Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Sedona - National Monuments Part One

After introducing me to the Sedona area with a most excellent Hiline Trail hike, on the second day of my visit Hans and Lisa proposed a driving tour of the many nearby National Monuments.  A huge fan of anything National Parks-related, I was all in.

Cacti in morning light

Arizona's Verde Valley was home to many indigenous people thousands of years before any Europeans came to the area.  One of the cultures thought to have occupied this valley from 700 to 1425 CE (Common Era) was a group of people archaeologists have termed the Southern Sinagua.  The ruins of Sinagua dwellings can be found throughout the Verde Valley, and some of the more significant and well-preserved sites have been designated National Monuments.

Montezuma Well

Montezuma Well, a unit of the Montezuma Castle National Monument, was the first site we visited.  A huge limestone sinkhole continuously filled by an underground spring, this lovely desert oasis was a logical place for native peoples to settle.

Unusual steps to the well's bottom

A short walk from the parking lot led us to the well's first overlook.  What a sight it was!  This large water body looked out of place in the middle of dry, scrubby desert.  The sinkhole measured 386 feet in diameter.  The water shone a lovely shade of blue in the early morning light.  If I looked carefully, I could spot a few ancient cliff dwellings tucked below the rim.  Wow - too cool!

Can you see the cliff dwellings below the rim?

A path and set of rocky steps led visitors to the well's shoreline.  Down at the bottom were the remains of more dwellings.  The rocky remnants of old walls were an interesting sight, as was the graffiti on the adjacent rock walls, dating back to 1891.

How about now?

Lisa told me not much aquatic life is found in the well due to the high amount of carbonation and arsenic in the water.  Ancient Sinagua people used the water primarily to irrigate crops.  Still, having a constant year-round water source and rocky walls for protection, Montezuma Well looked like a sweet place to settle.

Remains of ancient rooms

Lisa and Hans climbed out of the well, but I hung back for a few minutes to snap more photos.  When visiting National Park areas I'm a stringent rule-follower, so as I climbed up to the rim I was surprised by a very grumpy lady ranger who read me the riot act, accusing me of stepping off the trail.  I was pretty sure I hadn't strayed from the path, but Ms. ranger lady was being such a grouch, I didn't dare argue.  Instead, I mumbled a quick apology and got the heck out of there.

Old graffiti

The area above the well's rim had a short trail (that I made darn sure I stayed on!) leading visitors past more rocky remnants of pueblo homes and down to nearby Wet Beaver Creek.  The well's outlet bubbled through a short chute (thought to be an ancient canal) into the creek.  The creek area was a lovely place, lined with trees and grasses.

Wet Beaver Creek

Montezuma Well was interesting and unusual.  I could've stayed there much longer, but there were other places on the day's agenda.  Back at their truck, I asked Hans and Lisa if they knew of any petroglyphs in the area.  Lisa exclaimed "Yes - V Bar V!" 

V Bar V Heritage Site

Off we went down a dusty dirt road.  While en-route, Lisa filled me in on our next destination.  V Bar V Heritage Site houses the largest and best preserved petroglyphs in the Verde Valley.  Once a working cattle ranch, it was purchased by the National Forest in 1994.  Now open to the public, tours are offered to view this ancient rock art.

Lovely blue skies!

Not much remains of the original ranch.  Walking to the visitor center, my friends and I passed the ranch house's elaborate chimney.  A few weathered wood fences dotted the landscape but that was the only remaining evidence.

The petroglyph wall

At the visitor center, we met up with a very enthusiastic volunteer.  Our timing was good as he was just gathering a group to take to the petroglyph wall.

Lots of images!

It wasn't a long walk to the petroglyphs, but our tour guide took his time, stopping frequently to tell stories about the history of the ranch and the ancient peoples who first settled in the valley.  The information was all very interesting, but I was eager to see the rock art wall.

I was mesmerized by it all

Finally our guide led us to a locked gate.  A chain link fence circled the petroglyph site, sadly to keep folks from vandalizing this important piece of history.

I liked the eye

Oh, was the wall amazing!  Our guide said there were over 1,000 images carved into the rock panels.  I'd never seen so many figures carved into rock.  The wall was huge - spanning the face of a large red red cliff.

So much to see!

Our guide said these petroglyphs were created by the Sinagua people between 1150 and 1400 AD. 

These turtles were my favorite

There were lots of figures that appeared to be animals; deer, coyote, turtle, snakes, coyotes.  There were also other geometrics that looked like spirals and grids.  One squiggly line was supposed to represent the Verde River.  Our guide produced a Google map image of the Verde River, and the two nearly matched.  Unbelievable!

Our very enthusiastic guide

Our group gazed in amazement.  I enjoyed looking at all the different figures and trying to guess what stories the ancient Sinagua who created these images were trying to tell.

Another view

After allowing us several minutes to view the rock art to our heart's content, our guide gathered the group back together and began delving into more of the history of this sacred place.

What does it all mean?  We'll never know.

Although it was all very interesting, Hans, Lisa and I had more sights to see, so after a few minutes we thanked the man and made our way back to the parking lot.

Lisa taking it all in

Of all the monuments I saw that day (stay tuned for my next blog post for the rest) I have to say that V Bar V was by far the most impressive.  I'm so glad places like these have been preserved for all to enjoy and learn from.

Now......on to more ancient ruins!  Montezuma Castle, Tuzigoot, and the funky mining town of Jerome coming next.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Sedona - Hiking the Hiline Trail

Sedona's fantastic scenery blew me away.

My trail friends - Hans, Lisa, Steve and Mona Liza

Last August, when blogging friends Hans and Lisa extended an invitation for a March visit, I didn't know much about this popular redrock town smack-dab in the middle of Arizona.  They both glowingly described its scenic attributes, adding "photographers love this place.  Your camera will be busy!"

Approaching Cathedral Rock

I'll admit I didn't do much research about the Sedona area, instead concentrating my efforts on the Grand Canyon.  So when Hans and Lisa drove me towards town on my first morning, I gaped in awe at the giant sandstone formations rising from the desert floor.  It looked like something straight out of a John Wayne western!

Well-signed trails

Hans and Lisa love this area, having visited many times.  They both retired early and live full time in their RV (and blog at Metamorphosis Road), so have had the opportunity to explore Sedona and it's nearby trails in depth.  I was about to be the beneficiary of their extensive knowledge.

Mountain bikers have the same trail ratings as skiers!

My first hike in Sedona?  The Hiline Trail located southeast of town.  We pulled into the Baldwin Trailhead bright and early and bundled up against the morning chill (yes, it gets cold in the desert at night - even in early spring).  Hans and Lisa stay in touch with a large network of RV bloggers and were planning to meet one of their blogging friends, Steve and Mona Liza, at the trailhead.

In my happy place

It was great to meet Steve and Mona Liza.  Also retired full time RVers, they've traveled all over, and had many interesting tales to tell (check out their blog The Lowe's RV Adventures).  I discovered Mona Liza was an avid photographer, and while on the trail we bonded over our shared interest.

Steep climb (can you believe bikes ride down this??)

We started out on the Baldwin Trail, winding through red soil and brushy vegetation.  The surrounding scenery was fantastic from the get-go.  My camera came out almost immediately, and I instantly lagged behind the group (which would become the norm for the entire day).

Wonderful red rocks

After about a mile, the Baldwin intersected with the Hiline Trail, our featured hike of the day.  It wound below Cathedral Rock, an impressive collection of towering red and tan striped sandstone columns.

One can never have too many cameras!

Mona Liza was truly a kindred spirit.  I laughed when I saw her capturing images using not only her regular camera, but her cell phone too.  I just had to get this fun pic of her with a camera in each hand.  Always schlepping around a ton of camera gear myself, I could totally relate!

First mountain biker of the day

In Sedona, hikers shared the trails with mountain bikers.  At each junction were signs giving directions to the bikers (many trails were one way only) and rating its level of difficulty.  I was amused that the ratings used the same symbols as ski trails.  (Double black diamond also meant experts only!)

Amazing view of Cathedral Rock

We climbed up to an flat rock overlook and there spread out before us was the town of Sedona.  What an absolutely stunning vista!

Sedona Valley panorama

And Cathedral Rock didn't look too shabby from here either.

Cathedral Rock was nearly always in sight

Follow the red dirt trail....

The houses appeared to be nestled right up against many of the large rock formations.  Hans pointed out the local Catholic Chapel, an impressive structure that appeared to have been built right on top of the red rock.  (See photos of it here)

Looking down into Sedona

From the viewpoint, our trail clung to the side of a steep cliff.  More fabulous views opened up as we worked our way down. 

Spectacular views!

Some of the trail was so steep and rocky I couldn't believe mountain bikers rode here (and survived!)

Great scenery around every corner

Lisa knew the names of all the rock formations and also the unique (to this Pacific NW'er anyway) desert plants.  Having hiked this trail before, she also pointed out many good photo op locations.  I couldn't have asked for a better guide!

Loved this rock formation (but forgot it's name)

Yeah, I took about a gazillion photos.  It was super hard to narrow them down......so sit back and scroll through the next few.

My photo-buddy in action

Cacti close-up

Picking our way down the rocky trail

Checking out the trail junction

Agave plant

More red rock formations

Finally we hiked down to another trail junction.  Having traveled the entire length of the Hiline Trail, we'd now turn and follow the Templeton Trail on a long, skinny loop back to the parking area.

Bikers zipping by

The  proximity to several trailheads meant we began to see lots more people.  And more bikers too (but the mountain bikers were fun to photograph).  We crossed paths with a few mountain bike trails sporting cool names, like Easy Breezy and Slim Shady.

Loved these red towers

There was no shortage of red rock, or towering pillars.

Trail contours this rocky slope

Good thing I had a large memory card!

Lisa takes in the view

As we headed back towards our beginning point, the trail passed several neighborhoods perched upon nearby rocky slopes.  Some truly stunning homes (with fantastic views!)

Homes perched in the rocks

This mountain biker saw me waiting with my camera and popped a wheelie (which I didn't notice until reviewing the day's photos later that night)

This biker popped a wheelie for me

We passed by a wide flat rock with a bunch of cairns placed randomly.  Not sure why there were so many. 

Not sure why there was so many cairns here

Our return trail took us closer and closer back to the base of Cathedral Rock.  We passed by a trail leading hikers all the way to it's summit.  It was packed with people!

Crowds climbing Cathedral Rock

Having already hiked about 6 miles, climbing up this steep rocky trail didn't appeal to me at the time (luckily, it wasn't on our agenda).

Zoomed out view

One of the great things about the loop hike we did, since the trail circled the base of Cathedral Rock, I got to see it from all directions.  Not sure which view was my favorite but if the sun had been at a better angle, it might have been this one.

Red rock cairn

One thing I try to remember as I hike is to look back.  Sometimes the best views are behind you.

Fantastic view looking back

For our final mile, Hans and Lisa led us down to the banks of Oak Creek.  We wound through an impressive grove of sycamore trees, their gnarly limbs and white bark shining in the afternoon light.  I'd never before seen trees like these!

Silvery new leaves on the trees

Oak Creek was a sizeable stream.  I didn't expect to see such a large water body here in the desert.

Admiring Oak Creek

Hans and Lisa mentioned they'd once seen a pack of javelinas (wild boars commonly found in desert areas) while hiking along this creek.  Although we all hoped for another wildlife sighting, there were none to be found. 

Lovely Oak Creek

The lovely shady creek area and interesting sycamore trees more than made up for any lack of javelinas.  A nice way to end this hike!

White bark Sycamore trees

We clocked in around 8.5 to 9 miles covered (depending upon which gps you looked at).  A great introduction to Sedona's amazing red rock country.

Calm waters

Time to head back to Hans and Lisa's RV for some well earned cold brews!  And plan tomorrow's next adventure.

Check out Steve and Mona Liza's blog (and all of Mona Liza's fantastic photographs) at The Lowe's RV Adventures

Check out Hans and Lisa's blog at Metamorphosis Road