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Vultee Arch Trail #22
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mini location map2021-08-11
14 by photographer avatarroaminghiker
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Vultee Arch Trail #22Sedona, AZ
Sedona, AZ
Hiking avatar Aug 11 2021
Hiking11.03 Miles 1,243 AEG
Hiking11.03 Miles   6 Hrs   4 Mns   2.02 mph
1,243 ft AEG      36 Mns Break
1st trip
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Vultee Arch. Majestic in form, subtle in color. A top scenic formation in the Sedona Red Rock area.
But not often visited.

I surmise in part due to some difficulty in reaching it. For the east approach one must first find an open roadside pullout at the trailhead, then climb a long and steep trail up and over Sterling Pass. The west approach offers an easier path and ample trail head parking. But reaching that parking requires a high clearance vehicle (or daring skill) to cross a long section of a rutted dirt road.

And then unlike the famous (infamous?) Devil’s Bridge arch, actually climbing onto Vultee Arch involves tricky crossings over razor narrow ledgers.

But even without that photo on the arch, and with the difficult effort to get there, the majesty of the arch and the solitude of arch’s deep canyon setting make the trek worth the effort.

So, I undertook a second visit. For my first visit I took the east approach (luckily found a park slot, yes slot, a thin slot along 89A.) I loved the climb up to Sterling Pass then down the multiple switchbacks on the other side. But for this visit, I looked to come in from the west. And lacking a high clearance vehicle, I hiked to the trailhead.

No issue. As my preference, I started early, 4 am, with the assistance of a head lamp and wrist light. My route began at Birthing Cave trailhead, then along Chuckwagon trail. Chuckwagon runs easy, with a packed sand/pebble surface under foot, at times becoming red sandstone rock. The trail rises and falls through washes, never steeply, and winds rather gently through the large, wide valley centered on Dry Creek wash. Plentiful open forest along the way, with pines and manzanita, the trail sitting up a bit along the edges of the Grassy Knolls, or along ridges overlooking Dry Creek wash.

Then onto the rutted dirt of Dry Creek Road. I would have preferred to stay on hiking trails, but I needed a route that traveled from a trailhead parking spot off a paved road (thus Birthing Cave trailhead). And the only reasonable routing from Birthing to Vultee involved a segment on Dry Creek Road. The road itself ran like one would expect on a forest road maintained only for high clearance vehicles, named rutted, rocky, grooved, but passable by the appropriate vehicle. Now, I was hiking, so no problem. As with Chuckwagon, Dry Creek Road sat in the valley of Dry Creek and its tributary washes. Compared to Chuckwagon, the forest grew thicker, pines a bit taller, underbrush more dense. Not certain why, but I surmise variations in shade and soil, mist and rain, created by variations in the locations and orientations of mountains and washes, all that influences the rate and type of vegetation.

Next to Vultee Arch trail. As with Chuckwagon and Dry Creek Road, Vultee Arch trail runs parallel to a wash, now the Sterling Canyon wash. That wash ascends gradually to its source to east of Vultee Arch, and the trail rises with it, winding up and down washes, and side to side through the thick vegetation along the wash. The mountains crowd in tighter to the trail here, than they do along the Dry Creek Road and Chuckwagon, providing nice scenes visible in spurts through the thick forest.

Then to the arch itself. The trail to the arch does not rise gradually. It runs at a right angle to the main trail, straight up the mountain, no switchbacks. But again no issue, so with a bit of hand-over-foot climbing I reach the arch. I ventured up far enough to stand at the same elevation as the arch, maybe a hundred feet to the right. From that vantage point, the arch flowed gracefully out from the contours of the mountain, rather majestically in my view, enhancing the scene, not dominating.

Now, in terms of walking across Vultee Arch, maybe the daring have traversed the slick, thin ledges or steep, smooth slopes around the Arch, to gain a spot on it, but I didn’t see a feasible route. So, I just took in the arch from the angles I could gain, and just as importantly took in the serenity of the vast vistas open and visible from my spot beside the arch. The rather cloudy sky muted the scene, and in the softer light the green of the vegetation and the subtle orange of the rocks deepened in their hue.

Overall, this route from Birthing Head trailhead to base of the trail up to the arch, rises about 800 feet, but slowly, without notice. Now my quick calculation says the east approach up Sterling Pass trail ascends 1,200 feet, quickly, then on the return route imposes another 800 foot gain. (As noted, I have done the east route a good number of years ago.) My route ran 11 miles; the route via Sterling Pass trail runs a bit over 5 miles. My view, both provide an enjoyable hike, different, but good.

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