About this Hike: Finding the Sterling Pass trailhead is a hike unto itself. I used the Manzanita Campground as a GPS reference guide. Just before the campground is a large parking area you can use, but the trailhead is across Highway 89A and slightly north. You cannot park at the campground, and you're not even supposed to cut through it on foot. This meant walking along 89A and crossing it–not safe at all. Turns out there is a soft shoulder suitable for parking by the Sterling trailhead.
My hope was to use this trail to access the Vulte Arch. The trail proved challenging with a steep ascent through a saddle, up and over the pass. High-desert grass chokes the trail, although the trail always remains defined. There were also a lot of horseflies buzzing around and being a nuisance.
You reach the top of the pass and the views are incredible. No downtown Sedona here–you're near the Secret Mountain Wilderness area. Tall red sandstone cliffs surround you. Parts of this trail go through thick pine and scrub maple/oak forest. Some parts of the forest are fire-damaged, possibly from the 2014 Slide Fire?
At the summit, you begin a descent down the other side of the pass. I did this for a while, but the trail progressively got worse. I didn't feel safe, and it seemed the arch was nowhere to be found.
I turned back and the hike down was surprisingly quick and easy. My suggestions if you want to try this off-the-beaten-path hike: have a walking stick, long pants, and maybe a gun. I didn't see any wildlife, but the area is ripe for mountain lions, bears, etc.
|Beauty in Ashes|