Hike: Devil's Bridge

 

Devil's Bridge is a heavily trafficked out-and-back hike to a giant picturesque arch located in Sedona, AZ.


DISTANCE: 2.25 Mi one-way, 4.5 miles RT
START ELEVATION: 4,646 FT
MAX ELEVATION: 4,998 ft
Date Completed: April, 2, 2017
 

The Route:

There are three main routes to Devil's Bridge Trailhead. (map pictured). The most popular two are accessible from the paved parking lot at the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead. The other is from the dirt shoulder parking area at the Mescal Trailhead. The Dry Creek Vista is the only paved lot and only lot with restrooms. None of the lots offer running water so make sure you bring enough water! 

There are three options from the paved parking lot at the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead:

  1. Simply follow the 4x4 road 1.0 mile to the Devil's Bridge Trailhead
  2. Take the scenic route and hike 2.1 miles on the Chuck Wagon Trail all the way to the Devil's Bridge Trailhead.
  3. Take the Chuck Wagon Trail to where intersects with the 4x4 road and take that to the Devil's Bridge Trailhead (not pictured, but this was the route we took).

The other option is to park at the Mescal Trailhead which has room for about 20 cars to park right on the shoulder of the road. Then take the Chuck Wagon Connector Trail to the Chuck Wagon Trail (left fork) which will run into the Devil's Bridge Trailhead.

The Hike

The easy 1.0mi trek down the 4x4 road is the shortest and easiest route, but you'll be robbing yourself of some great views offered by the 2.1mi Chuck Wagon Trail. I would recommend taking the Chuck Wagon Trail all the way to the Devil's Bridge Trailhead, or just take it until it intersect with the 4x4 road and follow that.

Chuck Wagon is wide open and exposed for the first mile or so then winds through mostly covered areas of smaller trees and desert vegetation. All trails leading to the Devil's Bridge Trail are mostly flat and pretty easy. Just be sure to keep your ears open and head on a swivel for mountain bikers on the trail and vehicles on the 4x4 road.

Once you've reach the Devil's Bridge Trailhead, you begin the main ascent up. The gorgeous red/orange sand is still present, but the trail get considerably rockier as you continue to climb rock stairs etched into the landscape. You'll see a clear path veering to the left which leads to a viewing area of the Devil's Bridge arch from below. Save this for the way back and continue up the trail.

You'll run into the most difficult part of the hike as you come to multiple sections of steep rock staircases cut into the side of the mountain. Not only are they steep, but they are narrow and will typically be even more complicated due to the heavy hiker traffic on the trail. Take your time here and don't hesitate to ask for assistance!

You'll be rewarded with a great flat scenic viewpoint atop the last steep staircase. We were stunned by just how green the valley around the red rocks was. Just down the trail from there you'll be greeted with your first look at the infamous Devil's Bridge arch.

I was surprised to learn that we could walk right out onto it, as most the arches I've come across (mostly in Utah) have strict rules about not climbing/walking arches in order to protect them. But as long as no such rule exists, we gladly took advantage of getting our photo op! It looks pretty terrifying but it's pretty wide and not too scary to be on if you've got the courage. There will certainly be no shortage of frantic mothers and loved ones on the viewing platform taking pictures while hyperventilating, but don't let them scare you away it!

You'll notice multiple large boulders and viewpoints in the area that are easily accessible and perfect for photo ops, so be sure to check those out, especially if going on the arch is a little too nerve-wracking for you.

Bonus tip: At Devil's Arch, go around the bend as if you were going to go out onto the arch but continue straight past it. You'll see a footpath along the ridge that will bring you through some brush and out to a wide open area. It's a perfect place to relax, hydrate, and have your snack while being shielded completely from any noise from the crowds at Devil's Bridge.

The Good

  • Well developed trails & multiple routes
  • Access to many mountain climbing areas
  • Great views of mountains and desert valleys
  • A stunning arch that you can actually walk out on

The Bad

  • Heavily trafficked

  • No running water available

  • Many hikers as well as sharing trail with mountain bikers
  • Steep narrow stone staircases can be intimidating and difficult

The Parking Lot & Trailhead

Note: If you have 4x4, you can continue past the Dry Creek Vista paved parking lot straight to Devil's Bridge Trailhead, but be aware that the road is ROUGH and there is hardly any space for parking at the trailhead. I would recommend just parking in the paved lot and making the extra mile hike in. It's scenic and I promise you won't regret it!

 

Hike: Tom's Thumb

 

Tom’s Thumb is a heavily trafficked out-and-back hike located within the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve that is accessible between sunrise and sunset.

Distance: 4.3 miles RT, 2.15 miles one-way
Start Elevation: 2,792 ft
Max Elevation: 3,793 ft
Date Completed: April 1, 2017

The Preserve

The Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve was established in 1990 to protect the McDowell Mountains as well as the surrounding 34,000 acres of desert and provide public recreational opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, biking, and rock climbing. The Preserve is owned and operated by the City of Scottsdale in partnership with the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy.

The Preserve’s rustic breezeway at the parking lot offers rock climbing rules and regulations, detailed trail maps, as well as information regarding local flora and fauna and historical formation of the mountains during the Volcanic Era. There are nice restrooms at the trailhead, but be aware that this is absolute no running water here, so be prepared!

The Hike

This moderate hike is smooth throughout and starts relatively flat for the first half mile before starting a steady climb of switchbacks toward the ridge. Throughout the next 0.75 miles up, you’ll notice a few short hills leading to scenic viewing points overlooking the McDowell Mountains and surrounding desert space--great spots to stop, catch your breath, and take it the views.

The hike levels out after the initial steep ascent up the ridge and you’ll continue through rolling hills of enormous boulders and cacti while passing many of the turnouts for rock climbing areas. No question, this is the most beautiful and scenic part of the hike as navigate through car-sized boulders and often feel like you’re on another planet.

Be aware that the sign leading to Tom’s Thumb is labeled as a “Rock Climbing Access Route” for Tom’s Thumb and Gardener’s Wall. There were more than a few hikers that confusedly continued past the sign.

From the Tom’s Thumb & Gardener’s Wall sign, the route isn’t well-marked but is still easy to follow. By now you’ll clearly see the giant granite slab that is Tom’s Thumb and just need to keep heading up toward it. Take note that there are a few spots that require some agility and light scrambling. Kids should have some fun with this part and anyone should be able to make it with some assistance.

You’ll soon reach the prolific granite slab that is Tom’s Thumb. Pull out your snack and water and take a load off while enjoying the sights and sounds before heading back down.

The north side of Tom’s Thumb was closed due to the local falcons nesting in the areas and signs advised all visitors to keep their voices down.  

The Good

  • Dog-friendly on leash
  • Well developed smooth trail
  • Great views of moutains and desert
  • Plenty of paved parking spots available
  • Great views of mountains and desert area

The Bad

  • No running water available
  • Requires some simple scrambling

The Parking Lot & Trailhead

 

Why Did I Create Outdoor Detour

 

Let's take a quick minute to admire the picture above. I used it because it's from my very first hike in Colorado six weeks after I moved here. I mean, I'm wearing friggen jeans, clogs, and a heavy cotton tee shirt. The only things I had right were the fleece and backpack. It's comical to look back at it now. This bright-eyed kid fresh out of college that finally made the move out west. I didn't know where to start, except that I wanted to be in the mountains and start living the Colorado lifestyle.

But anyhow, thank you so much for stopping by and checking out the site. It's not much of anything yet, and it will take time before it evolves into what I want it to be. But you've managed to find yourself here either by chance or because you have the slightest interest in what I'm up to, and for that, I can't thank you enough.

So what is this? Why does Outdoor Detour need to exist? What should you expect?

Let me start with some quick background...

I've been skiing all my life and that's pretty much what brought me out to Colorado. When I moved here, I quickly found that the opportunities to get outside and stay active were endless.

Then I tore my ACL, MCL, meniscus, and rotator cuff in a freak ski fall and all of a sudden my options were limited.

I consider myself lucky I made it to 29 before having a ski injury.

I consider myself lucky I made it to 29 before having a ski injury.

Post-surgery x-ray of my new hardware.

Post-surgery x-ray of my new hardware.

I had feared this moment for many years. I couldn't imagine a winter in Colorado without skiing. It seemed inevitable though--I ski hard and I ski fast, like, as fast as possible. But I remained confident as I stayed in shape and limited my recklessness and the risks I took. I dreaded missing summer because of volleyball and softball, and I dreaded missing winter because skiing was everything. Now I was forced to miss out on both as I rehabbed. No softball, no volleyball, no skiing, and worst of all, no hiking.

So I camped.

And I camped some more. Before I knew it, I had camped at least one night for 15 weeks straight--basically the entire summer. Many trips were by myself, and it was exactly the kind of relief and reflection I needed during that time when I was struggling to keep my mind active when my body couldn't be.

Just outside of Zion National Park.

Just outside of Zion National Park.

That stretch of camping really got me exploring again. Every week I was plotting out potential camping spots on a Colorado map in new areas I had never been. It was a part of me that I felt like I had lost a bit when I went to college. I got caught up in the big city lifestyle and didn't have a car that would allow me to go out and explore the surrounding areas. I worked my butt off when I was in school and I rarely left the city during my years there.

Now I understand exactly what John Muir was talking about.
The mountains were calling, and I felt I must go.

So now I'm in Colorado, I've amassed all the outdoor gear I could possibly need, and I'm in full-on adventure mode. And look, I've traveled a lot since college as a single guy with no pets or obligations keeping me in one place. I always thought I should have somewhere to document my travel. I'm just a little late to the game and eager to use this site as an outlet to catch up!

Outdoor Detour will be a place where I can document and share my travels and experiences and provide some insight that will hopefully allow you to get out there and do some exploring of your own and create your own adventures.

You can expect adventure reports, gear reviews, beginner guides, travel/adventure recommendations, and a lot of pictures documenting everything along the way. I know that sounds pretty standard for an outdoor blog, and, frankly, it absolutely is. But this is all new territory for me, and I don't know what this site is or what it might become, but I do know that this is a good way for me to hit the ground running.

Thanks again for stopping by. I'm going to make it my job to get outside and continue exploring in hopes that it will make it a little easier for you to get out there and do the same. 

Much appreciated,
-Randy Johnson

 

 

Backpacking: Ski Tour To Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park

 

The Itinerary:

  • Friday

    • Fly into San Francisco and arrive at 7:30p.

    • Drive to the nearest REI to buy stove fuel before they close.

    • Drive out to Merced and sleep at booked AirBnB.

  • Saturday

  • Sunday

    • Make breakfast and pack up.

    • Ski down 10.5 miles and promptly slam a beer.

    • Quick drive through Yosemite Valley, stop at Village Store to get food and clean up.

    • Drive 4 hours back to SFO airport and fly home.

Easy enough, right?!

The Trek:

10.5 miles out-and-back on skis up Glacier Point Road (groomed).
21 miles round trip.

Ascent Elevation Chart
Descent Elevation Chart
Glacier Point Road Winter Trail Maps

The Permit:

You must obtain an overnight permit if you are planning on camping up on Glacier Point. You can pick one up at the Badger Pass Ranger Station located at Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area. When you arrive, they have a few 15-minute parking spots out front that are perfect to run in and get permits. You must go to the ranger station located in the A-Frame building right of the chairlifts. Just walk out onto the snow toward the chairlifts, look to your right, and you can't miss it. The rangers can answer any questions you have, and will provide you with an overnight camping permit, a parking pass to leave on your dashboard, and they'll direct you to the overnight parking spaces around the corner.

The Gear:

We were backpacking and camping up to the top so we brought all of our typical camping gear, plus a shovel, some waterproof layers, and fuel to melt snow so we didn't have to carry too much water.

I'm an alpine skier and just getting into Alpine Touring (AT) and skinning, so I brought my new AT setup to use. I can imagine that skins would probably be helpful in the colder months but it was so warm when were were there March 11-12 that we were in shorts and short sleeves the entire trips up and down. Because of that, the snow was so soft that the skins weren't necessary and only slowed me down by prohibiting glide.

My friend Matt is a boarder and he had planned to snowshoe and either carry or tow his board, boots, and pack. After talking it over with the rangers though, he opted to rent a proper cross-country ski setup. There's a separate Nordic Center building across from the main lodge of the Yosemite Ski Area if you want to rent cross-country skis or snowshoes. His cross-country ski rental was between $40-50. He had never once cross-country skied and I was impressed at how well he did, especially while carrying a 35-40lbs backpack.

Word to the wise: Leave the AT setup at home and either snowshoe or cross-country ski. The AT setup with your standard AT ski boots is way too heavy and uncomfortable to justify lugging it all the way up and down. 

The Trail:

The trail itself isn't the most scenic but does travel through a heavily wooded area with enormous trees and a few open meadows. There are also cross-country ski tracks on both sides of the road for most of the 10.5 miles (pictured below).

Within the first half mile I knew my feet were in serious trouble. I had some new AT ski boots that I haven't had fitted yet and my feet had way too much room to move around within the boots. They got chewed up the entire way up and down, so for me this trip was more mentally exhausting in trying to manage the pain than anything else. It's been almost two weeks since this trip, and I'm still limping around trying to heal all the blisters.

The trail starts with a quick uphill and gradual downhill over the first 3.5 miles and 400 vertical feet. After that, you start the long trek uphill which covers every bit of the next 5 miles and 500 vertical feet. I feel like it is worth nothing again that all the slopes of this trek are moderate at worst. There are really no steep sections at all (basically climbing 100 vertical feet over every mile).

We also didn't carry much water because we had planned to melt snow and filter it. Big mistake, but only because we planned poorly and didn't bring enough fuel and ran out after making breakfast. I ended up chomping on snow and taking small sips of my water the entire trip.

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Mile 8 is where the trek plateaus around an elevation of 7,800ft. The next 1-2 miles is relatively flat and offers some slightly downhill relief. You'll have to go back uphill immediately following that, but the last mile is the steepest part of the hike dropping you 500 vertical feet downhill. It's the first time you'll actually gain enough speed to get some turns in.

I was absolutely giddy that I was finally skiing downhill after five hours of painful uphill skiing. As if the cool wind in my face wasn't enough to get me excited, I then turned a corner and was treated to this absolutely stunning view of Half Dome.

The elevation at the top is only about 50 feet higher than the trailhead elevation, but who cares?! We made it! We then picked out a proper camping area away from the lodge and RELAXED! By the time we caught our breath and got our tents set up, the sun was just setting in the west while the full moon was rising in the east (pictured below). This was an awe-inspiring view that I truly felt like we earned.

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The full moon provided enough light to make headlamps optional around the campsite and we made the short hike to the proper Glacier Point viewing area so we could see and take pictures on Yosemite Falls and the valley perfectly illuminated by the full moon.

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After a good night's sleep, we awoke for sunrise which was an hour later than the day before thanks to Daylight Savings. After a hardy scrambled eggs and bacon breakfast, we used the last of our fuel to melt some snow and we packed up and hit the trail. 

It took us roughly 6 hours up and 4 hours down, and then a 4.5 hour drive back to the San Fran airport. Oh, and even after getting to the bottom, quickly driving through Yosemite Valley and straight to the airport, we STILL missed our 9:00pm flight. So if you're doing a crazy quick trip like this, plan accordingly! Lucky for us, we were able to jump on the first flight out the next morning at no additional charge and we were back in Denver and at work by 11am Monday morning.

The Good:

  • Gradual slopes throughout

  • Free camping at Glacier Point

  • Four bathrooms along the way

  • Absolutely unbelievable views to wake up to

  • Not crowded. Even fewer people make it all the way to the top

  • Virtually unlimited spots to camp with wide open Half Dome views

  • Most people at the top are either day-hiking or staying in the lodge

The Bad:

  • A long trek (21 miles RT)

  • Not many accessible water sources

  • Ups and downs. Only about 50 feet net elevation gain

  • Coming back down, the last 3.5 miles uphill will wear you out

  • Long drive from San Fran. Took 4.5 hours to get back to SFO airport

  • Not as scenic (except the top) as you might expect from a Yosemite hike

The Outcome:

After our first few hours on the trail carrying our packs on skis for the first time ever, it was clear that we were overly ambitious about this adventure. I would absolutely recommend this trip, but only for those experienced in ski touring or backpacking on snowshoes over long distances. Day-hiking to Glacier Point can be easily handled by anyone as long as you get an early start. 

Physically, it's not all too strenuous of a trip, but it's a long ways to go with a full 30-40-pound pack on your shoulders. Whether as a day-hike or a backpacking trip, everyone should make it a point to trek up to Glacier Point during the winter months. This long gradual hike that will reward you with the iconic panoramic views of Yosemite Valley without the crowds you're accustomed to during the warmer seasons.