Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Soldiers Pass - Brins Mesa Loop; Sedona Magic

~ 6 mile loop
800' Gain/Loss
Moderate Difficulty

Even for non-believers, Sedona is magical.  The supposed swirling energy vortexes that dot the area are truly no match for the sheer magic and beauty of the hematite (iron oxide) laden sandstone red rock (known as the Schnebly Hill Formation) framed by lighter bands of limestone. Once viewed, it is easy to see why these red rocks would easily inspire a spiritual response even to the most stoic, jaded visitor.

This inspiration is not isolated only to the artist, mystic or seeker of the sacred. For the hiker, Sedona is likely to create a sense of unabashed awe.  Guidebooks point to at least 150 trails, loops and cross-country treks with more being established every year. Though Sedona proper encompasses only 19 square miles of land, its trekable environs reach well beyond the city limits.

To deal with the overwhelming decision of what trail to tackle, there is no better place to stop than The Hike House. Located near the intersection of highways 89A and 179, their sage advice and “Sedona Trail Finder” computer program will help you find the right hike, practically customized for just for you.  They also have a nice gear and clothing store. Their snack shop is a good place to energize the body before or after a hike. Don’t miss this place.

For this trip, the Soldiers Pass – Brins Mesa – Cibola – Jordon Trail loop was selected. With a total mileage of about 6 miles and an elevation change of about 800 feet, this loop offers views, natural arches, sinkholes, sacred pools and a trek along a high mesa.
The trailhead is accessed by taking Soldiers Pass Road off of Hwy 89A, following it northerly through a subdivision until it intersects with Rim Shadows Road. Make a right and look carefully to the left as you drive on Rim Shadows for the small, but well established trailhead parking lot. 

Though others have stated otherwise, according to the Hike House and the most recent map I have, a Red Rocks Parking Pass (available at Ranger Stations and Hike House) is not required here as it is in many other trailhead parking lots. The lot can and often fills during peak hours and is locked after 6:00 pm. If you do find yourself behind the locked gate, it will automatically open when approached in a car.

Follow trail signs for the Soldiers Pass Trail as it parallels and crosses some wide jeep trails. Stay to the left of the Jordan Trail intersection as you step up to the Devils Kitchen, the only natural sinkhole in Sedona.  Continue on until you reach the Seven Sacred Pools, a series of naturally carved pools created by runoff from the surrounding terrain. 

The pools generally have some water in them year-round and wildlife frequent them in the early mornings and late afternoons.  This is where you will likely see the crowds thin out and won’t see any jeeps again until the end of the hike.  Red rock cliffs adorn on either side of the trail which makes it difficult to concentrate on the path before you.

A little more than a mile from the trailhead you may notice a side trail located just past a posted metal Forest Service Wilderness sign on your right. If you follow this well marked trail, (often blocked with stones and branches) you’ll be treated to a number of arches and alcoves on the side of the opposite mesa. The trail leads to a slick rock ledge and then sharply up just shy of one third of a mile to a series of three arches.

Returning again to the Soldiers Pass trail, you’ll soon begin to climb more steeply up a single track to the top of Soldiers Pass, topping out at about 2.2 miles from the trailhead.  I highly suggest that before you work your way up along a ridge to the top of Brins Mesa, stop and look behind to look down into Soldiers Creek Valley, the town of Sedona and Bell Rock in the distance.  At the Soldiers-Brins intersection, turn right towards the top of and across Brins Mesa.

The walk across the mesa is easy as you pass skeletons of large trees surrounded by abundant new growth oaks and cypress. This forest is rebounding wildly from a devastating fire in 2006.  To the north and east, you’ll be treated to views of Mormon Canyon, Schnebly Hill and Mitten Ridge. Soon the trail will lead to the edge of Brins Mesa and then drops sharply to a series of natural stone steps and a gravel strewn, slippery path into Mormon Canyon.  

Follow Brins Mesa Trail until you encounter a parking lot (the Brins Mesa/Jordon Trail trailhead) located about 2 miles from the Soldiers Pass intersection. Before reaching the lot, look right for the Cibola Pass trail and make the sharp right as it traverses towards Cibola Rock, an unusual formation that will eventual rise northeast of your position.

After almost a mile, keep an eye out for trail signs that leads to the Jordan Trail.  My trail map did not include some newly developed trails, Javelina and Ant Hill to name two, so be mindful that you don’t take an unplanned side trip.

The Jordon Trail continues about .7 miles further where it meets up with the Soldiers Pass Trail, just south of the Devils Kitchen. Turn left onto Soldiers Pass and follow it for about a half mile to your starting point trailhead parking lot.

The hike is a moderate one with a few steep climbs, jaw-dropping views and satisfying day hike mileage.  A quick Google search will give you numerous sites that also outline this hike, but I recommend a visit to David Creech’s hiking blog, featured below, as well as a stop to the Hike House for additional maps and friendly guidance.

Any visit to Sedona will undoubtedly result in the desire to return, explore further and discover so very much more. Perhaps you might also find a missing piece of yourself that you never knew was gone.  Sedona is like that.