50 years of Trying on Cibola Mittens

January 29, 2016

Louise Gelotte
by Louise Gelotte

It doesn't take long after joining the Westerners for one to comprehend the importance of tradition to the club. The answer to questions such as: "Why are we stopping here for lunch?" or "Why are we having an apple break when no one has an apple?" is forever, "Because we've always done it that way!"


Two Mittens or One Mitten with two thumbs?

Likewise the tradition of writing an account of selected hikes for the news media dates to 1965, when the first Westerner hikes were reported in the Verde Independent by Tex Dallas. Armchair readers welcomed the opportunity to hike vicariously alongside the intrepid Westerners. Ellsworth Schnebly, the first regular, conscientious reporter for the Westerners" always rushed straight home and got the events down on paper even before taking a shower." All in all, volunteer scribes have written more than 1000 articles.

Initially founded as a social club, the Sedona Westerners expanded their activities to include hiking in 1964. There was one official hike per week and it was always on Sunday afternoon. Continuing this fifty year tradition, the current Sunday hiking group, now called the Drovers, rallied up at Posse Ground. Julie Zabilski, today's leader, would follow the boots of countless earlier Westerners on the three mile Cibola Pass Loop Trail. With a forecast of no less than three El Nino storms for the upcoming week, everyone was delighted to enjoy one more beautiful sunny day.

In describing the beginning of this hike, several earlier reporters mentioned hearing rifle fire reverberating around canyon walls. Veteran hiker, Bob Dannert reminisced that Jordan Trailhead parking lot had once been a rifle range. Today's peaceful Cibola Pass loop incorporated some of the newer trails of the Sedona urban trail system; Adobe Jack and Grand Central, with snack break on Ant Hill. This pause gave us the time to observe all the lush green vegetation surrounding us, a welcome result of this winter's extra precipitation.

Past newspaper accounts identify plural mittens. According to co-leader, Gretchen Yager, that's because the rock formation is really two upright mittens, palms facing the same direction and thumbs extended on both sides. But Bob Dannert argued that this monument is just one mitten with two thumbs, exactly like the double thumb mittens worn by frugal corn huskers when he was a boy in Nebraska. When one side of the mitten was worn out, you just flipped the mitten over and used the other side. Charlie Schudson interjected that two hiking friends from Iceland were thrilled when they first saw Cibola Mitten because that's exactly the way mittens are knitted in Iceland. With two thumbs, the life of the mitten is doubled. The wearer can always tuck in the thumb that's not being used.

The scribe from the 1998 hike, wrote that Cibola is most commonly taken to mean the seven legendary cities of gold, hich was believed by Spanish explorers to exist somewhere in what is now the Southwest. But for Jon Petrescu, Cibola could be applied to Sedona because our magnificent sunsets sparkle like gold.

What is it that has compelled countless Westerners to come together on a Sunday afternoon, sometimes even foregoing exciting football games? For over fifty years the most frequently reported response is that sharing the sublime Sedona landscape with a congenial group of people is an incredibly satisfying way to spend an afternoon. For the record, today's scribe, although conscientious, bucked tradition and took a shower before getting today's events down on paper.

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