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  • Lisa Parsons

A Better Kind of Hangover

View of the Sedona valley from the Saddle

Getting to the trail was our first foray off road on some rocky technical Jeep road.  David was very nervous.  Would his hours of work on building the van be rattled loose by an 4 x 4 road adventure? Would the jarring around of the vehicle tear metal bolts from the wall?  Would electrical cables come loose?  So many things to consider.  But this first five months was out time to test the van and see what worked and what didn’t work before heading off on our longer journey of almost two years.

He was thinking about all these horrible possibilities and I was thinking about how we could take the road all the way to Schnebly Hill Vista on Saturday.  A 11 mile Jeep road to the top of a vista where we could camp and look back down into the sandstone valley during the full moon.

We left the pavement and immediately started a slow jostle over sandstone rock and uneven dirt ground to our trailhead destination beyond the pavement.  From where we parked we could bypass 2 miles of trail along the creek and go straight up to the Saddle and test out our van. We arrived at the trail and everything seemed to have survived the 2 miles of rocky road.

The trail to the saddle branched off the main trail just on the other side of a sandstone wash with pools of water that still had water in them from the last rain. It was approximately 1 mile up to the saddle on a soft orange dirt trail that headed upward into the valley through piñon pines, prickly pear, and agave cactus.  We even saw a few barrel cactus.  We weaved through forest and then along the edge of the mesa along sandstone, and rocky steps along the wider base.  In a few areas the trail narrowed and it dropped off precipitously to our left.  We did a half moon circle to the base of the saddle and then switched back up the front from ledge to ledge.  

On top the saddle is where to mesas meet and form a smooth sandstone saddle between the two.  The views on either side were breathtaking.  The valley we came up was narrower with white sandstone cliffs along the far side and the orange of the mesas on the side we were on.  At the far end of the valley we could see where the road zigzagged to the top of the ridge line to Schnebly Hill Vista.  The valley floor was filled with the wash and piñon forest. A deep dark green against the sandstone landscape.

The other side was a wider canyon that included the town of Sedona and vistas across to sandstone mesas and layers of mesas and ridge lines.  Below was the valley where town was located and highway 89.  To the southwest was a fading valley that continued southward to Cottonwood and Jerome.  Up valley the city turned to rural and then to public land of piñon pines and Manzanita. Across the valley was Midgley Bridge trail access.

At the top of the mesa the trail continued across a sandstone shelf and then climbed steeply up the adjoining mesa.  We followed its steep course for a while and then decided that we’d settle in the saddle for evening photos of the surrounding landscapes.  This is a mt. Bike trail and this section of trail was a challenging one should we attempt to try and ride it.  

At the saddle David laid down in the moving sun and took a. nap.  He had to move every 10 minutes up slope to stay in the sun.  I sat up my tripod and tried to capture the evening light as it moved, settling the deeper canyons and steep valleys into shade, lighting up the orange, red, and white of the mesas in sequences of vibrant changing color that lit like a flame as the sun set.  Just after the sun began its final descent we headed back down to capture more intimate landscapes in that golden pre-dusk light.  Our paths still illuminated by the setting sun.  The colors of everything seems so clear and intense, yet subtle as we move from golden light into the blue light of dusk.

We started our drive back out the Jeep road just as the sunlight was fading and the near full moon was rising.  We made our way slowly and carefully down the technical road.  We passed a Jeep with its hood up and two women with a warming fire waiting for a tow truck.  A commercial Jeep drove by us with their paying customers on their way back to town.  We rounded a bend and before us the city lights decorated the dark landscape and the headlights of cars painted streaks along the roadways below the mesas.  We stopped and I got out my tripod and camera for some evening photos of the city lights and distant mesas in front of us.  Behind was a white cliff band and a brilliant white, near full moon, that glowed like a night sun against the darkening blue sky. 

Another perfect end to another adventurous day that started with a hike of the West Fork of Oak Creek and a trip to Flagstaff for new Time Atac peddles as David’s broke on our first ride of the trip.  Now we headed for dinner at Whole Foods which we ate in the parking lot.  Then we headed back to our boondocks camp from the night before.

I had my sights set on wild camping at the top of Schnebly Hill Road at the vista. The only question is how would we get there.

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