Cooper Discover: Sinagua Ruins to New Age Sedona, With Maximum Solitude


I was thinking of Huck Finn as we prepared for a Memorial Weekend getaway. We function pretty well within civilization, but sometimes you just have to bust out for the wilderness. My wife, Laurie, and I were overdue for a little adventure. She had spent most of the previous week in the hospital, helping her Dad through a pacemaker replacement, so we weren't even sure we'd be able to get out of town. But that circumstance helped set the tone for the weekend: keep plans flexible, avoid clocks and crowds, reconnect with creation, and find some adventure.

As with any good adventure, the trip was not without challenges. The part about malleable plans was tested before we even departed, and we pushed back the departure from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning due to some family events.

Babysitting grandkids trumps early departure any day

I was hoping that holiday traffic out of Phoenix would have abated by Saturday morning, but we slowed to stop-and-go as soon as the interstate narrowed to 4 lanes at the edge of town. So we exited and took secondary roads through the little towns of Wickenburg, Yarnell, and Congress, finally arriving at Prescott via this slower but less stressful and more scenic route.

Laurie enjoys the solitude of offroad trips, but she also has a soft spot for art shows and ice cream. As we drove past the picturesque Prescott town square, traffic slowed for an art show, so that was our first stop. I kept repeating to myself: “Malleable plans. Don't worry about time.”

Art fair in Prescott

After some browsing and a decent food-truck lunch, we continued on pavement to Jerome and stopped for ice cream and window shopping. The ice cream was good, but Jerome was inundated with holiday visitors. As we walked up and down the busy streets, I eyed the gravel Perkinsville trail heading north to the Verde Valley and Sycamore Canyon, pleased by contrast of noisy crowds in town and empty gravel trail.

Much later than (I had) planned, we hit the trails. The Perkinsville trail follows portions of an old mining railroad grade, climbing out of Jerome and providing some spectacular vistas of the Colorado Plateau and Sycamore Canyon - our intended destination.

Heading out of Jerome on Perkinsville Trail

Crossing the Verde river at Perkinsville

After crossing the Verde river, and continuing north, I was pleased to turn onto a new trail for us, heading east toward lower Sycamore Canyon and some Sinagua ruins. The trail was a bit rougher/slower than I expected, and it was already well into the afternoon, so we adjusted our original plan to end the day further north on Sycamore Canyon. Instead we decided to camp at the end of the forest road where the hike to the ruins commences.

The site was beautiful and the solitude profound. We didn't see a single vehicle on the side trail nor anybody at the trailhead where we camped. We checked the log book for the nearby Sycamore Canyon hiking trail, and the most recent entry was almost a month ago.

The maintained hiking trail leading into Sycamore Canyon

Looking down on our campsite (hidden in the trees)

Camp is set, dinner is served

As night fell, we could see the lights of Jerome on the side of Mingus Mountain far away.

The start of a beautiful day

After a good night in the wilderness, we packed up the vehicle and then set out on a hike to search for the ruins. The ruins are not officially marked, so we took (digital) maps and followed a nominal trail that seemed to be going the right direction.

Cairns are a good indicator that we're on the right trail

The hike had some climbing

This sign was a good clue that we were getting close

Rounding the side of the cliff, we finally saw the ruins.

The ruins are sheltered within a natural alcove

Hiking up to the ruins, with the broad sweep of Sycamore Canyon as background

Another view of the natural alcove

The great thing about exploring these remote sites is having the place to yourself. Nobody else at the ruins, nobody on the trail, no railings or fences. Just explore the site in solitude and leave it as you found it.

Small entrance

Another view of the "small room." According to research, this was a two-story dwelling.

The construction details are interesting.

Intact roof centuries later

Roof support beam

The stonework integrates with the natural rock

Interesting to see the thickness of the reed layer

Wood lintel for the opening

Another stunning aspect of this site is the view on the canyon. I think these lesser canyons are frequently overlooked due to the proximity of the Grand Canyon. Sycamore Canyon is certainly spectacular in its own right.

Panoramic view into Sycamore Canyon

We meandered and navigated a bit on the hike to the ruins, and then we explored the nearby ledges and desert plants on the return trip - finding additional wall construction and fabulous views. I read about pictographs nearby, but we didn't find them. It was probably a 45 min hike each way.

Exploring other ledges near the ruins

Blooming prickly pear

Hole in the cactus

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After spending the morning with the ancient Sinagua, we headed back to Jerome, then hit pavement through Cottonwood and Sedona. We were glad to again get off the road at Schnebly Hill trail, although it was relatively crowded with Pink Jeeps and the occasional careening ATV.

Schnebly Hill Trail ascends from Sedona some 2000 feet to the Colorado Plateau, and once we were in the high country, we took a rough, boulder-strewn trail to find camping. Laurie loves rim campsites where you can see twinkling lights of civilization far below. I had previously camped with my son at a spot above Sedona that I thought she would like, so this was the weekend to take her there.

The trail was rougher than I recalled. Laurie got tired of the jarring ride and got out to walk for a while and literally had to slow down to avoid getting too far ahead. There were some mutterings as to whether the rough trail was worth it.

But again, the effort to get to remote spots was well rewarded. The camping and view was spectacular.

Campsite on the rim above Sedona

Not as scary as it looks

Camp is set - we slept in the back of the vehicle because we were moving each day

Now it's time to relax

And enjoy the sunset

And enjoy the dusk

Looking down on the lights of Sedona

Ahh this is why we do this

Star gazing was incredible both nights, with a late moonrise. As the skies darkened, it was difficult to find the north star due to all the visible nearby stars.

It's a great view in the morning too

Unfortunately, long weekends end, and we headed back to the metropolis. Merging onto the crowded interstate, we joined the stream heading back to the city some 100 miles south ..for a little while. Then after some 20 miles, we popped off at Dugas Ranch Trail to again keep to dirt roads, taking the Great Western Trail back into the greater metropolitan area.

This first section of the Great Western Trail (GWT), off Dugas Road trail was pretty rough and slow going. We had some rocky ledges and a few shallow stream crossings. Good thing we were not concerned about time.

Dugas Ranch Trail had 3 or 4 livestock gates - many cows and some horses along the trail

We had a few creek crossings on Dugas Ranch section of Great Western Trail

After the GWT intersected with Bloody Basin trail, the trail became somewhat maintained. It’s interesting to see the varying landscape at different elevations. The grasses and big vistas make me think of a savanna.

View from Bloody Basin trail

As we got closer to Phoenix area, we’d see occasional vehicles on the trail. More vehicles means more breakdowns, and we were able to help a couple folks along the way. Two nice couples in a jeep were pulled off along the side, so we stopped to see if we could help. He lost a nut for attaching a control arm, and then the bolt did some damage to the head as it worked itself out. After unsuccessfully trying to reinsert the bolt, with the theory of clamping/taping/ or somehow keeping it in place, I was able to cannibalize my Hi-Lift Wheel Mate and offer that bolt and locknut, which was just long enough but slightly smaller diameter so that it could fit through the messed up arm. I always say I’m not a (vehicle) mechanic, but enough time with the LR3 has possibly turned me into a bit of a trail mechanic.

We continued down the trail and soon came across another couple vehicles with wheels and jacks strewn about. A family in a big SUV (with crappy tires and crappier spare) had their second flat. But a good samaritan had already stopped and was helping them, but we could offer some water (the family was out).

By this time the jeep with the trail-fix control arm caught up. After exchanging pleasantries, they invited us to join them at the Seven Springs cabins where one guy’s brother has a cabin. Phoenix people might be familiar with these rustic cabins off the side of the Seven Springs trail. They are on a leased Forest Service land, and we’ve always been curious about these cabins, so it was a great get a tour of the little community and get to know the nice folks in the Jeep.

We arrived back in town before dark, not really sure of the time in keeping with the trip theme. Also in keeping with the theme, we stopped for the final holiday weekend ice cream. This was a nice end to a great trip. And we cured the wanderlust, until the next trip...

Here's a G+ album with more photos.
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