Hiking Yavapai by Stan Bindell
The trails among Sedona's red rocks are enticing to most every hiker, but, depending on your preferences, some are better than others.
Long Canyon Trail, one of the gateways to the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness, is a good trail that becomes great after rains fill out the multitude of dry stream beds in the area. Of course, it's been an unusually dry year, but don't let that put you off.
Long Canyon Trail is a 7.5-mile round trip. For us the first mile in the morning was in sun, but the farther you go, the more shade you find, from oaks, pines, maples, alligator junipers and Arizona cypress. Manzanita and other brush dot the early parts of the trail. Arizona cypresses are known for their shaggy bark and gumball-sized seeds.
The trail takes you among impressive cliffs, some cream-colored and others of towering red sandstone. A highlight of this trail is the tightly hugging hoodoos of the Three Sisters rock formation, smiling down.
We saw plenty of birds along the trail, including Steller's jays and red-tailed hawks. Badgers, bobcats, mule deer and mountain lions are known to visit the trail, but they stayed out of sight on this day.
The canyon rises from 4,551 to 5,379 feet, most of it so gradual you hardly notice, but with some steeper inclines deeper in. There are some ups and downs, including some rocks you'll want to be careful on, but this is a mostly an easy, smooth hike.
Established in 1984, the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness is known for its arches, slot canyons and views of surrounding mountains. Rock art is also not uncommon. There are 19 trails in this wilderness, including the well known Boynton Canyon, Secret Canyon and West Fork trails.
Long Canyon Trail is clearly not as well known as some of the others — parking was overflowing at other nearby trailheads. Even with a decent number of hikers on it, parking wasn't hard to find and it was easy to maintain social distancing on the trail.
The first two miles can be fairly busy, but once past the Secret Mountain Wilderness sign the traffic thins out. On the trail's last mile you may not see another hiker. It's generally quiet up there, but be warned that even wilderness designation can't prevent the frequent buzz of helicopter tours.
The far end of the trail gets a bit more narrow and has some poison ivy. Here you're between Secret Mountain and Maroon Mountain, with terrific views of Steamboat Rock, and the trail connects with Deadman's Pass, leading to Boynton Canyon, so you have options for going a lot farther.
Along the way you'll want to add the one-mile side trip to the Birthing Cave. You not only get more mileage, you get more of a workout because you have to scramble up about 150 feet to the cave's cathedral-sized mouth. About a half mile from the trailhead, turn left and cross over two logs. After that the path is clear, and you can see the cave from below. Some of the climb involves slippery sand, and you'll want to avoid the cactus on one side, so be careful and watch your footing. But it's worth the climb because the views from there are awesome. Many walk this trail just for the Birthing Cave.
Wilderness is our antidote to the sprawl consuming our open space. Wilderness designation by Congress provides the highest level of natural-resource protection available in the world. Dogs and horses are allowed in, but no motorized vehicles. Wheelchair access is allowed as well where terrain permits.
From Highway 89A in west Sedona take Dry Creek Road and bear left when it becomes Boynton Creek Road; continue to the stoplight at the T intersection and turn right onto Long Canyon Road (Forest Road 552D), and drive a half mile to the trailhead on your left.
For more information call the Red Rock Ranger District at 928-203-7500.
Stan Bindell is always looking for great hikes. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com.
Photos by hiking partner.