Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

October 7, 2011

What do Cypresses and a Lollipop have in Common?


by Sandy Unger

Under lowering skies, following a terrific rainstorm the previous day, an intrepid band of the Ambler group of the Westerners assembled at the Girdner Trailhead on Dry Creek Road. Sandy Unger, this season’s Ambler Hike Boss, led the group, with John Mezera, Assistant Hike Boss, equipped with GPS, bringing up the rear.

Sandy shared some history of the Girdner family in the Verde Valley. The present Forest Service hiking trail was actually pioneered as a cattle route. Starting from a ranch located in what is now Cornville, the summer cattle drive worked its way through the West Sedona area (then called "Grasshopper Flat,") to finally clamber up to the top of the rim on either Old Munds Wagon Road or the Casner Trail, to find summer pasture near Munds Park. From the 1930's onward, the Girdners drove as many as a thousand head of cattle annually via these routes. The second business involved visualizing the "lollipop" shape of the hike. The first (Girdner) segment is merely a "stem," to be followed by the main section of the hike (the Arizona Cypress "loop,") with return to the trailhead via the original stem segment. Ergo, a loop hike attached to a stem. The designation, "lollipop," invented by the Westerners about a decade ago, appears now to have come into common usage in the local hiking lexicon.

Crossing the wet Dry Creek.

The “Amblers” is one of the six groups which together make up the Sedona Westerners. All hiking groups are available to all club members at their own evaluation of their abilities. The Ambler hikes are specifically designed to traverse four-to-five miles of the unique red rock terrain immediately adjacent to the city of Sedona. The Amblers are distinctive, if not notorious, for the congenial pace of their hikes, with more frequent stops as the group desires, and with a special focus on sociability and camaraderie. There is unhurried time for picture taking, and a concern for identifying iconic landmarks, discussing local history, and for pursuing questions of botanical and geological interest.

On this day, the Amblers took their first break at the junction with the Cypress section of the hike, and celebrated John Mezera's eightieth birthday! Connie Unger had prepared a decadent chocolate cake treat, with a single candle. The group lustily sang "Happy Birthday” to John. Can you believe he ate the whole darn thing himself? (Really, it was very small.)

Entering into the Cypress section presented what was usually a very simple crossing of the dry bottom of Dry Creek. However, on this day, there was a substantial flow of water blocking further progress. There was now a significant runoff, perhaps a foot or so deep. The hike leader, who had not anticipated this obstacle, posed the options of turning back, or forging ahead via rock hopping. Jacqui Sharkey decided the matter, declaring: "Let's go! This is fun!" So began the “Challenge of the Creek Crossings” - nine in all, and each an adventure! There was only one immersion, but no more need be said about it.

The group learned a great deal on this day about the Smooth Bark Cypress (Cupressus glabra). The official Forest Service Arizona Cypress Trail passes through about a mile of very "old growth" trees, some of which are massive in their girth, along the riparian strip which follows Dry Creek. In places, there is practically a monoculture of this relict tree. Wikipedia states that “Cupressus glabra, known as the Arizona Smooth Bark Cypress, is a species of conifer native to the American Southwest, with a range stretching over the canyons and slopes in a somewhat wide vicinity around Sedona, Arizona. It was first described by George Bishop Sudworth in 1910.[1] It is distinguished from the closely related Cupressus arizonica, of which it is sometimes listed as a mere variety, by its very smooth, non-furrowed bark which can appear in shades of pink, cherry, and grey.”

The Westerners always welcome new members. If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website,, for membership information. You may also join at one of our monthly meetings, usually the third Thursday, beginning at 7p.m. at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley Center, 100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona. (The October meeting is replaced our annual Fall menmbership barbecue.)