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Transept Trail Day Hike
May 2, 2020
by Chuck Parsons
  GPS Map 
by Dave French
Six Trailblazers gather above the Transept Trailhead. [photo by Dave]
Dave, Chris, Lin, Chuck, Debbie, Michael
We know we’re on the right track now.
[photo by Debbie]
After a five-week hiatus and shutdown period to help deal with the coronavirus, the Arizona Trailblazers are up and running once again, although not firing on all cylinders just yet.

Woo-Hoo! Back in the Saddle Again, as that famous cowboy crooner, Gene Autry, would famously sing. All of us old enough to remember that song are now officially old-timers in the Arizona Trailblazers. Those of you who never heard the song before are just young whippersnappers, still a bit wet behind the ears as they used to say. Sorry, no offense intended to either generation here. It’s just good to be back out on the trails, hiking and exploring once again with the Arizona Trailblazers. We’re not out of the woods quite yet, but we’re slowly getting there little by little.

After a slight blip in driving directions, we all finally arrive at the small trailhead parking area on the south side of Verde Valley School Road in the Village of Oak Creek. Under clear and sunny skies, with a cool and comfortable temperature of 66 degrees, we hit the Transept Trailhead across the road on the north side of Verde Valley School Road and start hiking at 7:45 AM.

This big guy is taking no chances with COVID-19. [photo by Debbie]
Picture taken at the Village Gallery in the Village of Oak Creek.
Dave, Michael, and Lin pause at a scenic viewpoint. [photo by Debbie]
Panoramic view of the Red Rock country below the Transept Trail. [photo by Dave]

The hike description indicates 500 feet of elevation gain for this hike, and we start working on that right out of the starting gate. In fact, most of the 500 feet comes in the first mile or so of hiking.

Hedgehog cactus in full bloom. [photo by Chuck]
Closeup of hedgehog bloom. [photo by Chuck]

Not to be confused with the more popular Transept Trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which runs from the North Rim Campground out to Bright Angel Point below the Grand Canyon Lodge, the Sedona area Transept Trail nevertheless shares a common trait with its northern cousin, since both are edge-hugging trails offering spectacular views, but with a cautionary note. Meaning that both trails can be equally treacherous in places, with sheer drop-offs and thus not suitable or recommended for small children or careless adults for that matter.

Scenic view not too far from the trailhead. [photo by Lin]
Chris is on the move along the Transept Trail. [photo by Lin]
The twisted and gnarled trunk of an ancient juniper tree. [photo by Lin]
Yum!  Anyone care for a tasty bite of prickly pear pad? [photo by Chuck]

One careless move or slight misstep along the worse stretches of either of these two Transept trails could send you on a quick one-way trip to the bottom. In a hurry at one point to catch up with the other hikers in the group, in an instant my left foot started sliding out from under me along a particularly bad stretch of trail with loose gravel that was right on the edge of a deep drop-off. Thankfully I caught myself just in time, shifting my weight and digging in my right hiking pole to avoid a potential disaster.

That was just a bit too close for comfort. Most of the trail is not really that bad, but you need to be extra cautious and diligent along the sheer drop-off sections of edge-hugging trail. Being careless here is just asking for both trouble and disaster.

Opened to the public for the first time in 2018, the Transept Trail was recently described by Mare Czinar in one of her weekly hiking columns in The Arizona Republic: “…the north-south running ridge line known as the Seven Warriors is home to a pair of trails known for their edge-hugging exposure. The Transept Trail is one of those two trails that traverses the less congested western side of the Seven Warriors ridge line.”

Flowers are blooming everywhere! [Debbie]
In every shape, size, and color. [photo by Debbie]
Some we can’t even identify. [photo by Lin]
Such as this delicate species. [photo by Lin]

Today marks the very first time the Arizona Trailblazers are experiencing this new trail in Red Rock Country. Our goal for today is to hike the Transept Trail for 3.2 miles to its junction with the longer Hiline Trail, take a rest and snack break somewhere along the way, then reverse course back to the trailhead.

The first mile or two of this trail is a mix of gradual and then more aggressive climbing, but a steady and almost relentless ascent through typical Red Rock Country of Sedona, with a mix of shade and sunny exposures, through Arizona cypress, shaggy juniper, Manzinita, and Arizona madrone. This trail also features dozens and dozens of ancient skeletal remains of some of the most gnarled and twisted tree trunks imaginable, primarily juniper and cypress, that we’ve ever seen before on almost any other trail in the Sedona area. The arid weather here can probably preserve these ancient specimens for decades, if not centuries. Some of these trees, like the one in the last picture set, were very likely young saplings well before the Civil War began.

Arizona Trailblazers are hiking in paradise. [Lin]
Chris soaks in the beautiful scenery. [photo by Lin]
The scenery improves the higher we climb on the trail. [photo by Chuck]
Photographer Dave captures photographer Chuck photographing a scene. [photo by Dave]

Despite talking about it at some point on the trail, we all miss seeing the iconic Mayan Maiden rock formation that Mare discussed in her article since we didn’t know exactly what to look for. We also didn’t realize it was only 0.2 miles from the trailhead. Next time we’ll know better.

The scenery just keeps getting better. [photo by Debbie]
This ancient juniper shows both character and resilience. [photo by Lin]
I wonder if this ridgeline can be hiked? [photo by Chuck]
This forlorn and gnarly juniper stretches for the sky. [photo by Lin]

As we get higher in elevation a light cooling breeze begins to kick in and help cool us all down.

About 2.5 miles from the trailhead Michael finds a nice shady area with plenty of large boulders and rock shelves for seating, and we stop here for a well-deserved rest break. We try our best throughout the hike to maintain the recommended six-foot social distancing, but as seen in this picture it doesn’t always quite work out that way.

The perfect shady nook for a rest and snack break. [photo by Dave]

After a relaxing rest and snack break in the cool shade, including rehydrating, it’s tempting to hang around for a while longer. But the longer we sit around and vegetate, the tougher it is to get moving again and get those muscles firing.

The trail continues ascending in a series of long switchbacks and occasionally descending down a long track before finally leveling off once again. Although rated as easy to moderate, the Transept Trail has a surprising number of elevation changes along the way, but nothing too strenuous in the way of a steep and aggressive climb.

Cathedral Rock—view I. [photo by Lin]
Cathedral Rock—view II. [photo by Chuck]
Cathedral Rock—view III. [photo by Debbie]
We pause for a quick photo break. [photo by Lin]
One can point a camera in almost any direction on this trail. [photo by Chuck]
Blue fleabane. [photo by Lin]
Claret Cup. [photo by Lin]
Strange-looking beetles are working these flowers.
[photo by Lin]
White poppies.
[photo by Debbie]
The juxtaposition of green trees and red Coconino sandstone is classic Red Rock Country. [photo by Chuck]
Mushroom Rock stands as a lone sentinel overlooking the valley far below. [photo by Lin]
Close-up shot of Mushroom Rock. [photo by Chuck]

After one last switchback we finally reach the junction with the Hiline Trail and our turnaround point around 10:15 AM. The cool breeze that started earlier in the day gets stronger as we get closer to the junction and feels great as we take a final break standing at the high point on the trail.

We take one last group picture here for the record, take a few more pictures of the surrounding area, and then head back down the Transept Trail. Thankfully, the breeze stays with us for most of the way back to the trailhead.

Shafts of sunlight brighten this scene. [photo by Lin]
Six Trailblazers make it to the top! [photo by Dave]
The Hiline Trail marks our official turnaround point. [photo by Debbie]
Debbie is the quintessential Happy Hiker. [photo by Lin]
A kaleidoscope of colors highlights this section of trail. [photo by Lin]
We all arrive back at the trailhead close to noon, with the temperature still in the mid-70s. This has been a perfect day for hiking Red Rock Country.

The normal procedure at this point is to discuss where to stop for lunch before the drive back home. Being this close to Sedona, we would probably stop at one of our favorite Sedona area restaurants and watering holes, like the Hideaway or the Javelina Cantina, but unfortunately these are not normal times right now with all the restaurants across Arizona closed to inside dining. So we take a short break in the parking area, bid one another goodbye, and head back down the long and winding road toward home.

As seen in this last picture by Lin, north of Black Canyon City we see a towering column of thick smoke billowing high into the air, more than likely a brush fire caused by a careless motorist tossing a cigarette butt out the window into dry grass along the road side. As we get closer, I imagine we’re all thinking the same thing—hoping the fire will be on the northbound side instead of on our side. And, thankfully, that turns out to be the case. With multiple pieces of fire-fighting equipment along the roadside, northbound traffic grinds to a complete halt and is backed up for mile after mile, as we sail along on the southbound lanes. Had the fire started earlier in the morning, all of us would be sitting in that long line of traffic. Some days you just get lucky.

Brush fire along the northbound lanes of I-17 on the drive back home. [photo by Lin]

Hike Stats by Dave:
6.6 miles, 4:24 hours, 1,013' cumulative elevation change, 4,173' to 4,643' elevation range.

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updated May 7, 2020