April in Hiker Paradise
The Sedona Westerners recently inaugurated the new "Hotwood" hike on a blustery April morning. The hike had been designed by Jerry Walters for the Mustang group from pieces of well- and not-so-well known trails in the Horse Mesa area. Appearing at the Jack's Canyon Trailhead wearing a pair of Kevlar gaiters over his boots, Walters himself politely took inquiries about their purpose. It seemed to boil down to cactus spines and serpents, though style surely played a part. Over the hike's 7.3 miles of terrain, the gaiters were tested only by cactus spines, and performed well.
After a short walk through an old pasture, the Mustangs headed up the north side of Horse Mesa, gaining 900 feet vertically over less than a mile on a trail laid out by someone who seemed to be saving switchbacks for somewhere else. Once on top, the hikers were greeted with a mostly flat expanse that, though heavily grazed in recent history, now supports clusters of mature junipers and pines. As is common in flat areas at this elevation, the surface was rocky, there was lots of cactus, and you had to watch your step.
Horse Mesa takes its name from the wild horses which appeared there after the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish in 1680. Descendants of these horses were regularly captured, broken and then sold by cowboys from ranches in the Verde Valley. Prior to the arrival of the horses, the vast mesa no doubt provided hunting grounds for the Sinagua people, and the hikers kept their eyes open for a group of elk which had been spotted there the day before.
Once away from the rim, the flat terrain has a lot of variety, but it is the same variety no matter which way you look. Andy Beeler took this opportunity to talk about ways to keep oriented using the position of the sun and time of day. His advice, supplemented by more modern means of navigation, kept the group trending southeast for about a mile and a half until the southern edge of Horse Mesa appeared. From the black cliffs of basalt the hikers could look down into Woods Canyon and the red rock "beach" a thousand feet below where many of them had taken lunch on a "flatlander" hike earlier in the season.
In a small saddle separating two parts of the mesa, Jerry Walters shared his knowledge of the area's fascinating cultural history, and this was much appreciated. The group then backtracked to the north. A little before noon the land opened up to an unexpected view of Lee Mountain, Courthouse Butte and Cathedral Rock, and lunch was promptly declared by group leader John Losse, tailgater Deborah Losse, and everyone in between. It was sunny but not hot, and the wind had settled down. It was not difficult to enjoy the food.
In the afternoon, the hikers took advantage of the Hot Loop Trail to make good time back to the "down point", which is marked by an old fence post and barbed wire from the ranching days. A small trail heads down from here, skirts below the mesa headwall for a mile, and then leads back to the trailhead. Overall, the new Hotwood hike is moderately difficult but does not require technical skill, and provides an adventure quite different from many of the hikes in Red Rock Country.
The Westerners always welcome new members. If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website: www.sedonawesterners.org.