Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

February 17, 2012

A Hike Into History


by Curt Kommer

Wayne Ranney, noted Geologist, speaker, author, and friend to the Sedona Westerners hiking club, is locally famous for (at least) two reasons:

1.    His ground-breaking studies of the HouseMountain volcano that advanced the scientific understanding of how Sedona’s unique landscape was created, and,

2.    His willingness to share his considerable knowledge with lay-people in a wonderfully passionate, entertaining, and comprehensible way.


Recently, a group of the  Westerners had the opportunity to accompany Mr. Ranney as he lead an educational “Tracker Hike” to a section of the Chavez Trail south of the Village of Oak Creek.  The location offers dramatic examples of the geologic history of our area, but is also a visible reminder of earlier people’s migrations, challenges, and dangers as they traveled through our local history.


From the rim of the lava flow over which the Chavez Trail was established, well-known local geologist and author Wayne Ranney , (left) explains the geology and formation timeline of House Mountain to the hikers. Looking toward Beaverhead Flat Road and across Route 179, below, near the Village of Oak Creek, House Mountain, a shield volcano, now appears as a gentle swell on the near horizon. It deposited lava 13-15 million years ago in what is now the Beaverhead Flat area. Photo by Joan Scott.

The Chavez Trail took its name in 1865 from Lt.-Col. Chavez, New Mexico cavalry, who partly followed the path from Flagstaff to Prescott in 1864, but the trail’s origins are believed to go back thousands of years.  The Hopi refer to the trail in their histories as a path from the Four-Corners area to the Verde salt deposits and rich mineral deposits near present-day Jerome.  Spanish explorers of the sixteenth century describe following the trail as they, too, sought out the VerdeValley in search of treasure.  Approaching our area, the trail skirts StonemanLake, follows the rim of RattlesnakeCanyon, and eventually looks down on Dry Beaver Creek from the Mogollon Rim.  This last section, descending just south of the VOC, was our destination for the day.  This steep descent, strewn with volcanic rubble, had been described in the accounts of Spaniards, Cavalry, and unfortunate stage passengers as the roughest and most dangerous stretch of road in the entire territory.


 As the hikers struggled up the steep grade, Mr. Ranney told of one traveler in particular, Martha Summerhayes, who had braved the trail in 1875, accompanying her Cavalry husband to Fort Verde, to receive his next posting.  Her account, Vanished Arizona, includes many vivid descriptions of the hardships, dangers, and wonders of the Chavez Trail, and as Ranney read us colorful excerpts he also pointed out scarred ruts on the rocky road beneath us made from the steel linings of the wagon-wheels that may well have carried her.  He also couldn’t resist pointing out the convergence of a number of geologic features unique to this location. 


Hwy 179, in the area of Beaverhead Flat Road, sits at the intersection of two ancient lava flows:  First came the HouseMountain flows to the West, which deposited lava 13-15 million years ago. The Southern front of the Mogollon Rim was at this location 15 million years ago, before erosion slowly moved the edge of the Rim to where we see it today.  The second flow was from T-6 Mountain to the northeast, by Munds Park, which erupted into the Verde Valley between 6 -8 million years ago, and the Chavez Trail makes its tortuous path upon and down through this flow. 


Most of the day’s participants had never explored this location, or knew of the Chavez Trail, but we were in agreement that exploring this area was a powerful way to experience our ancient geologic history and, at the same time, retrace some of the rich human history that makes Sedona and the Verde Valley so special.


Should readers be interested, here are some resources:

1.    The Chavez Trail can be accessed off Hwy 179 heading south from the VOC.  Turn left 0.3 miles beyond the bridge over Dry Beaver Creek into a trailhead parking area. Go through and close the gate.  The Trail is well marked and signed.

2.    Vanished Arizona.  Recollections of the Army Life by a New England Woman, Martha Summerhayes, 1911, reprinted 1937.

3.    Sedona Through Time.  A Guide to Sedona’s Geology, Wayne Ranney, 2010.


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. Our next one will be on Thursday, March 8,  beginning at 7p.m. at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley,  100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona.