We had been hiking for what had seemed like an eternity. The searing Sedona sunlight was broiling the back of my neck. Sunscreen, that was the other thing Becky and I had forgotten to pick up from Wal-Mart.
The night before we had almost frozen to death in our small, mesh one-person tent. We had decided to set up camp at the only open campground in Oak Creek Canyon. The one we had chosen was low enough in altitude that it wasn’t buried in three feet of February snow. While the ground there hadn’t been covered in as much as a light dusting, the air was brisk and unforgiving outside of the campfire light. It was a wonder that we had achieved that much in the few hours of sleep we did.
In contrast, this hike was proving to be quite pleasant. You would think it was the middle of a cool summer day rather than the dead of winter. The puffy white clouds above were a nice background to the large red helicopters and stunningly yellow bi-planes that made passes every twenty minutes or so; we must have been along the route for some Sedona air tour companies.
After another hour or so of hiking, getting almost lost, only once mind you, we came upon a large, open area. In the distance, we could see the small arches of rock tucked into the cliff face that our little paper with vague directions had told us we should have seen ages ago.
It was a relief, not only because those outcroppings were intended to be the highlight of the trek, but also because it meant we were almost done with the adventure that had taken much longer than we had anticipated.
No sooner had we seen those distant aches, Becky spotted a rather handsome cairn, stack of stones, which led to an unmarked trail in the opposite direction. We could not resist. While our venture down that trail was only intended to last a few yards into the brush, we followed it to its end: 1000 ft later from where we had started, we came to the very edge of a cliff with a sheer drop. To get there, we had to follow a lone hiker’s footprints, scramble boulders, and jump over a few narrow gorges with depths I care not to think about. When we came to the end we realized the fate of our followed hiker. The footprints led to and ended at a gap in the rocks. Looking down, one could clearly see a small, yet inviting cave below. A lone metal eyelet fit for repelling decorated the opening to this chasm. Our metaphysical guide was obviously into extreme sports… Bad Ass was the only phrase that came to my mind.
By this time the sun was beginning to set and the massive rock formation we were standing on casted a shadow into the valley below. I tried to see the parking lot we had left my truck in so many hours ago. Which suddenly reminded me of something. The gate to the parking lot closed at 7 p.m. and it must have been fast approaching five… or six…. Looking through our backpack, we realized that our cell phones had been left in the car. What time was it?!
Panic struck. We had spent at least forty minutes traversing that back-trail. If there was any way we were making it back to the car in time, we were going to have to hurry.
We dashed down into the momentous canyon. Reaching the bottom took much less time than it did to get to the top; which was expected. The rest of the trail couldn’t possibly be that long. Our directions seemed to suggest that at least.
After hustling down the trail for an eon or two, we were met with a fork in the road. One option was to take the Soldier’s Pass Jeep trail to the right, or continue straight ahead on the Soldier’s Pass hiking trail. We decided that the jeep trail might be faster and less demanding on our tiring legs, so we took that option. By this time, our spirits had lifted. It wasn’t dark yet and we knew that this trail had to end up at the parking lot.
However, when the trail split off once again, we had a predicament on our hands. Taking the left fork this time, we came upon a sign that said “Soldier’s Trail” not Soldier’s Pass. We now had no idea which way to go. Had we traveled the wrong direction?
We started to walk down the Soldier’s Trail for a few minutes. I realized something had to be wrong. My internal compass, read Spidey sense, was going crazy. I was beginning to think… No. I knew we must have been going in the wrong direction. This adrenaline rush that made me have visions of my truck being towed to the impound gave my lungs a second wind. I began to run ahead thinking that I would come upon that first fork in the trail.
Sadly, about five minutes of jogging un-shrouded my hypothesis into reality. The trail had been mismarked, for my sprint had led me right back to that split at the Jeep road. Turning around, I made a mad dash back for Becky. I disappointedly informed her that we had, in fact, taken the wrong trail and that we would probably have to run to get back in time.
As we galloped our way back down the trail and past that misinformed sign, we ended up reaching a dry wash. As the sun was well on it way to setting, I decided that our best bet for escape would be to follow the wash until it met back up with the trail. With a little distrust, Becky followed me and we began to scramble and weave our way over the loose rocks until we finally met back up with the Jeep road.
Taking a left at the road we felt that the truck was getting ever closer and closer. The road ended at a large slab of rock and I could see a small wooden sign just a few yards ahead; it was an arrow shaped sign with “Trailhead” painted on it in faded yellow lettering. Finally. We reached a familiar part of the loop trail we had visited in the very beginning and, within a few short minutes, we were back at the truck. It was almost too dark to see without a flashlight at this point.
I rushed towards the driver’s door, unlocking it and throwing myself inside. Clicking the volume knob on the radio brought up the time: 7:47 p.m. Cranking the ignition, I threw in in reverse and motioned for Becky to jump in. We performed an almost perfect rolling getaway: where one person drives and the other jumps aboard.
As we approached the edge of the parking lot, I switched on my headlights and I could see the entrance gate. Shut. Locked? Secure? We will find out, I thought. Just as my truck came within a few yards of the gate, it began to open automatically for us. Gotta’ love technology, I thought.