Red Rocks and Psychics

by Dan Davis Saturday, November 28th 2009

There is an intense and spiritual place at the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona where canyons, spires and mesas are carved into and out of the red sandstone layers.

Often associated with vortexes, crystals and new age psychics, there is no question that there is something special going on around Sedona. But it has nothing to do with vortexes.  I have experienced the same feelings deep in Matcatamiba Canyon and in the middle of the Pinacate - it is simply the land.

Sedona 1 
Canyons, Buttes, Mesas and Slickrock around Sedona

So, go ahead get it out of your system and look at the t-shirts, aromatherapy oils and past life regression astrology reports in the shops in Sedona.  Then head out of town and into the canyons and along the slickrock where the magic is real and the mysteries are free.

For hiking opportunities, this country is hard to beat. If you want a beautiful, intimate and easy hike to introduce yourself to the canyons, head west out Dry Creek Road to Fay Canyon, Boynton Canyon’s less visited sister.  Grab your camera and a set of trekking poles and enjoy the three mile round trip hike up the canyon that takes you by Fay Arch.  Continue on up the canyon beyond the arch for a private glimpse of this diverse ecosystem and remnants of an ancient dwelling. Throw in a few more ravens and it would be perfect.

Sycamore Canyon, western neighbor of the more famous Oak Creek Canyon and considered more scenic by many, is accessible by foot and an ideal place to go for some secluded backpacking or longer day hikes.  Trailhead access is west of Cottonwood as well as south of Williams up on the rim.  There are more difficult hiking and backpacking opportunities in the Red Rocks/Secret Mountain Wilderness Area.  Administered by the Coconino National Forest, find more information at

Oak Creek Canyon, with its more than 5 million visitors a year (more than the Grand Canyon), is full of swimming holes, hiking, campgrounds and fly fishing.  I’ve been assured that brown trout lurk in the upper sections of the creek, but brookies are the only ones that seem to like my flies.  This is an ideal place to go hiking with children because it has it all – easy trails, scenic beauty, natural and cultural history, and perhaps most importantly, the classic childhood boredom remedies of wading and looking under rocks.  In warmer weather, consider a hike into the West Fork in the canyon.  Water shoes or sandals are a must, as there are many creek crossings on this magnificent hike.  The parking area fills up early, especially on weekends, so try this one during the week.

A drive up the 13 mile historic Schnebley Hill Road dirt road affords sweeping panoramas of the region.  The road is a bit bumpy but suitable for passenger cars. You can’t go wrong stopping anywhere along the road and taking a short walk along the canyon floor.  After a climb of over 2.000 feet to the overlook, turn around and head back into Sedona or continue on to I-70 through the ponderosa forests if you are going on to Flagstaff or Phoenix.

Sedona 2
Canyon hike west of Sedona, Dry Creek/Vultee Arch Road

Prehistoric rock art and ruins dot the region.  Palatki and Honanki ruins west of Sedona, and Montezuma Castle, Tuzigoot and the V Bar V Heritage Site in the Verde Valley are just a few worth visiting.  Try the drive out Dry Creek Road west of Sedona, past Doe Mountain and Palatki Ruins and Red Canyon to Loy Butte and park along the road where there are no other vehicles.  Wander along the southern face of the butte, perhaps the most sacred place (in my mind, at least) in the area.  Strange feelings surround this spot.  Stop at one of the ancient dwellings at the base of the cliffs, sit quietly and experience it without conversation and your drive back out will be much different than your trip in.

Winter is no excuse to stay home.  If you are lucky enough to be there after the intense quiet of a fresh snowfall, white covering the vibrant reds and greens and the cobalt sky covering it all is not something you will forget.  Wander down to Oak Creek where the lazy summer pools, riffles and waterfalls are all of a sudden sparkling crystalline sculptures and sit and listen to them awhile.
You may even start to wonder if there really is more to it than simply the land.

Sedona 3
Sandstone towers along Schnebley Hill road

Looking for an alternative to expensive or chain dining?   If so, the Page Springs Café, about 12 miles south of Sedona off of highway 89A on the Page Springs Road is the place.  Overlooking Oak Creek, the café’s rustic setting, good food, reasonable prices and charm is the signature of this local favorite that’s been there forever. 
Red Rock Passes are required to park along the roadside in the area and can be purchased at many locations around Sedona.  The full range of lodging is available in the area.  Some Forest Service campgrounds in Oak Creek Canyon are closed in winter, so check before you go.  Primitive car camping is permitted on adjacent Forest Service land.


Dan Davis Joins Our Blog

by Dave Baker Friday, November 27th 2009

A soft spoken man with a wonderfully understated sense of humor stopped by the Summit Hut in 1999, asking if there were any positions open.

Dan Davis had just retired from a distinguished career with the National Park Service, where he had spent time in such magnificent locations as Rocky Mountain and Grand Canyon National Parks. After relocating in Tucson, Dan was looking for “maybe six months or so” of work and we were delighted to have him join our staff, and even more delighted when the “six months” stretched to a full ten years with the Summit Hut!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis, on location

Dan has retired again (maybe), this time with plans to wander and travel the beautiful landscapes of the American Southwest and pursue his passion for photography (check out his photo site here).

Happily, Dan has accepted our invitation to author blog stories and show off  some of his photos here on Trail Talk – thanks Dan!

Stay tuned.


Grand Canyon Reservation System Change?

by Dave Baker Friday, November 20th 2009

Grand Canyon National Park is proposing a change to the procedure for reserving backcountry permits for overnight wilderness camping in the Canyon.

Under the current system users who are able to show up in person at the Backcountry Information Center on the South Rim when permits first become available get first shot at reservations, ahead of those who mail or fax their requests to the office. Reservations are made available on the first day of the month, four months before a user’s proposed trip start month.

On the Cranberry Route

For example, October is one of the two most popular months for wilderness outings in the Canyon, and permit reservations first become available four months earlier on June 1st. A couple of years ago I drove to the South Rim on a June 1st to get an October trip reservation, and was very surprised to find myself in line with well over a hundred people jockeying for the opportunity to get the permit they desired. There were plenty of locals in line but I talked to others who had come from as far away as Seattle! Permit requests that were arriving in the office on that June 1st via fax and mail were ignored by the reservation staff until all of the people present in person had an opportunity to place their requests.

The Park Service thinks this is unfair (I do too, even though I currently have the “local advantage”), and is proposing a change that will put all users on a more equal footing for getting the permit they desire. The Park wants to eliminate in-person requests during the first month of the four month early reservation period. So, in the first of the four months prior to a trip start, virtually all users would have to apply via fax or mail, and all such applications would be processed in the order received by the reservation office. In months two, three and four, walk-up users would again have an opportunity to be “first in line” on days they might show up in person at the office.

Commercial users and locals probably won’t like the proposed change, but I think its a good way to go. The Park is considering implementing this system or something like it as early as February, 2010.

Grand Canyon National Park describes these changes on this web page. Information about the current reservation system is available on the Park’s Backcountry Permit web page. You can also read  more about this in an Arizona Daily Sun article.  


Pusch Peak

by Dave Baker Thursday, November 12th 2009

You can’t miss Pusch Peak, which dominates the skyline above Oro Valley at the western end of the Santa Catalina Mountains, just north of Tucson. Pusch Peak, Bighorn Mountain, and Table Mountain form the Pusch Ridge, which in turn is part of the magnificently wild and rugged Pusch Ridge Wilderness.

All of these Pusch-es are namesakes of George Pusch, a German immigrant who showed up in Arizona in 1874, at 27 years of age and proceeded to establish the historic Steam Pump Ranch along the banks of the Canada del Oro beneath the north side of Pusch Peak.

Pusch Peak, Linda Vista Trail

Pusch Peak from the Linda Vista Trail

The best word to describe the hike to the top of Pusch Peak is “steep”. The route first follows the gentle Linda Vista Trail for a little over a half mile through a beautiful Sonora Desert bio-community, but then strikes up a hiker’s route towards the summit, which is relentlessly steep and very economic in its use of switchbacks.

This is a hike for those in good physical condition and you’ll have to work hard to get to the top, but it’s very nice up there. Not surprisingly, the views are great; my favorite is the view east along Pusch Ridge towards Table Mountain, Mount Kimball and the top of Mt. Lemmon.

Pusch Peak summit view

Summit view: Pusch Ridge, Mt. Kimball and Mt Lemmon

Find the trailhead a few hundred yards east of Oracle Road on Linda Vista Blvd (3.1 miles north of Ina Road). The Linda Vista Trail consists of a network of loop trails. From the trailhead strike out southeast on the central, main trail segment for 0.57 miles where it connects with the outer loop trail. At the intersection turn left (east), and walk a short distance to a rusted, illegible metal sign which marks the intersection with a hiker’s route that climbs to the summit of Pusch Peak. Turn right (south) at the sign, onto the hiker’s route. The route is well beat in and continuously steep. The summit is reached about a mile and half past the metal sign.

Season: Fall, winter and spring. Summer heat on this hike can be dangerous.

Water: None. Bring plenty of your own

Difficulty: Difficult, a little over 4 miles round trip, with 2,700 feet of elevation gain. On the two mile segment from the trail head to the summit, the majority of this elevation gain occurs in the final 1.5 miles – steep hiking!

Note: Dogs are not permitted in this area.

Maps: Green Trails Santa Catalina Mountains; or National Geographic Arizona digital map software.



Click Map for larger image


The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!