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Bell Rock Day Hike
November 11, 2000
by Mike Wargel

All pictures are by Chuck Parsons.

On Saturday, November 11, three of us travelled to the Sedona area for a relatively easy hike around Bell Rock. Mike Wargel, Chuck Parsons, and Adam Kostewicz headed up shortly after 7:30. We were expecting much cooler than usual temps, with the possibility of snow on the mountain tops. As we left sunny Phoenix, we spotted several hot air balloons lifting off above the north valley. Further north, we hit cloud cover with off and on snow and rain. Several cars had a good coating of snow as they left their overnight resting spots.

We arrived in the village of Oak Creek, stopping at the Circle K just before the trailhead for pit stop and breakfast snack. The trailhead parking area was just a few yards further down the road.

We encountered a mountain biker who was ‘finally’ getting to hit the trails after two days of rain and snow and a series of retired couples stopping to take pictures, etc. The weather was cloudy and a bit windy with temps in the low 40s.

As we started down the trail, the sun did come out to melt snow on top of Bell Rock, leaving glistening trails of water on the butte. We even spotted a pair of daring climbers trying to go up to the top of Bell Rock!

The trail heads north out of the parking area to a junction with Courthouse Butte trail. We decide to go left and WSW of Bell Rock. As we do, the sun comes out, leaving almost clear skies. The trail is more rock than sand at this point and around the west side (along highway 179) and to the north. Temps were warming up to nearly 50 degrees causing concern that we might not get some good snow pictures. Sacrificing this, we took off our hats and gloves to enjoy the warmer weather.


We headed around the north side of Bell Rock onto the flat rock portion of the trail. This would have been an ideal spot to shoot pix of Bell Rock, however the sun was just behind, leaving Bell Rock in a silhouette. To the north and west, we could easily make out Cathedral Rock and mountains (Wilson?) in the distance. The mountains seemed to be nearly covered in snow! The top of Courthouse Butte and the buttes to the east had a nice, albeit melting, dusting of snow. We spotted several puddles that might yield a reflection picture.

Courthouse Butte:

Continuing to the east, along the north face of Courthouse Butte, we encountered several spots of thick and slippery red rock mud. Definitely not good for tennis shoes. Glad we had boots. Saw several folks in tennis shoes though. Shortly afterwards, the clouds came rolling in. So much so, we could not see the tops of the nearest buttes. Yet off in the distance, Cathedral Rock and the buttes immediately around Sedona were basking in the sunshine.

Within minutes we were being pelted by frozen snow, light hail! Fortunately the snow did not stick, but made for some future pictures. At this point we met a couple from Boston who knew several Motorolans back in Schaumburg, including my former Director, Art Cipolla. Small world.

We continued along the east side of Courthouse Butte. Going uphill slightly and crossing the many drainage channels. As we rounded Courthouse, the sun came back out again and gave us nearly clear skies! The temps shot back up to 50 and gave us astounding views of Courthouse and a pair of spires that reminded us of the “married couple” spires in Supai.

Water was flowing freely.

Arriving back at the trail junction, we encountered quite a few more people, despite the gloomier weather with the ominous threat of snow/rain. A short time later, we were back at the car and ready to head to Sedona.

The trail was relatively easy, despite the weather. Less than 5 miles, could easily be done in a couple of hours. Could also be done in tennis shoes with the right weather, but not recommended on any trail. Great views of Sedona, the buttes, and mountains off in the distance.

The sun accentuates layers in the rock.

This parking area, and several others are charging $5 per vehicle for day use. These areas are separate from the Call of the Wild and Crescent Moon and other areas that charge their own fees. You will need to stop at any of the Gateway Centers (see MHC website for info) to pre-pay the use fee. Otherwise a ticket is left on your windshield reminding you to stop at one of the Gateway Centers.

Afterwards, we stopped at the Hideaway restaurant, dining on the closed in patio with spectacular views. We enjoyed our bowls of onion soup or chili. We then stopped at the visitor center to pay our parking fee ($5), received some good trail information in the area. Also heard that ’if you’re not out there in bad weather, you’re not a real photographer’ from one of the volunteers. He guided us on the map right to the base of Coffee Pot Rock and the low clouds made for some surreal pictures, with snow falling.

We then headed off to the Crescent Moon Park (another $5 parking fee). Here we hiked out into the creek (dry part, with mud along the trail) to my favorite spot to photograph Cathedral Rock, with Oak Creek running right in front. We managed to wait long enough and the sun peeked through the clouds to yield some great photo-ops. Chuck also caught some great scenes of the leaves changing in the distance, illuminated by the sun. With the clouds then rolling in even heavier and the sun about to set, we headed back to Phoenix, knowing we had a great hike, got some great information on trails, and some terrific photo opportunities.

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updated August 8, 2017