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Grand Canyon National Park

Sedona

Grand Canyon National Park

   

   

   

 

Sedona, AZ

   

   

 

Bear Mountain, Sedona, AZ

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

Since 2007 had already been a year of extensive travel and numerous hikes, we decided to add one last adventure before the year ended. We traveled to Peoria, Arizona, just outside Phoenix, where we spent Christmas with family and friends. Mom’s parents, “V&A,” drove in, in their RV and her sister, Linda, flew in from Minnesota. Also joining us, from Colorado, was “Mom’s” cousin, Anita, her husband, Jim, with a trailer full of ATVs in tow. “Windtalker’s” daughter, Harmony, came down from Las Vegas, with her friend, Jarrod, and his son, Travis, who lives in Scottsdale with his mother, joined us as well. Rounding out our entourage, were our friends, Kelley and Bill Larsen and their two daughters. It was a bit odd celebrating Christmas, in a place that was so warm, but we all had a great time together.

It had been many years since we last visited Sedona, Arizona, so on Christmas Eve day,

we awoke at 4:00 a.m. to make the two hour drive, there, in order to take a sunrise hike up Bear Mountain. The last time we were in Sedona, we spent Christmas at The Inn on Oak Creek, and were completely mesmerized by the wondrous beauty of the rust-red mountains and buttes that surrounded the village. It is truly a picture book setting, which rivals any that we have seen anywhere else in our travels. As we drove into town, in the early-morning darkness, we were astounded at the change that has taken place since we last visited there. Sprawling shopping centers, outlet stores and every conceivable fast food restaurant that you can name, have replaced the “artsy” shops, filled with creations by local artisans, which were the hallmark of this picturesque little village. The quaintness is still there, but has taken a back seat to commercial progress. It was a bit disheartening to see.

It was 28°F when we arrived in town, so we stopped at a McDonalds to change into our long underwear and to have a quick breakfast. As the morning sun lit up the mountaintops and cascaded down into the valleys below, we drove to the Red Rock Secret Wilderness Area. We purchased our park pass, and set out to locate the Bear Mountain trailhead, using the map we printed out from the Trails.com website. We discovered, much to our dismay, that the map had not been updated to reflect the fact that, what was supposed to be a “maintained dirt road” was now paved. We inadvertently drove past the trailhead as we searched for the infamous dirt road where the trailhead was listed as being. Thank goodness we rented a Subaru Outback, because we drove a considerable distance, on a rut-strewn road, that was definitely not “maintained” until we decided that we had missed the trailhead, and turned around. We eventually found the trailhead parking lot, donned our packs, winter coats, hats and gloves, and started out across the meadow at the base of the mountain.

There was no mistaking where we were heading, because Bear Mountain, all 1,800 feet of it, stood directly ahead of us. The total distance to the summit, and back, was 4.2 miles so we it would be a strenuous, but magnificent, hike.

 

The trail first crossed two dry washes and headed across level ground towards the sandstone cliff that dominates the base of the mountain to the north. Within five minutes, we entered the wilderness area and the rocky climb began. The hillside was filled with cactus and switchbacks and there were, continually views of mesas and buttes. All around us was typical desert vegetation, including ocotillo, prickly pear, and yucca. At a wall of fascinating sculptured rock, we turned left and continued climbing steeply, following the cairns to stay on the right route. There were numerous places where, if you were not paying attention, you could easily loose the trail.

 

After only twenty minutes, we reached the first plateau and, while standing near a huge sandstone monolith, we looked to our left, to view the plains, the flat mesa of Doe Mountain, and the distant hills. We continued on, up the head of a treacherous side canyon hemmed in by cliffs on both sides, and soon we reached a second, rocky plateau. Here we had expansive views of forested plains, scattered with sandstone buttes, cliffs and other formations.

 

We followed the cairns across a broad plateau, covered with low shrubs and windblown ponderosa pine, until we saw the bare gray rock of a false summit, ahead. As we looked off, into the distance, we could see that we still had a long way to go to reach the summit. Everywhere we looked, there were more, magical vistas: red sandstone buttes and pinnacles, pink and white cliffs, carved canyons, and plains and mesas stretching for miles into the distance. The sandstone cliffs around us, continually changed color as the morning sun rose higher above the horizon. “Mom” was in photographer’s heaven!

 

By now, the temperature had reached a balmy 45°F, so we took off our winter gear and climbed the rest of the way in summer shirts. Despite the warmth of the air, there was still quite a bit of snow, form a recent storm, hiding in the shade of numerous crevasses.

 

After an hour, we traveled down some, fairly, steep switchbacks and then, once again, started climbing. The trail surface was not that difficult because of the large amount of hiker traffic that proceeds up, and down, this trail. What was nice was that there were so many spots on the trail, where it was open, that whenever we wanted a break, we could just turn around and soak up the spectacular scenery. We began another steep ascent and there, to our right, like a photo from a National Geographic magazine, was a view into Fay Canyon, stretching as far, and as deep, as we could see. It was near here that the trail leveled off, and dropped down, for the last time. Ahead, etched in gray rock, was another false summit, with the forested, true summit, behind. Everywhere we looked, there were more fabulous views, red pinnacles to the left, with the plains beyond and the high sandstone walls of Fay Canyon to the right.

 

Now the hard climb began. We followed the cairns across bare, sculptured rock slabs that, because of how they laid upon each other, formed patterns that looked like giant spider webs. The sight was something we had never seen before. Adding to the difficulty of this climb, was the fact that the sun rarely reached this shady side of the mountain, so the trail was blanketed in ice and patches of snow. We gingerly made our way up a narrow pass until we reached a small summit where we, again, turned around to view the spectacular sight of Fay Canyon. By this time, the sun had reached its zenith, so the canyon was painted in a different set of colors than it had been a mere, hour before. It was here that we met a volunteer forest ranger, out doing his rounds. We stopped and chatted with him for a few minutes and, he informed us that, because of a recent forest fire, the summit of Bear Mountain was quite austere. The lack of trees would make it possible for us to view the snow-covered San Francisco Peaks, north of Flagstaff. We could not wait to get there.

 

The last climb to the summit was short, but it was not easy! It was here that the trail was rocky, and less groomed, as we made our way through Indian paintbrush and century plants. For what seemed like hours, we pounded our way up, always keeping an eye out for the cairns that marked the way. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, there were no white blazes here pointing the way. After a long 15 minutes, the trail leveled out and there we stood, on the summit of Bear Mountain. Because of the fire, we had the unusual advantage of having 360° panoramic views and, a short walk across the summit, brought us to a spot where we could see the San Francisco Peaks.

 

We spent a long time there, looking down on the red rocks, in the middle of the wilderness, as we reflected on the fantastic peace and solitude we found there, far away from the noise and crowds of our “real lives.”

 

With the sun beginning to make its way toward sunset, we began our journey back to the trailhead. Generally, we enjoy going up mountains more than we do going up them because descents take a toll on our knees. However, here, despite the steepness of the trail, and the loose rocks under foot, any knee pain we felt was washed away by the views. On the way down, all of the red beauty of the Coconino sandstone cliffs, the pinnacles of Fay Canyon, the mesas beyond and the pastoral valleys, stretching to the foot of distant mountains, were all right there, ahead of us. On our way up, we saw only one person, the ranger, but on the way back down, the trail suddenly was crowded, so we constantly came upon hikers making their way up. We had been having such a good time, and the views were so amazing, we had not stopped to eat. So, with Doe Mountain in the near distance and a view of the trailhead just below us, we stopped to sit on a large flat outcropping, and had lunch.

 

The entire trip, to the summit and back, took us four hours, far longer than published in the trail guides. But we did not care. Every minute we spent on Bear Mountain provided us with memories that would last a lifetime.

 

 

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