50 Years of Hiking to Mescal Mountain
This February, the Sedona Westerners celebrated their 50th anniversary. After reading several earlier Red Rock News articles, it is apparent that the hike to the top of Mescal has been a club favorite through the years. The hike is described as “moderate”, about 6 miles in length with a rocky climb of about 600 feet. The Dogie group of the Westerners was created in 1988 to provide slower and less strenuous hikes for club members. That year, Norm Haus, trail boss or club president, rallied up the new Dogie group at the Revco parking lot. Twenty-three years later, the Dogies rallied up at Posse Ground for the very same hike that would follow countless Westerner boot tracks. As 2006 trail boss, co-leader Louise Gelotte, had been given the same bola tie that had been worn by Norm Haus. Other legendary participants on the 1988 hike included Marshall Cook, master of cook out baked beans and Norm Herkenham, well known botanist and founder of so many Sedona trails. That hike also included seven former trail bosses.
There is much history, tradition and a little folklore in the club, which older members eagerly share with credulous new hikers. The description of the ancient carbide tipped rockpecker and the Sherwin Williams paint test patch are hiking favorites. Fortunately, the Forest Service helped the Westerners break one tradition. Old articles individually list the names of as many as 88 hikers scrambling in a row to the top of Mescal. To maintain the peace and beauty of wilderness areas for everyone, the Forest Service and the Westerners signed a memorandum of understanding in 2000 to strive for no more than 12 hikers per group in wilderness areas.
From past articles, it is apparent that Westerners not only relish the outstanding views from the top of Mescal, but also enjoy a special camaraderie with fellow hikers. There were many opportunities to share knowledge and experiences on this hike. Co-leader Clint Gelotte’s map of the three arms of Mescal looked like an amoeba or even a dinosaur track to some hikers. But they could see that Mescal is really a mesa and not a mountain. After leaving Long Canyon trail for Deadman’s Pass, Jean Kindig, author of Sedona Area Places & Names, told the Dogies that the name Deadman’s Pass came about because of a skeleton discovered when the trail was being built. Scrambling up to the first arm of Mescal, the Dogies looked down on the Seven Canyons golf resort. Liz Sweeney told hikers that the large cinder block structure was the unfinished clubhouse and the denuded slope behind would have accommodated the parking lot. Clint told the legend of a Native American curse placed on the Grassy Knolls near the resort.
As the hikers continued to traverse the longest arm of Mescal, Liz pointed out purple verbena, the first wildflower of the season. Jean Kindig, retired archaeologist, looked for debitage (scraps left from the creation of stone tools), but found only javelina tracks. Jean had no doubt that we were in country that was once occupied by pueblo dwelling Native Americans. According to a 1995 article, Mescal is a synonym for agave or century plant. The name Mescal was chosen for this mesa because of the profusion of those plants found here. The distinctive sound of a canyon wren was heard as the hikers circumnavigated the top of Mescal, perhaps a descendent of the one heard on that 1995 hike. A slight detour on the descent took the Dogies to a large alcove, known by the New Age community as the birthing cave. Hikers shared what they knew about the beliefs. But Jean saw no indication of this cave ever having been inhabited by Native Americans.
It was wonderful being in nature on another beautiful day in Sedona. The hike leaders were relieved that just like the 1995 hike, this Mescal trek ended with the same number of hikers that they started with.
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 held on Thursday, March 10th; at 7 pm. Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley Center, 100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona.