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Thursday, September 1, 2016


V Bar V Heritage Site
Petroglyphs at V Bar V 
After surviving centuries of exposure to Arizona's extreme climate, the petroglyphs at V Bar V Heritage Site almost succumbed to cow butts. There's an air of mysticism about the tiny alcove that bears the etchings of the Southern Sinagua people who lived in the area from A.D. 1150 to around 1400. Shaded by sandstone bluffs near the banks of Wet Beaver Creek east of Sedona, site is wrapped in a strip of viney, deciduous forest that insulates it from the surrounding high desert heat. It's no wonder the cows found it too.
Ranch relics along the trail
Beautiful mysteries in the rock
Seeking water and a shady spot to wallow away the days, grazing cattle from ranch operations that occupied the property during the 20th century would congregate at the cliffs, rubbing their hides against the ancient embellishments. Luckily, a rancher who understood the historical value of the rock art fenced off the site before the cows could scour away the etchings. Today, a swath of bovine-butt-burnished sandstone is still visible on the panels. Since this initial save, the preservation baton has been passed on to Coconino National Forest, Verde Valley Archeological Society, Friends of the Forest and the Arizona Natural History Society.
With more than 1000 documented petroglyphs, the site is the most concentrated and best preserved in the Verde Valley. Volunteers conduct on-site talks describing archeological findings and theories about the meaning and purposes of the symbols. Without this guidance, you might not notice that much of the art swirls around a sophisticated solar calendar. Guides point out what are believed to be solstice markers, planting calendar, records of celestial events and a map of the Verde River tapped into russet stone walls.
Creekside trail to the archeological site

Although we'll never know for sure what the incised images of animals, humans and geometric forms represent, it's fun to toss around your own creative hypotheses. Perhaps the beautifully symmetrical designs record dance steps, songs, shamanistic messages, family names or the doodling of hunters waiting for a deer to wander into range. Regardless of our guesswork, this was, and is an important place worthy our continual protection.
Volunteer guides enlighten visitors
LENGTH: 1 mile round trip
RATING: easy
From Interstate 17 north of Camp Verde, take the Sedona-Oak Creek exit 298. Turn right at the bottom of the offramp and continue 2.8 miles to the entrance on the right. The site is open Friday through Monday 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are restrooms, picnic tables and a gift shop at the visitor center. A Red Rock Pass is required and may be purchased on site.
INFO & MAP: Coconino National Forest

Monday, August 29, 2016


Madonna and Two Nuns as seen from Llama Trail
Some of Arizona's most beautiful hiking trails reside miles beyond the vestiges of civilization along impossibly convoluted, tire-eating backroads. For those with a vehicle robust enough for the journey, the payoff is a kind of solitude unique to Arizona's remote regions. If you're driving a compact sedan, your destination options are more limited, but there are places where its possible to park at a groomed trailhead off a paved byway and still unplug from the masses. Once such destination departs from the heavily used Little Horse trailhead in Sedona.
Cathedral Rock on horizon
A quick assessment of the crowded parking lot might lead you to doubt the claim that peace and quite lie beyond the throngs of camera totting tourists and scampering kids. However, in less than a mile, the Llama Trail veers away from the mobs of hikers who mostly stick to the main routes leading to Chicken Point and Bell Rock. Originally blazed by mountain bikers, this alternative route covers much of the same territory as the big name trails but without the elbow-to-elbow traffic. It's still a major thruway for bikers, who relish the fast slick rock and wavy earth, so stay alert especially near blind turns. Although not entirely insulated from the hum of vehicles on Highway 179, Llama Trail rubs the boundary of Munds Mountain Wilderness and the plumb walls of Lee Mountain. It's just rough around the edges enough for a feral yet familiar ambiance. You'll never feel lost here because world famous rock formations visible throughout the hike help with orientation. Madonna and the Nuns plus Capitol Butte guard the north, while Courthouse and Bell Rocks anchor the southern horizon. To the west, the unmistakable spires of Cathedral Rock blush pink at sunset. There are several ways to tie the trail into a day hike. Here's one to try.
From the trailhead, follow Bell Rock Pathway 0.3 mile south and turn left onto Little Horse Trail. Hike 0.6 mile to the Llama Trail junction on the right. Hike 2.6 miles to Baby Bell Trail, turn right and go 0.2 mile back to Bell Rock Pathway and follow it 1.7 miles back to the trailhead.
Take this turn to bypass the crowds
LENGTH: 5.4 mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4240' - 4400'
FEE: A Red Rock Pass is required to park.
From Phoenix, travel north on Interstate 17 to the Sedona-Oak Creek/State Route 179 exit 298. Head west (left) on SR179 and continue to the Little Horse trailhead on the right at milepost 308.9.
INFO: Coconino National Forest