The Sunset Trail
The Sedona Westerner’s Tuesday hiking group, the Dogies, ventured up to Flagstaff on September 17 to hike the Sunset Trail. The Dogies assembly area and point of departure was Schultz Tank, (elevation 8000 ft.) located off Schultz Pass Rd., just a quarter mile past the official Sunset Trailhead.
Schultz Tank is a rare body of water in the San Francisco Peaks and had obviously benefited from an active monsoon season, as it appeared to be close to full. Ducks can often be seen enjoying the waters and the tank is a magnet for wildlife, including mule deer, elk, and the occasional black bear.
The Dogies enjoyed a beautiful late summer morning as they headed out on the hike. The Sunset Trail is about 4.5 miles long, one way, as it traverses its way through the forest and along high ridgelines before reaching Mt. Elden. Today’s hike would be a total of 6.5 miles. The trail began with a short initial descent but then began a steady but moderate two-mile climb as it made its way through a forest of pines, fern and a nice sampling of aspen. After the initial two-mile climb, Hike Leader Tom Arni and Tailgater Liz Sweeney, called for the traditional morning break near the edge of a high ridgeline and with beautiful views of the partially cloud shrouded San Francisco Peaks.
As this point of the Sunset Trail, it begins a three quarter mile descent. The trail takes a nearly 180 degree turn, and completes its descent in an open meadow where another trail, the Little Bear, connects from the left. The Little Bear Trail was a beautiful, heavily forested trail of Ponderosa pine, Gamble oak, Douglas fir and pockets of aspen before being heavily damaged in the 2010 Schultz Fire. This fire, caused by an abandoned campfire, was the largest forest fire in Arizona in 2010 and destroyed just over 15,000 acres including Schultz Peak. The U.S. Forest Service has temporarily closed the Little Bear Trail as it continues to suffer damage from floods, landslides and fallen trees.
Another half mile on the trail the hikers encountered an impressive quarter-mile long field of boulders, some quite massive, that they had to wind their way through as they continued their climb. These rocks appeared to be of a different composition from much of the area’s volcanic rock and were possibly the result of glacial deposits eons ago.
A little over 3 miles into the hike the Sunset Trail reached a high ridgeline at an elevation of 8800 feet where we stopped for lunch. This area provided a spectacular panorama of the 2000 ft. descent down the mountain to the volcanic fields on the eastern edge of Flagstaff. In the distance the hikers caught a glimpse of the Painted Desert. To their right sat Mt. Elden, which has one of the steepest hiking trails in all of the San Francisco Peaks. At the base of Mt. Elden the hikers could see the still devastated remains of the 1977 forest fire. This human caused fire was so serious that some feared it had the potential to threaten all of Flagstaff.
With lunch completed, the Dogies began their way back on the Sunset Trail towards Schultz Tank. Since the group had done an ascent on a good portion of the way out on the hike, they now could enjoy the descent on the return. About a mile into the return the hikers were treated to some gorgeous view of several of the mountains in the San Francisco Peaks chain, including Doyle and Doyle Saddle, Fremont, and Agassiz mountains.
For the remaining two miles of the hike back to Schultz Tank the Dogies simply enjoyed the pleasant weather, pristine forest and lovely mountain views. Before long, Schultz Tank came into view and another successful Sedona Westerner’s hike was concluded.
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, October 10th 11AM at Red Rock State Park for the fall cookout.