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Monday, January 21, 2013


Sycamore Canyon Wilderness
Descent into Sycamore Canyon: Jan. 19, 2013

Big enough to awe but small enough to conquer, Arizona's second largest canyon is no simpering runner-up.  Whereas our #1 gorge, the Grand Canyon, is sculpted into over a million acres of  knotted cliffs and soft bends by Colorado River water, its little sibbling looks like a 55,937-acre, rough-hacked slice of geological layer cake. From it's head on the forested plateaus and prairies near Williams to its spring-fed riparian oasis outlet in the Verde River Valley near Cottonwood, the canyon's diverse terrain spans three national forests (Kaibab, Prescott and Coconino) and two wilderness areas (Red Rock and Sycamore Canyon).  One of dozens of routes leading into the wilderness, the Dogie Trail #116 accesses the canyon's midsection in the heart of Sedona's red rock country and is a convienient entre for backpackers setting out on the Taylor Cabin Loop circuit.  For a location sandwiched less than 10 miles from two busy towns, the Dogie Trail exudes a  primitive "out-there" kind of feel.  The trail's geological confection is one of blaze-red sedimentary sandstone and buff-colored limestone with a frosting of inky-black, volcanic basalt.  Wind and water working over 290 million years have etched bizarre works of art on the canyon walls while shaking loose a mixture of sand,  marine fossils and chunks of glitzy quartz which have spilled  down gullies to settle  underfoot along the route.  The pinion pines, scrub oaks and junipers bursting from the trail's  ancient rock pediment offer  little shade, which is why the best window of opportunity to enjoy a nice cool outing here is from November through March. Temperatures topped out in the high 50s when we hiked here this weekend, but it felt much warmer. This repurposed cattle trail (a "dogie" is an orphaned calf)  is maintained in an respectful, unobnoxious kind of way, which is to say that the path is clear but not overworked and signs are posted only at important junctions to preserve the wilderness experience.  When used for an out-and-back day trip, keep in mind that you'll be hiking down on the way in and up on the way out and even though 400' of elevation change may not sound like much, the constant dips and rises over loose-pebble ledges and rocky creek beds will test your stamina more than expected.
Doggies on the Dogie Trail

LENGTH: 5.4 miles one way
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION: 4850' - 4450'
BEST SEASONS:  spring, fall, winter
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 117 miles one way 
From Phoenix, travel north on I17 to the McGuireville exit 293.  Go left onto Cornville Road and continue 13 miles to AZ89A.  Turn right and go 7 miles on  89A  to FR 525 just past milepost 364 on the left.  Turn left and go 2.8 miles on 525 to a fork in the road with a sign for "Palatki", turn left here to get on FR525C---which is not signed.  Continue 8 miles on FR525C, there are many side roads but 525C is  well signed and dead ends at the trailhead.   ROAD CONDITIONS: The access roads are good dirt with just a few moderately rough spots and a short section of mountain grades.   Although high-clearance is preferable, carefully-driven passenger cars can get thru just fine.   Call ahead, though,--the forest service sometimes closes the access roads due to weather. 
Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-203-7500, 928-203-2900 

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