Sunday, June 8, 2014

I hiked the Lost Canyon Loop in Sedona on the last day of May in 2014.  This is my favorite hike in Arizona because of its variety – scroll down slowly to read on, and to see why (about 40 photos with some narrative text).  I went with my son Stephen and his dog Chase.

The scenery in Sedona is spectacular – the shot to the right is on the way to the start of the loop.

It was warm in Sedona on that day – around 90 degrees by the end of the hike.  I have done this hike about six times before, always when it has been cooler, but each time I go I see something new.  

Chase was faster than us, but always found a shaded place to rest while waiting for us slowpokes to catch up.


To compensate for the heat, the prickly pear cactus flowers were plentiful and beautiful.


These cirrus clouds above us formed an interesting pattern but gave little shade.

Arizona Cyprus trees are very common in the Sedona area and our hike went past many groves.  Their bark is unusual, with most of it flaking off to make interesting colors and patterns.

Actually, I cheated a little – this particular trunk was taken on a previous trip to Sedona.  

Now we are on the loop, and this alcove is the first point of interest. 

The ruins here date back to the 
Sinagua Indians, who had disappeared by 1400, so the ruins are about 700 years old.  

By building under an alcove, they were protected from the rain and had shade in the hot summers.

Note the black on the "ceiling" from their fires.

The floor of the alcove is fairly flat, but you can see the drop-off to the right.  Perhaps they made the floor more level by carrying in loads of dirt.

At the far end of this alcove, there are some wonderful pictographs (not to be confused with the more common petroglyphs, which are inscribed not painted).  It is amazing that the colors they used for their images still look fresh after so many centuries of exposure to the elements.  

The figure with square shoulders is found all over the southwest, up into Utah and the Fremont people – maybe they represent gods.

Here are a few more pictographs, in brown and white and black.

At the far end of the alcove, there is a hole in the ground called a cyst where the Indians would store their grain in the winter, safe from vermin.  It would have had a flat stone as a cover.

You can see the pictographs on the wall behind the cyst.

Now we are on the way from alcove 1 to alcove 2, going on the ledge along the bottom of the cliff.  

It is surprising how some trees manage to grow on such a steep and rocky surface.

This is the entrance to alcove 2 – you can see where part of the ceiling has collapsed into a jumble of rocks, maybe burying another set of ruins.

At the base of the cliff under alcove 2, there are more pictographs (the two photos below) – some using yellow paint, perhaps from a different clay, or a different plant or mineral dye.

At the far end of alcove 2, ferns and even small trees are growing out of the rock.  I suspect the water table still seeps out at this level, watering the plants.  This seep would have weakened the rock over time, resulting in the alcove.

This is a close up of the lush
vegetation near the end of alcove 2.

Perhaps this was the source of water for the Indians.  

Maybe they used a straight stick to guide the drops of water down into a clay bowl, slowly and patiently.

Here is the view looking back, showing the ledge with its steep drop-off, and the curve of the alcove with its ferns.

The ledge at the bottom of the cliff continues, back into the sunlight.

Here is the view the Indians would have awakened to each morning – looking northeast across the tree-covered valley that leads to Brins Mesa, off to the right.  The stream of Oak Creek is on the far side of the distant cliffs.

This is a fault in the cliff, which leads up to the "bench" above – a bench is a mainly level layer of rock that can be narrow or wide, small or extensive.

This photo shows different colors of lichen, plentiful on the red rocks.

For the next part of our loop, we need to find a way to get up to the bench, but this climb is not it – unless you are a mountain goat!


Let me explain what you are looking at.  It's actually the root system of a small tree – the bigger roots are obvious, but there is a network of tiny roots at the top, which you could see if you were standing next to the rock face.

There must have been a small gap between the outer face and an inner face, into which the roots grew – a continuation of the seep we passed earlier.  The outer face has since spalled away, and the rest of the tree is long gone.

Now we have scrambled up to the bench, which has many agaves, or Century Plants, growing from cracks or dips where soil has accumulated.  This century plant in the foreground is just off the bench on a downward slope, and is starting to bloom.

The name "Century Plant" is from the belief that it takes a century before this agave sends up its stem and flower.  This actually only takes 20 to 25 years.  The stem would have started shooting up around March, growing rapidly until it's around ten feet high when it's ready to bloom.  This growth spurt varies depending on the altitude.

Here is a close up of the side branches, each with scores of reddish buds.  You can see some of the buds at lower right are beginning to open into a yellow flower.

By the end of the season, each flower will become a pod containing many seeds.  As they dry out, these pods explode, scattering the seeds all around, ready for the next twenty-year cycle.

The tall agave will then die and eventually fall over – having had its six months of glorious growth.

This shot was taken along the narrow bench above Lost Canyon, which is down below to the right.  The prickly pear cacti were profuse on our hike, with their showy yellow flowers.

Cactus flowers, with their waxy sheen, just beg to have their photos taken.  These twins are stunning!  

The bees love them too – you can see one burrowing into the stamens and pollen of the left flower.

By the autumn, the flowers have become the scarlet "prickly pears" that give this cactus its name.  The pears are edible and can be used to make jellies or soft drinks.

However, the pears are covered in nasty little dots (or warts) that have tiny and itchy "hairs".  They are quite hard to get out of your fingers.

This photo was taken one September on this same hike – when I took it at a cooler time.

Where the valley of Lost Canyon ends at a cliff, you can look down to see this isolated ruin.  

How the Indians reached it is hard to tell.  I'm guessing it must have been from below, but I'm also sure that they must have found many ways to climb between the different levels that would scare us to death.

Just past the ruin, the trail bends round to the right and follows the other edge of Lost Canyon.  

At one point on the bend, this chasm drops down vertically into the valley – don't go too close to take a picture!  

This is another example of the fault lines that have developed in the red sandstone over the eons.  Sedona was under a sea around 250 million years ago.  Before that, the area was a vast sandy desert, which became the red rocks we now enjoy.

This view is looking across Lost Canyon.  

The trail we hiked on to get to this viewpoint goes from left to right – along the narrow bench between the red cliff opposite and the drop-off that leads down to the valley bottom.

On a hike some years go, a little way past the last viewpoint, I almost stepped on this interesting salamander – I have never seen a blue one before or since. 

 I have failed to find out anything about what it is called.

It looks like a snake, but if you look closely at the photo, you can make out a foot, next to the head on the left, and see the other three legs.

This photo was taken after the trail had left Lost Canyon behind, and is about to go into and along Devil's Bridge Canyon.

This delicately balanced rock is on the far side of Devil's Bridge Canyon.  You would have thought some recent earthquake would have dislodged it.  Actually, balanced rocks are used by scientists to date when an earthquake last occurred in the area.

Here is another strange sight!  

This large rock must have come bouncing down from the cliff above, only to be caught in the arms of this big juniper tree – preventing it from continuing its plunge to the bottom of Devil's Bridge Canyon.  

The tree is still alive – junipers are able to survive even when their bark is almost gone and many of the branches are dead.

This photo, taken on an earlier jaunt with my local hiking group, shows the drop-off down into Devil's Bridge Canyon. 

Unless you have an uncontrollable fear of heights, walking on the grippy sandstone a few feet from the edge, becomes almost normal.  The compensation is the great views all around you.

At a point opposite Devil's Bridge, the bench opens out to a wide sandstone platform.  This point is about halfway round the loop –  the flat rock here makes a good place for a group to sit and enjoy a picnic lunch.

It is very hard to zero in on Devil's Bridge across the canyon, even with binoculars.  It helps if hikers are there – you can usually hear them talking.

This photo shows lichen, almost fluorescent, on the side of this platform.

A few hundred yards past the platform, your sharp eyes may see this amazing honeycomb in the red rock – an unusual product of erosion.

Here is another Century Plant in bloom – the yellow flowers have replaced the red buds.  At the bottom of the stem, you can see the bayonet-like base.

The bustling highway through West Sedona is on the far side of the mountain peak – another world!

This is a small cactus called a pincushion – about the size of a tennis ball and easy to miss.  It was right next to the trail, by a large boulder.

Despite it's size, it has a beautiful and delicate flower.

Here is another prickly pear flower, huge when compared with the pincushion.  

This one has reddish petals, instead of the more common yellow.

Where the trail along the bench is wide and flat, it is often littered with whiter rocks that have rolled down from the cliff to the left.

The mushroom hoodoo ahead is an important landmark for this hike.  It means you have to start looking for a small side trail off to the left.  This side trail climbs up to the ridge, just left of the mushroom.  Near the top, it is a bit of a scramble, but worse is soon to come – what I call the Challenging Chute!

When you reach the ridge and look ahead, you have to ask yourself "where the heck do I go next?"  Well, here is the view looking down the Challenging Chute – the bottom of the hike is in the valley far below. 

If you look carefully, you can see Stephen at the bottom of the photo, behind some bushes and next to the cliff on the left.  He is part way down the Challenging Chute, which is pretty steep and rocky – the solid cliff is a big help when descending.

You have to do it yourself to fully appreciate it.

This shot, from an earlier visit, may give you a better idea of the Challenging Chute, this time looking up.  

Bill, at the front, is contemplating his next step down the steep drop.  

Don, a little way above and behind him, is using the approved method on sitting on his butt and crawling down.  

The third fellow is awaiting his turn with trepidation.

About a quarter of a mile past the Challenging Chute is the Scary Slot, as seen in the photo on the left.  

This chasm is only two to three feet wide at its narrowest point, so an easy leap if you can persuade your mind that anyone can  jump that short distance – at least if this was on a flat surface.  

If you do, it's an adrenaline rush.  

If you chicken out, it's only a short walk to where the slot ends and the trail continues around on normal ground.

At the jump point, there is an anchor driven into the rock, so climbers use the Scary Slot to descend to the bottom – not my cup-of-tea!

Well, you've probably had enough excitement for one day, and we are close to the end of the loop, so here is a nice relaxing photo of a butterfly!  I think it is called an Arizona Sister, which is similar to a California Sister.

The Lost Canyon Loop is 5.2 miles.  The total hike, including access to and from the trailhead is around 7 miles, depending on which TH you start from.

I hope you have enjoyed my favourite hike and the photos.

If you'd like to see more photos of amazing places in the Southwest, click on this link BumpyRoadAdventures to go my website.  Contact me if you have any questions about my photos or tours.

Happy Hiking, Nigel