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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hike to Devil's Kitchen and the Seven Sacred Pools

Coconino National Forest, Sedona
Devil's Kitchen

Seven Sacred Pools
For a short trek, this little loop packs in plenty of variety.  First up, is Devil's Kitchen---Arizona's largest sinkhole. Formed by a series of catastrophic geological events, the hole will continue to grow over time and the AZ Geological Survey considers the area unstable and hazardous. Although it might look tempting, the sinkhole is just not safe to explore beyond the trail. A link below leads to an AZGS article about Devil's Kitchen and includes lots of interesting maps and data.   Beyond the slump, head left and hike less than a mile  to see the "seven sacred pools", a chain of shallow ponds scoured from red sandstone that reflect both blue sky and colorfully-layered canyon walls.  Once done exploring the pools, follow the trail through a calming landscape of cypress, juniper and yuccas to the sign for Red Rock Secret Canyon Wilderness.  Here, an unsigned, but obvious footpath heads right for a mildly steep quarter-mile side trip to the Soldier Pass Arches. Past the arches, the route makes its final ascent to the Brins Mesa Trail junction.  At just under 5,000' the views here are breathtaking and breath saving as it's all downhill trekking from here.  Continuing southeast on the Brins Mesa Trail, the route dives into a canyon land of Paleozoic-age sandstones singed by the 2006 Brins Fire.  A haunting landscape of blackened stubble mixed in with healthy high desert flora splatters the gorges in earthy shades of green.  A mid-segment lookout point provides unobstructed vistas of Sedona, and sometimes, graceful waterfalls can be seen washing over distant crags. 
From the trailhead, follow the access path 0.2 mile to the first junction and turn left to pick up the Soldier Pass Trail.  Hike roughly 0.7 mile to the wilderness sign where an optional side path leads to a series of natural arches.  This side trip will add 0.5 mile to the hike.  Continue another 1.0 mile on Soldier Pass to Brins Mesa Trail.  Turn right here and hike 2.0 miles to the Cibola Trail, turn right and go 0.6 mile to Jordan Trail, turn right again and hike 0.3 mile to the Soldier Pass junction, turn left and hike 0.2 mile back to the trailhead.

LENGTH:  5-mile loop (5.5 with arches detour)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION:  4,450'- 4,930'
FEE: A Red Rock Pass is required.  $5 daily fee per vehicle.
HOURS: the Soldier Pass trailhead is gated and open only from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
There's alternate access off Jordan Road.
From Phoenix, go north on I17 to exit 298 for Sedona/Oak Creek. Turn left (west) onto SR179 and continue to the traffic circle intersection at SR89A.  Veer left through the circle heading toward Cottonwood on SR89A.  Between milepost 372 and 373, turn right onto Soldier Pass Road, drive 1.5 miles to Rim Shadows, turn right and continue 0.25 mile to the short drive to the trailhead on the left.
INFO: Coconino National Forest, Red Rock Ranger District ,928-203-2900

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