featureless, Andy Beeler gave a short and informative talk on "how not to get lost in this kind of place."
The destination, Ritter Butte, emerges from the forest suddenly. It is not prominent, and a short scamper brought the group to the top. Sticking out above the trees, Ritter Butte offers an environment well-suited to lichen and enormous clusters of hedgehog cactus. From the lunch spot, at 6975 ft. elevation, hikers could look across Oak Creek Canyon and downward toward the well-known vista point at the top of the Oak Creek Canyon switchbacks.
The return to the cars, being all downhill, provided the hikers plenty of opportunity to talk.
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 a monthly meeting, our next one will be on Thursday, November 11th, beginning at 7p.m. at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley Center, 100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona.