Sedona's Dogie Trail in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness offers magnificent views of sandstone ramparts a quarter-mile west of the wilderness boundary gate.
© Robert McDonald
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The Dogie TrailIt's a wilderness area now, but back in the day, cowboys pushed cattle along this spectacular trail in Sycamore Canyon.
By Roger Naylor
it's important to know that I can't sing. At ballgames, I lip-sync the national anthem. Around candlelit cakes, I hum Happy Birthday. I steer clear of karaoke bars, American Idol auditions or anywhere my tuneless wailing could wilt human ears. So, when I say I belted out a few numbers along the Dogie Trail in Sycamore Canyon, you'll grasp the sense of isolation engulfing this rugged Verde Valley wilderness.
According to the trail registry, only two people had hiked the Dogie during the previous month. I signed in, already with a song on my lips, and scanned the skyline stacked with the familiar sandstone drama of nearby Oak Creek Canyon. Less crowded Sycamore Canyon offers the same crimson-and-cream-colored cliffs and crumpled buttes, punctuated with terraces of piñon pines and junipers.
The trail carves a corridor through a scratchy tangle of manzanitas and shrub oaks as it descends into the canyon. Not overly steep, the rockiness of the trail requires attention during this segment. Along a ridgeline north, I spotted a favorite formation. It appears first as an exposed slab, but as I continued, a keyhole of light flickered in the lower corner. I kept walking as it widened to a "window," and then a long slice of sky emerged. Only from that vantage point could I detect the separate column standing like an upraised arm waving goodbye. You won't see it listed on maps, but it's "adios rock" to me.
Cowboys once pushed cattle herds from the Verde Valley to Flagstaff through Sycamore Canyon. Traces of that era remain, notably the stock tanks. The trail sideswipes the most prominent of these about 2 miles in. Even the name is a holdover — dogie is "cowboy" for a motherless calf. It's a perfect description for this trail, evoking an orphaned sense of loneliness.
After passing the tank, the trail parallels Sycamore Creek for the last 3 miles. This section of canyon creates an illusional oasis. The Dogie dips in and out of drainages, many displaying torrent-sculpted pouroffs dropping to the creek bed. Cottonwoods and willows line the banks, but despite those implications, water remains almost as scarce as visitors.
Still, hiking in on the heels of recent rains, I kept an eye peeled for lingering pools to experience that sheer, sweet joy of finding moisture where none normally exists — it's a desert-dweller thing.
I crossed the rocky band of the creek, then clambered onto the shaded shelf guarding the west bank. From there, the Dogie ends a half-mile beyond, at the junction with the Sycamore Basin Trail. That's when I caught a startling gleam.
Sun skipped across a deep pool sheltered by drooping cottonwoods, and I knew immediately where I was stopping. I had jerky in my backpack, a Little Feat song in my head, and it was time to break out both, which I did. The moral of the story? The next time you're hiking Sycamore Canyon and hear a javelina with the hiccups, it's probably just me singing. Feel free to harmonize.
Trail Guideclick to expand
Length: 10.8 miles round-trip.
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet.
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous.
Payoff: Seclusion, red-rock views and wildlife.
Location: About 50 miles south of Flagstaff (14 miles west of Sedona) on paved and graveled roads.
Getting There: From Sedona, drive southwest 5 miles on State Route 89A. Turn north onto Forest Service Road 525 and follow the signs to Sycamore Pass. Turn west onto Forest Service Road 525C and continue for 9 miles to the parking area. The last half-mile might require a high-clearance vehicle.
Travel Advisory: Spring and autumn are the best times to visit. No motorized or mechanized vehicles (including bicycles) are allowed in Sycamore Canyon Wilderness.
Warning: The canyon floor can be very hot during summer months. Always carry plenty of water, at least 1 gallon per day per person.
Information: 928-282-4119 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino.