Devil’s Bridge Trail, Sedona


It turns out, I must not be a very smart person.  At least, that’s how I felt after hiking the Devil’s Bridge Trail.  I must be the only person who had trouble finding the beautiful, 50-foot-high arch that boldly stands out along this trail.  For the life of me, I still can’t quite figure out how I missed it.

The Devil’s Bridge Trail was the first one I tackled on Day 3.  It seemed like it would be a simple way to start the day–just 8/10 of a mile, one way.  It ended up taking me more than two hours, while causing a lot of frustration and a little fear.

I’ll get to all that in a minute.  For the moment, let’s start at the beginning.

From West Sedona (the section of town along AZ Rte. 89A, west of the “Y” intersection), look for Dry Creek Road.  It’s one of the last stoplights before you head out of Sedona and on to Cottonwood.  Turn north, and follow the road (Forest Road 153C) until you see a dirt turnoff to the right.  This is FR 153.  Follow it about 1.3 miles to the trailhead.  The road is rough, but passable in any kind of car, unless it has recently rained–just take it slow.  If you continue on FR 153, you’ll reach Vultee Arch Trail, which I hiked back in 2005.

Devil’s Bridge Trail is easy enough for just about any hiker.  It starts off wide, following a path that’s big and smooth enough for a jeep (in places, it’s even smoother than the road you drove in on!).  You’ll slowly gain altitude as you climb…

… and before long, great views like this one open up behind you.

Eventually the trail splits, then narrows, and takes you closer to a sandstone mountainside.  It was around this area…

… that I found this rocky overhang.  I took this picture looking straight up, and I was impressed with the shadowy light hitting the underside of the rock (something that must happen for just a few minutes a day, because the sun was still rising).  I stared up at it for a minute or two, then started walking again.

I guess, for some reason, I stopped looking up, because if I had, I would have seen this:

This is Devil’s Bridge.  It’s pretty impressive.  And after I finally saw it (on the return trip), I couldn’t imagine any possible way that I could have walked right past here, and not seen it.  I mean, look at it!  What on earth was I thinking?

You can walk right up underneath the arch, but for my money, the best view is just beyond the arch, looking back in the direction you came from.  Notice the trail here is pretty rocky, and not nearly as easy as the jeep trail earlier.  It’s not hard, but could present a problem for the most casual of hikers.

So where, you may ask, did I end up, after missing the painfully obvious sight of Devil’s Bridge?

I continued walking along the path, which grew even narrower, then came to an end at this “natural rock staircase” as the Forest Service calls it. It took a little scrambling to get to the top, using hands and feet.

If you want to walk across the top of the arch, once you get to the top, you should take a right.  You’d know that, of course, because unlike me, you saw the blatantly obvious arch, just a few hundred feet back.  I’ll show you the top of the arch in just a minute.  First, indulge me to continue telling the story of my misdirection and misfortune.

When I took a left at the top of the “natural staircase”, I followed a very rough and little-traveled path that took me on around the side of the mountain, to another beautiful spot.  Of course at this time, I still hadn’t seen the arch, and was utterly baffled as to where God would have put one in the surrounding landscape.

I hiked a little further, but since it was still early in the morning, I was wandering into the chilly shadows of a nearby mountain.

After pondering my surroundings for a good 15 minutes or so, and trying to discern the very few shoeprints that were on the ground (most of them were mine at this point), I decided I had no chance of finding the elusive Devil’s Arch.  I’d have to turn back.

And so I did.  But when I reached the top of that “natural staircase”, I noticed something I had missed the first time.  There were footprints–quite a few in fact–making a right turn, instead of a left, as I had. I decided there was no harm in walking in that direction for a minute or two.  Before I knew it…

… there it was, the top of the arch!  I walked out onto the arch and looked down.  There was the trail!  The very trail I had been on, about a half hour earlier.  I had walked right by the arch and missed it!

You can walk safely across the bridge, and onto the other side.  I dropped my pack and dangled my feet over the edge for a little while, feeling relieved and foolish.  How could I have missed this?

If you thought the view from the trail was good, you’ll really be impressed by the view from the top of the arch.  From here, you can see all the beautiful mountains that are along scenic FR 152C, on the north side of West Sedona.

I was especially captivated by one old, scraggly tree, that seemed to be growing directly out of the sandstone rock.  It seemed to make the perfect frame for the colorful mountains nearby.

After hanging out on top of the bridge for a while, I climbed down and, for the first time, saw it from below.  (Be careful when climbing down the “natural staircase”.  It’s easy to miss the trail, and if you keep climbing down, you’ll end up in a thicket of plants and rocks.)

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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