Hiking in Sedona 280 million years ago

January 15, 2016

Louise Gelotte
by Louise Gelotte

Hiking with the Sedona Westerners for over twelve years has taken me down many trails. You can't beat the Westerners for camaraderie, experience and adventure. And I can't imagine any place in the world with so many outstanding hikes so close to one's home. But that conviction didn't stop me from acquiring the book, Fifty Places to Hike Before You Die. As a consequence, my passion for hiking in Sedona was now expanded to treks and tramps around the world. Thanks to early mentors and Bob Dannert's Hiking 101 class, my Sedona hiking prepared me well for the steep ascents, loose descents, rock scrambles and the ledges that I encountered on my travels. I've learned two very important rules from the Westerners. First, look where you want to go, not where you don't want to go. Second, you can reach many seemingly unattainable places just by putting one boot in front of the other.

My husband, Clint and I recently set off to explore one more of those fifty places we needed to hike. This time our boots and packs were on the way to investigate the trails of South Africa and Namibia. South Africa has several hiking possibilities from Cape Town. The first one that we tackled was Kanonkop, named for the small cannon you encounter halfway through the hike. This cannon had been part of a chain of signaling cannons used by the Dutch East India Company to report ship arrivals in False Bay, so named because the sailors missed Cape Town and ended up in False Bay. When the cannons were fired, the Dutch quickly readied a refreshment stand for sailor provisions. The hike also introduced us to the fynbos, beautiful flora indigenous to the Cape Peninsula. From a distance the fynbos just looks like low, scrubby plants with a few short bushes. But just like in Sedona, hiking forces you to look a bit closer and appreciate the diversity of the numerous species found nowhere else in the world.

The dune landscape that once covered Sedona can be found in Namibia today

After hiking Table Mountain and several stunning coastal areas, including the famous Otter Trail, we flew to Durban and met our guide for the Drakensberg Mountains. Drakensberg is an Afrikaans word meaning "dragon mountain". The more descriptive Zulu word for this range means "barrier of pointed spears". The escarpment with its dragon claw drainages and distinctive pinnacles, is a result of massive uplift. Looking at the range from our Cathedral Peak hotel was like looking at the Mogollon Rim from our Sedona home. Except, that the rock layers are not quite as colorful and the drive to the top brings you to Lesotho, not Flagstaff. Basalt covers the top of the range while the bottom two layers are sandstone. There are many caves in these easily eroded sandstone layers. Several short hikes took us to caves containing delicate Bushmen rock art paintings.

There are four venomous adders in these mountains, but the biggest hiking concern is lightning. Aware, but undeterred, we trekked to Rainbow Gorge, where water dripping down the rocks, shoots up sparkling rainbows. A short, but steep hike took us to an impressive geologic formation resembling a mushroom. Continuing on the Little Berg contour path, we spotted many eland, the largest, most powerful antelope and frequently depicted by the Bushmen in their rock art. There were also many baboons watching us as intently as we watched them. The classic Tugela Gorge hike afforded excellent views of the Amphitheatre, Policeman's Helmet, Devil's Tooth and the Devil's Toothpick! Apparently, Sedona is not the only place where rock formations are given whimsical names.

Back in Durban, we caught our flight to Namibia, a sparsely populated nation and one of the driest places on earth. The country has a fascinating history, many alluring landscapes and abundant safari possibilities. One of the "wow" moments for us was hiking the red dunes of Sossusvlei and realizing that this was what the Sedona area looked like 280 million years ago. Climbing sand dunes is hard work and we both agreed that we prefer hiking Sedona's petrified dunes. Interesting that the red color found in Namibia's dunes comes from bits of crushed garnet and not from iron oxide that coats Sedona's rock layers

Once again, Fifty Places to Hike has directed us to an amazing part of the world. But back hiking with the Westerners, among the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, makes us glad to be home.


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