Soldier Pass

Soldier Pass
Red Rock Secret Mtn. Wilderness
4 Miles Roundtrip
4/10/18

Another hike I did back in April while my friend Eric was visiting from Seattle, and one I had been wanting to do for a long time. Only problem was, I didn’t know where exactly the feature was I really wanted to see on this trail. I had seen pictures of a cave? If you could call it that. A sliver of space between two rock walls, and the beginnings of an arch. Its location is not exactly widely shared within the hiking community, and for good reason, so all I knew was that it was somewhere off Soldier Pass. Just had to look for certain features.

In order to hike in the Red Rock Wilderness you need to get a pass, which we picked up at a gas station on the way through Sedona. If I remember right, it was only $5. Once you get to the trailhead, you have to park in the designated parking area, which is right behind a neighborhood. You’re not allowed to park down any of the neighborhood streets, and the small parking lot was full. We got lucky and were able to to get a space as a few hikers were leaving. Make sure to go early if you want to ensure you get a parking space. It’s a popular trailhead because it connects to other trails besides Soldier Pass.

Not far from the trailhead you arrive at Devil’s Kitchen sinkhole after the trail dips you down through some trees and back up to the sinkhole. It’s just like you’d imagine a sinkhole to look like, except it was the cool, red, sandstone of Sedona. We took a few pictures, then carried on.

Beware! Pickpockets and loose rocks!

Continue around to the left of the sinkhole to follow Soldier Pass trail. The trail takes you through more trees and brings you to Seven Sacred Pools. It’s a large, open area of red rock (go figure) and there were those Pink Jeeps you see all over Sedona parked about and their customers wandering around the area. The pools themselves were actually pretty cool. It was a cascade of these pools that had been formed by running water over the years. The first pool at the top was small, the size of a mixing bowl, and each pool after that was slightly lower down the rocks and slightly bigger. The very last hole was at the bottom in the draw and was mostly dry. I’m sure it would be a better sight after a hard rain.

Pictured: Four of the Seven Sacred Pools

From the Seven Sacred Pools, we followed the Soldier Pass trail back into the forest of Juniper, Oak, and pine as the trail brought us down into the valley between the red canyon rocks. The hike is very pleasant as it meanders through this forest and the trees provide plenty of shade. A little over a mile, the trail intersects the end of the Jeep tour doubletrack, and a little further on past that is the boundary of the wilderness area. The trail forks near the wilderness sign, but it was easy to stay on the Soldier Pass trail since the other trail was blocked off by a line of rocks and tree branches. I’ve seen that a lot on the AZT. Trail maintenance will do that at portions of the trail that are no longer to be used and to keep hikers on the new path.

Now entering the Super Secret Mountain Wilderness.

After that point, the trail gradually climbs up in elevation until you make it to Brins Mesa. The total elevation gain from start to finish is about 500 feet. Cake compared to what we had done at Flatiron two days prior. The trail brings you up out of the shade of the forest, but also into higher ground for better views. The trail gets steeper as you near the mesa and then flattens out into large steps of rock covered in what looked like a rock garden.

Looking back on the valley and towards Sedona.

We hung out there for a bit while I checked where we were supposed to go on my GPS, which was sending us back into thick forest on a very faint trail. The clear path continued up the mesa and on to Brins Mesa trail, but this had been an easy hike so far and we wanted a little more adventure and we had the time. So we took the path less travelled into the thick brush and forest.Ā  I’m glad we took the detour.

“Rock garden” nearing the top of the trail.

We trudged through the brush and pointy oak leaves. This was clearly an old trail that lead us back under the cover of trees. We came to a makeshift bridge of weathered logs laid across a ditch. It looked so unstable we just walked around it and through the ditch. Shortly after that, as we were walking and talking, we heard something rustling in the brush across from us. We walked a few feet forward and then we could see them. Three Javelina milling about in a small clearing behind a ring of brush that separated us and them. One of them laid in the dirt munching on the pad of a prickly pear cactus and stared at us. We kept quiet and a healthy distance. I think they were young due to their size, so also kept an eye out for the mother too. We watched them for a moment longer then carried on.

It was difficult to get a clear picture of the Javelina.

The faint trail came to an indiscernible end. We ended up cutting through raw bush, intersecting with game trails, and following those until we saw a clearing that happened to be a an old forest road. We followed the old road northeast for a bit before we stopped underneath a shade tree for a short snack break, then carried on. It wasn’t long before the old road intersected with Brins Mesa trail and headed east. The trail took us out of the shade and along the crest of a canyon. To the north of us was another valley of Juniper and oak trees, and more red rock and canyon walls beyond that. The trail took us in a big loop and back to where the official Soldier Pass intersected with Brins Mesa, the trail we were supposed to take before we went off on our own adventure. But, it was a good thing to go off the beaten path, because if we hadn’t, we would not have seen the Javelina.

We headed south on Soldier Pass, back the way we came, after we stopped for another break underneath a shady Juniper at the peak with the flat rock garden. We chatted with a few other hikers who were coming up the path before descending back down into the valley between the canyon walls. We were determined to find the arch/cave I had seen so many pictures of, and getting to it was kind of a chore, but worth it. I’m not going to go into great detail of how to find it. It is kind of obvious when you’re out there, but I get the feeling it’s not a well known spot, and would not want to spoil it by advertising it. Sort of. Really, it’s not that hard to find.

Basically, Eric and I tried cutting across the valley at a few points from the trail to the canyon wall but didn’t get far as there was no clear path and the brush was too thick. Heading back, we eventually found the path that led up to the cave, and it just so happened to be the one we passed on the way in that we thought was a detour. That path took us up out of the tree line and to the canyon wall with the cave.

It was one of the coolest destinations I’ve seen while hiking. Well worth the work to get there. It takes some effort climbing in between the rocks to get up inside the cave, but once inside, it’s fairly easy to move around. The way the light comes in through the hole over the arch and illuminates the red rock is brilliant. I could have spent all day there.

…ladies.

I can see why the serious hikers try to keep it a secret, if that’s what they’re indeed trying to do. It’s much more enjoyable without a lot of people around. We also went on a weekday, so that helped immensely. We had the whole place to ourselves. There was an old ammo can in there with notepads where people left their mark, along with a few coupons, tampons, and condoms. You know, the necessities. Otherwise, very clean, and clearly, the hiking community is trying to keep it that way.Ā  We don’t need a bunch of bros up there leaving beer cans.

We hung out there for a bit, soaking it all in, then we left. An easy walk back to the Jeep the same way we came in. Then it was a beautiful drive south on 89A through Cottonwood and Jerome to Prescott where we hit up Prescott Brewery and Superstition Meadery for victory burgers and drinks.

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