Sedona, Arizona, famous for its red rocks, hiking, art galleries and world-class spas is a vacation destination for more than 4 million people every year.
In the heart of West Sedona, surrounded by iconic red rock formations and green mesas is the easily accessible, Soldiers Pass trail. Famous for its geological formations, Soldiers Pass is one of the most travelled hiking and jeep trails in the Sedona trail system. It is easy to see why it is so popular today and how useful it must have been to the early settlers of Sedona. But one might wonder who were the soldiers of Soldiers Pass?
By the time the first white settlers arrived in Sedona, the US Military had already rounded up most of the Native Americans in the area and placed them at the San Carlos Reservation in New Mexico. General George Crook, (1829-1890), who headed the U. S. Military Department after the Civil War had the responsibility for keeping peace with the Native Americans in Arizona. Headquartered at Fort Verde, (now Camp Verde), his outfit patrolled the area from Ft. Verde to Ft. Whipple, (now Prescott) and up over the Mogollon Rim.
During the summer months of the 1860’s and 70’s, General Crook and his men would make their camp in the area that is now West Sedona. They called the area Camp Garden, the first English name for the village of Sedona. It was cool and lush and full of game. From the wash where they made camp, they followed an old Indian trail through a gap in the mountains that took them to Dry Creek. There they would fish and hunt and stock up on rations for the winter. Then, when the Indians’ food supplies were running low, General Crook and his band of soldiers swarmed into the Apache winter campsites and destroyed their food stores. With the promise of sufficient food, the Indians were forced to move to the reservation. General George Crook was responsible for removing more than 1400 Apache from the Camp Verde area alone.
The wash where General Crook’s and his soldiers camped is now called Soldiers Wash and the trail they used to reach their hunting grounds is called Soldiers Pass. Years later Sedona ranchers used the pass to bring their cattle out of the canyon and up to cooler elevations during the summer months.
Today, Soldiers Pass is a popular trail that is easily accessible by foot or jeep and has many geological features to explore. A massive sinkhole, called Devil’s Kitchen, formed when an underground spring-fed cavern collapsed on itself in 1880. Sedona’s early residents reported to have heard the thundering event that sent out a gigantic cloud of dust. This massive cavity measures over 100 feet across and over 50 feet deep. The dark desert varnish on the flame colored wall of the sinkhole inspired the name Devil’s Kitchen because it resembled the smoky residue of a cook stove. In the early 1970’s, a large rock, now known as the Grand Piano, fell off the ledge into the cavity. When the sinkhole formed, some say due to an earthquake in California, it took down with it an enormous Cottonwood tree that is still growing there today at the bottom of the yawning pit.
Less than one half mile farther up the trail in a small canyon to the left, is another geographic anomaly called The Seven Sacred Pools. These seven pools are really catch basins gouged out of the polished rock cascading one after the other down to the canyon floor. Year-round they hold collected rainfall and runoff. They serve as watering holes for the local fauna as well as breeding grounds for amphibians. Some local spiritual practitioners claim that The Seven Sacred Pools is a power spot similar to the nearby vortexes and that each pool represents one of the seven chakras (energy centers) of the body.
After about three-quarters of a mile, the trail forks to the right and climbs up to another geological formation: the Soldiers Pass Arches. The arches were formed when a portion of the rock separated and formed a crevasse. Three caves began to erode through the rock creating the arches. The hike up to the arches is short and steep along a narrow trail. Two are easily visible. The third can be reached by walking on a faint trail along the cliff face.
In addition to the geological attractions, Soldiers Pass offers some impressive red rock vistas. Every step of this trail presents numerous photo opportunities. Some of the famous rock formations that are viewed along Soldiers Pass include Coffee Pot Rock, The Saddle and the Sphinx.
The main trail of Soldiers Pass continues about another mile along a ridge then rising to the top of Brins Mesa providing extraordinary panoramic views.
When visiting scenic Sedona Arizona, be sure to follow the footsteps of General Crook and his men. By foot or by jeep, a tour of Soldiers Pass is not to be missed.
Look for more articles in this series “Watch for Red Rocks TM” by Ann Galgano-Bellile