Warning: Purists will not like this Sedona trail about to be featured. In fact, if you are one of those outdoors sticklers who abhor even a glimpse of the encroachment of civilization upon the pristine natural environment, then you might as well turn the page now and peruse the hockey scores.
OK, now that we’ve dealt with those folks, what say we talk about a 5.7-mile loop bordering the busiest part of Sedona, a relatively easy trek on undulating singletrack that originally was discovered and constructed by mountain bikers but since has been retrofitted for the rest of us?
Sure, there are some technical sections — rocks, roots and the like — but the 567-feet in elevation gain is gradual, no lung-busting long climbs included. You’ll see an array of flora, sort of a hybrid desert-forest motif, with trees and brush (cypress, manzanita, prickly pear) that are a welcome change to a Flagstaffian’s steady diet of ponderosa pine. And then there’s the climax of the trip, a glimpse into a geologic marvel, the Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole.
What’s not to like?
Well, we might as well ‘fess up at the outset.
To get the most out of this course, part of the Soldier Wash trail system in northwest Sedona, you’re going to have to suspend your disbelief and do some gaze-averting. That’s because, as noted above, there are some eyesores to ignore, sounds to blot out and, yeah, those jeep tours to endure.
Along the path, you’ll run next to, and sometimes underneath, power lines. You’ll graze the outskirts of million-dollar homes looking down upon you, gorgeous architectural marvels that nonetheless qualify as eyesores because, well, they are abutting a trail. You’ll have to run or hike parallel, though slightly in a gully, to Highway 89A for nearly a mile. Closer to the sinkhole, you’ll share precious trail space with gawkers on those jeep tours.
Even given all that, this loop is to be welcomed and should be widely used simply because it exists and the land preserved from become yet another housing development or luxurious resort.
There are many other trails in Sedona where you can lose yourself in nature, feel the high-lonesome peace of being alone with your thoughts and some swooping eagles. But this one — I’m going to name it the Sedona Sinkhole Loop, since no formal title exists — is good for people who don’t have all day and want to get in some “outdoor therapy” before continuing on with their day and want to see that massive sinkhole.
The first indication that this is a more “urban” trail comes on the drive to the trailhead. At Sedona’s first roundabout, in the midst of upscale boutiques and energy-crystal emporiums, you make a right on Jordan Road and follow it until it ends, then make a left into a gorgeous housing development with views of the distant red rock formations. The development ends in a cul-de-sac, but a rutted dirt road leads you on to the trailhead.
Upon exiting your car, you detect a distant buzzing. Could be coming from Highway 89A. Could be the nearby power lines.
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Just ignore it. That could be the mantra for this loop. Focus on the good things — those leaning cypresses, the bark-peeling manzanita, those rouge buttes in the distance — and the minor annoyances of civilization will recede.
For those doing the loop on foot, please note that it’s best to get out early in the day before the mountain bikers descend. This originally was their trail, after all, and a local bike store even sponsored the directional signage, so don’t get miffed if riders blow by you.
Running or hiking on a path designed for bikers actually is kind of fun, chock full of dips and swirls, twists and turns as it is. Another plus is that the paths are smoother than the standard desert rockiness of Sedona’s more remote trails. Years of tire tracks have worn away the jaggedness. And, since many mountain bikers aren’t exactly fans of epic climbs in their “granny gears,” you the runner or hiker don’t have to meet the challenge, either.
The first half-mile on the Jordan Trail is tree-shaded and sheltered from direct view of houses. It also is entirely downhill. But once you turn onto the 1.5-mile Javelina Trail (no ugly pigs spotted, alas), you are running alongside power lines almost all the way to 89A. Along the way, houses pop up out of the tree line. They are not that obtrusive, though I did spy a man chowing down at his breakfast nook.
Javalina ends just before a ditch next to 89A. You make a right on the aptly-named Grand Central Trail (kind of busy), then a quick left on the Crusty Trail, which parallels 89A for another half-mile.
You look forward to the junction with the 2-mile Adobe Jack Trail, which the map promises to take you away from the hub-bub and back into nature. And that it does, providing you keep looking to your right. Look left, and you’ll see rows or houses and either townhouses or resorts. You are able to find a running rhythm on Adobe Jack, with its slight uphill, and you start to eagerly anticipate reaching Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole.
Halfway through, though, you hear a banging reverberating in the canyon. Not gunshots — too steady and repetitive for that. More like hammering. Sure enough, someone is building a back deck on a home. The percussive noise follows you all the way to the sinkhole, where that sound is joined by the pink jeeps pulling into the Soldier Pass trailhead parking lot to dispense tourists.
Peering downward into the abyss, you overhear someone from a resort tour mansplain the geology with astute observations such as, “Big hole, man. Big (freaking) hole.”
Well, he technically was correct.
Blissfully, the final mile back to the trailhead along the slickrock of the Jordan Trail and the welcome climb up the cypress-lined Cibola Pass Trail was almost like being alone in nature.