On Sunday, January 12, a group of Sedona Westerners assembled at the Bell Rock trailhead off Route 179. It was a perfect Arizona winter hiking day with temperatures in the low 60s.This is one of the more classical and iconic hikes in Sedona. It is well suited for hikers of every ability level including families with teenage children. Even the most advanced hiker will enjoy it for the adventure in scenery and it's all around views. If you love to take pictures, this hike will give you plenty of subject matter. This in includes views of Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, Courthouse, Gibraltar and much more. There is a shelter at the parking area with maps showing details of the trail system.
We start on the Bell Rock Pathway, and soon turn right onto the Big Park Loop Trail. This hike takes you close to Courthouse and Bell Rock, two of Sedona's most iconic rock formations. We are on the north side of what is known as "Big Park". The area was established by farming and ranching settlers around 1900. Many Western movies were filmed here. Fannie Belle Gulick, a colorful character who was a successful gold prospector from Nevada, moved to Sedona in the 1940's and purchased one thousand acres, which constituted Big Park. She discovered water, and the rest is history. Route 179 was a dirt road until 1961 when the state built a road from Sedona to the new Black Canyon Highway (I-17). In 1967 plans were made to create a 920 acre residential area known as the Village of Oak Creek. In 2005 the U.S. Department of Transportation designated Rt. 179 as a "Scenic Byway", Arizona's first All-American Road.
Continuing our hike on Big Park Loop, we pass through groves of Arizona Cypress and Juniper. This area is rich in a variety of plant life native to Sedona and the Verde Valley. We are on the edge of the Coconino National Forest, and biking is not allowed on part of this trail. The trail includes easy to moderate grades with little overall elevation change. We continue to an old dam, built by early settlers, which is now filled with dirt washed in by flash-floods and rain. Working our way around the dam, we regain the trail on the left. It climbs slightly as we start to curve around the back of Courthouse Butte. This offers more views to the east, including the famous "Rabbit Ears". Gibraltar looms high above us and we continue northward staying to the left, avoiding small social trails on the right. By hugging the base of Courthouse, you can't go wrong.
We approach a round red rock knob, known as the "Muffin". A right turn at the base takes us to the top. This is a fun place to stop for a rest or snack break. A short distance from the Muffin we rejoin the Bell Rock Pathway. At this intersection we take a right turn towards "Baby Bell", Bell Rock's little sister. We hike along its western edge and take advantage of a large flat rock expanse for a rest and a snack break.
Afterwards, we loop back to the Bell Rock Pathway and head south alongside Bell Rock. Bell Rock is one of the most popular vortex sites in the Sedona area. Continuing south we stay to the left passing the "Phone" trail, staying on the Bell Rock Pathway. From here, we continue hiking south, passing the junction of Big Park Loop (where we started), and on to the trailhead and parking area. This is a most enjoyable and beautiful hike and you are rewarded with panoramic views that include some of Sedona's most famous landmarks. The hike takes 3 to 3 1/2 hours depending on your speed. It is an exposed hike, and I urge all hikers to wear hats and bring plenty of water.
If you are interested in joining the club, please go to our website at http://sedonawesterners.org or just come to one of our monthly meetings. The next one will be Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 7 pm at the Sedona Elks Club, 110 Airport Road.