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Friday, March 9, 2012

Sedona vortex hike


Renowned for its come-hither, otherworldly beauty, Sedona is like a quivering supernova on the Arizona landscape. The mere mention of the “S-word” sends me scrambling to assemble my gear in a heart palpitating must-go-hiking frenzy.  Alas, this is what addiction must feel like.  Thankfully the “fix” for a Sedona hiking Jones is benign (except, of course, for the whole $4 gas thing).  Obnoxious fuel costs notwithstanding, when the Sirens of Sedona call, and the weather is a perfect blend of winter nip and spring balm---what Valley resident can resist?  Although the destination choice is a relative no-brainer, selecting a hiking trail is the more complicated side of the Sedona hiking equation. Cow Pies is one of those off-the-radar vortex (a place thought to harbor energy and spiritual powers) routes popularized in Sherry & Richard Mangum’s book, Sedona Hikes.  Because of its funny name, this trail has been on my to-do list for decades so, when a friend suggested we do it, the equation tipped into balance. Because Cow Pies and most of the hundreds of other Red Rock Country trails are short, we wanted to incorporate a second path to get in enough foot time to justify the drive expense. A natural choice was the Munds Wagon Trail, which can be used to add hike mileage and/or avoid the kidney-jarring drive on Schnebly Hill Road.  However, like the adventuresome moron that I sometimes can be, I decided to brave the rutted road and drive to the Cow Pies trailhead---hey, what else are new tires and shocks for anyway, right? Driving a Toyota RAV4, with reasonably high clearance, it took us 30 minutes to go 3.5 miles.  Although I did not have to use the 4x4 and never came close to bottoming out-- I cannot help but wonder if the lurching little sedan with Nebraska plates we passed had the same success. As is turned out, the drive was the most interesting aspect of this trip.  Although it’s certainly an attractive area, the sketchy, canyon-bound route pales in comparison to other Sedona trails. Several minutes into the hike, it becomes clear how this path got its name.  Clusters of smooth-tiered russet rock mounds resemble bovine splatter wads—except, they are huge, actually FUN to step on and some cast colorful images onto shallow reflecting pools at their bases.  Rock cairns mark the out-and-back journey while obvious paths-of-use lead to scenic overlooks and a ledge traversing Mitten Ridge.  With our hiking Jones sated for the day, we headed uptown to service our truly pathological addictions---locally–roasted coffee and 44 oz jugs of Diet Coke.

LENGTH: 8 miles roundtrip
Cow Pies: 1.5 miles one-way
Mitten Ridge: 2.5 miles one-way
Munds Wagon Trail: 2 miles to Cow Pies or 4.5 miles/1000 feet gain, one-way for entire route
ELEVATION: 5,000' – 5,300' (Munds-Cow Pies)
RATING: easy (some loose footing & bare rock)
FEE:  $5 Red Rock Pass required
FACILITIES: restrooms at Huckaby-Munds Wagon trailhead
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 129 miles one way
From Phoenix, travel north on I17 to exit 298 for AZ 179/Sedona-Oak Creek. Go west (left) on AZ 179 to the traffic circle just before entering downtown Sedona.  Veer right into the circle and then take an immediate right onto Schnebly Hill Road (FR 153). Then....
Huckaby-Munds Wagon trailhead: continue 1 mile to the lot on the left. From here, hike 2 miles north on Munds Wagon, take the spur path up to Schnebly Hill Road and hike up to the Cow Pies trailhead.
Cow Pies trailhead: Continue 2.5 miles (road will turn to dirt) beyond the Huckaby-Munds Wagon trailhead to the Cow Pies trailhead on the left. The “official” parking lot is on the right across from the trailhead—but good luck getting over the massive ruts.  We parked along the road instead.
Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-203-7500
This hike is not featured on the FS web site, however, for an overview of the area, see:


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