The Circumnavigation of Mescal

April 15, 2016

Chris Greene
By Chris Greene

It was a mild winter day and the Amblers were ready for the 5.5 mile circumnavigation of Mescal Mesa. Everyone was eager to start. The chatter and excitement of the group starting off was that of school children on a field trip. However, most of us are retired which means we are in life’s second childhood and today was testament to that. But what’s not to love on a clear, crisp Northern Arizona day? We were glad to be alive and able to enjoy a hike in Sedona.

The trailhead started across the street from the large parking lot off of Long Canyon Rd. Our adventure started with a quick jaunt to the Long Canyon trail that would intersect with the Mescal trail, but wait… were we going the right way? We were headed in a counter clock-wise direction around the mesa. Why counter clock-wise? Were we trying to turn back the hands of time? Was there a big universal statement here? It seemed a little unnatural. Michael Dally, the hike leader was being vague about my question. I’d have to wait and see what he had in mind by going in reverse.

The Sedona Westerners Amblers view of Mescal Mountain, the destination of today's hike. Photo by Chris Greene.

So far we had completed the stem of the lollypop loop around Mescal Mesa. We would end up on four different trails to make the entire circumnavigation loop. The total elevation gain was a mild 300 feet. It was one of our flattest hikes. But, as most discover quickly in Sedona there are no real flat hikes. I like the way Mark Ducharme, Doggie Boss, once described a Sedona flat trail…as he’s saying “Sedona flat”, his hand was waving up and down like rolling over the waves of the ocean. That was a perfect description of “Sedona flat”…a constant little bit of up and down.

Because we went counter clock-wise we headed around the north side of the mesa first. Here were views of 7 Canyons and Secret Canyon Wilderness with the Mogollon Rim on the horizon. A beautiful day for photo journaling and we had some shutterbugs that took advantage.

Coming around on the west side we joined up on the Dead Man’s Pass trail. No one really knew the origin of the trail’s name nor did we really want to know. Our trail hugged the side of the mesa and our view looked at the towering cliffs and side canyons on the other side of the pass. As we hiked along someone said, “Stop! Listen!” A faint melody of a native flute could be heard echoing in the canyon from the Boynton Spire. It was the perfect time to take our first break. Then the flute stopped and drumming took over. It was the full Sedona experience.

As we continued heading on to the south we hooked back up with the Mescal trail and noticed how all the ocotillo plants clung to that side of the mesa. Linda Schermer, our go-to botanist and the day’s co-leader and tailgater, confirmed the fact that Ocotillo love to reside on south-facing cliffs.

A little bit further to our lunch break and the reason why we were still going counter clock-wise, we approached a large amphitheater shaped bowl just past the Ocotillo on the side of the mesa. It was enormous and inspiring. Before we got to the main part of the bowl we had a trail decision to make. A sign with a split in the trail gave the choice of “difficult” or “extreme”. The sign was more for the technical bikers as we didn’t see much difference in the edginess for hiking. We took the lesser of the choices and at the deepest section of the bowl we stopped for lunch with a breathtaking view. This was the perfect time and place to stop for our big break. That was why we went counter clock-wise…to end up here at the perfect time! Good planning Michael Dally. Mystery solved.

At this point we almost completed our lollypop loop and would meet up with the stem part of the trail again and a short jaunt back to the car. Another successful hike completed.

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