Friday, June 4, 2010

On Foot Part V - Bear Mountain

Years ago I chose to work in the winter sports industry, and I enjoy a job where being outdoors doesn't stop with the end of summer. That said I also appreciate the variety of different seasons, and after a long snowy winter I am ready to do something besides ski.

One of the best things about where I live is that even though ice may have a firm grip on the land immediately around me, warmer and drier conditions can be found within a reasonably short drive. Most often that means a trip to the Oak Creek/Sedona area located about 35 miles to the south. While snow does fall here it usually doesn't last long and the lower elevations offer milder temperatures.

The next few entries in this blog will cover a selection of hikes I took in early spring to escape the doldrums of snow, snow, and more snow. We'll start with my favorite, Bear Mountain.

Bear Mountain

Sedona offers a wide variety of outstanding trails set in the magnificent red rocks, ranging from easy strolls to steep scrambles. Personally I prefer a challenge, and Bear Mountain certainly delivers.

The trailhead is located on Boynton Pass Road about 4 miles northwest of Sedona. The drive alone is replete with beautiful scenery as the cliffs and canyons of the Red Rocks - Secret Canyon Wilderness rise majestically above the high desert setting.

At the parking area hikers are offered a choice between relatively easy and fairly difficult. The Doe Mountain trail heads south and climbs a moderate slope for views of the town and surrounding area. Those seeking a more intense and intimate encounter with the landscape must cross the road to begin the journey to the lofty heights of Bear Mountain.

The trail heads quickly for the first stage of the climb which begins at the base of red sandstone cliffs. All around are high desert plants consisting of juniper, pinon, agave, prickly pear, and native grasses. The open nature of the terrain and lack of shade make it advisable that hikers avoid this trail during the warmer summer months - spring, fall, and mild winters are best.

Right away the climb begins to offer dividends in the form of great views to the south.

Since the overall elevation gain is around 1800 feet in 2.5 miles, hikers should expect a moderate climb with a few steeps. The trail bed is in pretty good shape, although much of it traverses rock ledges and sections of cross-bedded sandstone tilted at off-angles to the slope.

There are a few "false" summits that trick the hiker into thinking the top is near, however it continues up and up.

Fortunately there are many opportunities along the way to stop, catch your breath and admire the scenery.

Persistent effort finally pays off at the real summit of Bear Mountain, where a little extra hiking around the perimeter reveals views of the San Francisco Peaks above Flagstaff, southward to Mingus Mountain and the Verde Valley, and deep into Fay Canyon to the east.

After a long, cold, and snowy winter the warm air and bright sunshine are almost enough reward for the effort of hiking a steep, rocky trail, but the real bonus is being surrounded by the awesome landscapes of one of Arizona's greatest natural treasures.

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