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Monday, February 15, 2016


Oak woodlands in Long Canyon
There's something magical about the way hiking in a canyon can make the stresses of everyday life melt away. After a long week of juggling priorities, chores, shuttling kids and trying to maintain a semblance of work life balance, who couldn't use a good squeeze? In terms of sheer quantity of canyon trails, Sedona offers a pulsating super nova of choices. Boynton, West Fork, and Fay canyons are easy access crowd favorites while Secret and Loy attract those looking for more challenge and solitude. In between, there's Long Canyon. Located near a hub of newer routes, this oldie but goodie is mostly overlooked by hikers seeking fresh dirt. But, to shrug this trail off would be to miss a journey through four types of forests pressed between converging sandstone bluffs weathered into bizarre, russet pinnacles. Stepping out from the trailhead, the path is wide and well worn, passing an upscale resort (golf course, eyes right) before dissolving into the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness. The massive profiles of Steamboat Rock and Maroon Mountain act as sentries at the canyon's entrance. For the first mile, the trail passes through typical high desert scrub dominated by manzanita and yucca. As the canyon walls begin to close in, the trail transitions into a forest of juniper and Arizona cypress trees with their characteristic shaggy bark. Several drainage crossing and a tighter pinch of canyon walls precede the entry into a deciduous woodland of Emory oaks and alders. Here, the trees are so thick they nearly block out views of the soaring stone walls that rise hundreds of feet over head. After a short climb, the first Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs appear, sharing the ever narrowing gorge with an understory of jostled washes and low-growing brambles. Although the official trail is 3 miles long, it's difficult to tell just where it ends and rudimentary footpaths take over. I had hiked to a point where the path became overgrown. When I checked my GPS, I had hiked 4 miles. At this point, a fortress of canyon walls surround a damp, earthy cloister devoid of all the hassles of civilization. Ponder the calming effects of bird calls bouncing off stone escarpments and breezes exhaled from the head of the canyon. It feels like nature hugging you closer.
LENGTH: 3 miles one way
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4,200' - 5,600'
FEE: None. A Red Rock Pass is not required.

From the State Route 89A/179 traffic circle in Sedona, go 3 miles west on 89A (left, toward Cottonwood) to Dry Creek Road (Forest Road 152C), turn right and continue 2.9 miles to Long Canyon Road (Forest Road 152D), turn right and go 0.5 mile to the trailhead on the left.
INFO:  Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest

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