No Zen in Sedona

IMG_4559Don’t let that picture of that beautiful boondocking spot fool you. I am not alone. Yes, it appears at first glance to be near-perfect. Level, plenty of sun on the solar panels, in line to watch the sunset and full moon rise, and a red rocks view to die for. But right behind me are five other rigs. Big, noisy rigs.

I haven’t been to Sedona since the 90’s, then luxuriating in some big resort, a weekend extension of a business trip with my friend Margie. If memory serves me, Sedona was a different place back then. Quiet. Serene. “Good energy.” Downright zen-like. All you would expect from a place that advertises being a spiritual mecca and center for soul-nourishing wellness.

There is no denying that beauty abounds in all directions in Sedona.

There is no denying that beauty abounds in all directions in Sedona.

Unfortunately, much of it is overrun by "adventure seekers."

Unfortunately, much of it is overrun by “adventure seekers.” The Pink Jeeps are everywhere!

For quite some time now, I’ve been looking forward to returning to Sedona, finding a quiet boondocking spot from where I can further explore the area. My wish list is long with recommended hikes, and I plan to do them all.

Reports from other boondockers recommend Forest Rd 525 as offering ample parking spots with easy egress and decent cell signal. And reportedly the further one drives, the better the views. I have visions of a little forest road with turn outs where I can nestle the Winnie in between a few juniper trees for some privacy.

Doe Mountain Trail

Doe Mountain Trail

Doe Mountain Trail.

Doe Mountain Trail.

View from the top of the mesa, Doe Mountain.

View from the top of the mesa, Doe Mountain.

But as I drive Forest Rd 525, I notice a lot of the single-use turnouts have been ploughed up, and are now lined with large boulders blocking access. It seems the trend now is to corral campers into larger cul-de-sacs. An enforced “circling of the wagons” makes it easier on the Forest Service, particularly in these times of high drought when the fire risk is so high. (I overheard the ranger on patrol actually instruct one of the campers to get back inside his 5’er to finish his cigarette.) 😉

I decide I’ll drive down the washboard forest road until the distant red rock bluffs come into view. As I top the hill, I see a cul de sac with only one other camper. There is also a brand new Fifth Wheel in the circle, but the lone camper tells me it appears to be empty. He’s been here for a week and hasn’t noticed anyone in there. “I even looked in the windows….I thought maybe the guy was dead or something. But it’s empty.” He tells me he’s leaving the next morning, so I figure I’ll slip into his spot with the primo view, and have the cul de sac to myself.

Munds Wagon Trail

Munds Wagon Trail

Unfortunately, the Munds Wagon Trail runs right alongside Schnebly Hill Road, a very noisy 4WD road.

Unfortunately, the Munds Wagon Trail runs right alongside Schnebly Hill Road, a very popular, noisy 4WD road.

I wonder which one of us feels more sorry for the other, as I hear screams coming from the passing "Safari" vehicle.

I wonder which one of us feels more sorry for the other, as I hear screams coming from the passing “Safari” vehicle.

During my first night alone in the FR525 cul de sac, I am awakened at 4:00am to the rumble of a Jeep towing a U-Haul Trailer. It appears to be the owners of the abandoned Fifth Wheel. The Jeep’s overhead spotlights come on to illuminate the path as the back of the U-Haul drops, and something big and bulky is unloaded. It doesn’t take long to figure out the payload as a large industrial-sized generator roars to life. I’m about to hear about one of the most bizarre boondocking stories yet.

Cow Pies Trail, named because the mounds of rock look like...well...

Cow Pies Trail, named because the mounds of rock look like…well…

This area gets more scenic the further I walk. Note interesting sandstone formation near bottom of photo...

This area gets more scenic the further I walk. Note interesting sandstone formation near bottom of photo…

Going in for a closer look...

Going in for a closer look…

As the story unfolds, two young guys were camping with their “tribe” from Joshua Tree in this boondock spot. The tribe moved back to Joshua Tree, but these two decided, “Hey, we’ve always wanted to hit the road! Why not now?” So they go into town and buy a brand new Jayco Eagle Fifth Wheel. The helpful RV dealer offers free delivery…all the way out here in the boonies. Five miles down FR525, the dealership drops off the brand new fiver without so much as showing the new owners (not just new to the rig, but new to RVing in general) how to hitch up. They also bought a used truck, but don’t even know if the hitch is compatible. They can’t get their generator to start, and their battery won’t hold a charge. While away, their propane tank ran dry, so they came back to a refrigerator full of spoiled food. Ergo the industrial-sized generator rental which now must run 24/7. By early morn, one of the guys is walking around the rig wearing nothing but a pair of baggy shorts and Boze headphones, on a call with the dealership asking every question from “How does my stove still run if my propane tank is empty?” to “We are working professionals….How do we get on the internet?”

Thanks to Hans and Lisa from Metamorphosis Road for recommending this hike. It was gorgeous, and a whole lot of fun!!

Thanks to Hans and Lisa from Metamorphosis Road for recommending this hike, the “Hangover Trail.” It was gorgeous, and a whole lot of fun!!

However, I simply cannot believe this is actually a mountain bike trail. What person in their right mind would ride this narrow ribbon of a trail on a bike?

However, I simply cannot believe this is actually a mountain bike trail. What person in their right mind would ride this narrow ribbon of a trail on a bike?

It's scary enough to follow the white dots on foot, much less at rolling speed!

It’s scary enough to follow the white dots on foot, much less at rolling speed!

I would fall off the track just from trying to absorb the beauty around me. For this reason among many, I choose hiking over biking.

I would fall off the track just from trying to absorb the beauty around me. For this reason among many, I choose hiking over biking.

Each day, a new oddity arrives in the cul de sac. A pair of instagramers/vloggers about to embark on their Alaska to Argentina odyssey arrive. They have pimped out their Winnebago in “full Pintrest,” complete with subway tile backsplash, and web/Instagram logos around the outside. But having only been in their first rig for six months now, they have not yet embraced the single most liberating enhancement a boondocker can make…solar power. “We figure if they are running their generator 24/7, we may as well run ours. We have work to do, so may as well do it in the AC.”

I finally reach the saddle where the trail drops back down on the other side. It's so windy here, my hiking pole is getting blown sideways!

I finally reach the saddle where the trail drops back down on the other side. It’s so windy here, my hiking pole is getting blown sideways!

I love the car and attention given to protect this tiny blooming cactus.

I love the car and attention given to protect this tiny blooming cactus.

The trail curves around to form a "bowl."

The trail curves around to form a “bowl.”

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On my last night on Forest Rd 525, a ruckus ensues at 9:00pm, long after dark. More headlights, rumbling diesel engines, and shouts from across the cul de sac. I look out the window to see backing into the cul de sac, the longest travel trailer I have ever seen, complete with two exit doors and an awning framed in neon-blue light. The doors fly open and out pours what could amount to an entire homeschooling classroom, complete with mascots, two scuffling, barking dogs.

I have been hiking this trail all morning and haven't seen a single mountain biker when....

I have been hiking this trail all morning and haven’t seen a single mountain biker when….

Here comes Jaxx!

…when in a flash, here comes Jaxx!

There goes Jaxx! (I don't often get lucky enough to encounter someone along the trail to offer to share their photo, but I encounter Jaxx further down the trail taking a break. He gives me his email, and says he is happy, as he doesn't ever get photos of himself riding.)

There goes Jaxx! (I don’t often get lucky enough to encounter someone along the trail to offer to share their photo, but I encounter Jaxx further down the trail taking a break. He gives me his email, and says he is happy to have the photo, as he doesn’t ever get photos of himself riding.)

I awake on my last Sedona morning at 6:00am to a startling noise. At first, I think it is a swarm of hornets outside my window. No, too loud. For a split second, I have flashbacks to those first few hours after 9/11 in Manhattan when I felt the urge to duck at the sound of fighter jets overhead. No, not that loud. What is it? A bird? A plane? No, it’s SUPER DRONE!! Getting a sunrise view of my bedroom window in the boondock. How much higher do egos have to soar? It’s not enough to have 360degree spinning shots with a selfie stick…now we must photograph our roofs from overhead ? I still haven’t figured out the joy in documenting the sun rising over the top of my fiberglass shell. Youtube is cultivating a strange breed!IMG_4524

How;d you like to thread that needle on a mountain bike?

How;d you like to thread that needle on a mountain bike?

Note that tall spire in the distance....I hear voices coming from there. Going in for a closer look...

Note that tall spire in the distance….I hear voices coming from there. Going in for a closer look…

There are quite a few climbers on the thinner spire. I watch for a long while until a group reaches the very top, then rappels down.

There are quite a few climbers on the thinner spire. Note silhouette on platform to the left. There are half a dozen people scattered at different levels on the spire. (click to enlarge.) I watch for a long while until a group reaches the very top, then rappels down.

Outside my window just in time for breakfast , Vlogger-dude is calling out Homeschool Dad for waking us all up at 6:00am to the drone of his drone. Homeschool-Dad is standing there holding his compound archery bow while defending his actions “Look, dude! I needed a sunrise shot! The sun comes up at 5:00am!” Vlogger-dude is my new hero, in spite of the fact that his defense included “older people” camping here. LOL!

The "lollipop" loop of Hangover Trail continues to offer spectacular beauty.

The “lollipop” loop of Hangover Trail continues to offer spectacular beauty.

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I could write another chapter on seeking solitude on the hiking trails with Polaris 4X4s racing by, leaving me standing there coated in a cloud of red dust, or the “thwhopp, thwhopp, thwhopp” of ten-minute helicopter tours overhead. But this rant is long enough. If there was ever a case for protected status, Sedona should be on the “endangered species” list

On the night of the full moon, I pack my backpack with camp chair, blanket, and a bottle of wine and hike down a closed OHV road to watch the moon rise far from Generator Circle.

On the night of the full moon, I pack my backpack with camp chair, blanket, headlamp, and a bottle of wine, and hike down a closed OHV road to watch the moon rise, far, far from the urban dwellers in Generator Circle.

31 thoughts on “No Zen in Sedona

  1. You are so right! Sedona should be on the “endangered species” list
    Every time we’ve returned, we have seen more of everything you describe that’s negative. We always say, this place should have been a national park. Because this is what happens when it’s not.

  2. Wow. That is a funny but sad account. I loved boondocking there minus the red dust, crowds, and pink Jeeps. Last visit we just stayed in Cottonwood and I made day trips to hike and bike those incredible trails.

  3. Holy Cow! Just like everyone else, I am stupefied by this incredibly sad account of this beautiful area. We were there twenty-something years ago, and again about six years ago, but stayed in the Thousand Trails Preserve near Cottonwood both times, making day trips to the area for gaping and gasping.

    As so often happens, Mother Nature provides . . . and man destroys.

    A return trip had been on the agenda . . .

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

  4. We birded this weekend at Palo Duro Canyon – holy moly was it busy with bikers. Caprock Canyon was much less crowded, thankfully. Wishing you a more peaceful stay!

  5. 525 is a great boondocking area but there is no privacy to be found. We were luckier than you. Other than a few overnighters, our only neighbor was a 45-foot ancient school bus with a large “family” of adults and children who lived “off the grid”. They had many dogs and the dog shit collected all over the campsite for 3 days before someone picked it up. Then their bus broke down and they were stuck in the campsite. Luckily, they didn’t bother us and had friends in the area who could bring them supplies. We were happy to leave that site.

  6. I fondly remember our weekend at the Enchantment, before Sedona became as overrun as it is now. I love the hiking and beauty of the place, but agree, it should have National park status to protect it. Can’t get far enough out there!

  7. Your photos are stunning as usual. We were in Sedona/Cottonwood/CampVerde in February. Found some wonderful petroglyphs sites off 525. Saw the noisy pink jeeps, dirt bikes etc . We don’t boondocking as yet so we didn’t have your type of experience but I commiserate with you on the end of era that was peaceful and serene. Drones are such a drag too. Can’t stand them.

  8. Sadly I felt kinda the same way about Borrego last time we boondocked there. A massive change over 5 years from a pretty relaxed place to a popular convergence spot for anyone with a social media account. It’s the trend…and as a blogger I’ve contributed, but I lament it nonetheless.

    Nina

  9. Unfortunately there a lot of folks who did not inherit respect for Mother Nature, they’ve used the boondocking spots for parties. The litter and broken glass left behind shows quite a lack of respect.
    Our last trip (and likely it will be our last trip – too much traffic/crowds) we payed to stay at Thousand Trails in Cottonwood. Quiet with a winery just outside the gate, a nice escape.

  10. “YouTube is cultivating a strange tribe” So true. This is a similar scene to what we found on that road 5 years ago. Haven’t been back since. RIP Sedona.

  11. Why should any RVer (or other scenery tourist) be surprised by what you experienced at Sedona?

    Don’t 95% of the adolescent boys in a high school class lust for the same girl, just because of some freakish anatomical feature that she has? Then they learn that she considers them an earthworm, and treats them like it if they have the effrontery to even say one word to her. Now what does he do? Become a lifelong celibate?

    Or does he try to develop an appreciation for a non-freakish-looking, average girl who might appreciate him?

    We’ve all been through it. But tourists just can’t see the analogy and keep making the same mistakes with their scenic bucket lists.

  12. That is really too bad about the overall situation in Sedona. I remember the area fondly from 40 years ago when I lived in that part of Arizona and don’t think I want to be disappointed by going there now. Unfortunately this seems to be the trend in the West with easily accessible scenic areas. The hiking sure looks nice though!

  13. I am glad we had a wonderful Sedona experience before it became over run. I’m surprised you stayed in the boondock spot. But it did provide lots of entertainment. Who needs TV when you can be part of the real Reality TV experience!

  14. Wow. That is just all I can seem to come up with. This story of yours is truly overwhelming to me. I know that the heyday of boondocking might be coming to a close, over run with way too many people with way too much money and free time. We are in some sort of financial crisis? Maybe somewhere, but not on the roads and highways of the American West. Sigh. Just heartbreaking. And infuriating. And frustrating. I, too, remember Sedona when it was gorgeous, even in the late 90’s it was crowded, but didn’t seem quite so filled with entitled noisy obnoxious people. It was more likely to be hippies trying to outdo each other meditating in the vortexes. Sadly, I now have no desire whatsoever to destroy my lovely vision of Sedona by actually visiting there. Feel the same way about Yosemite. I have Firefall and Waterfall memories of that gorgeous valley to last a lifetime without being ruined by what it has become. Sadly, Suzanne, you aren’t as old as I am, so you have to live in this crazy world longer than I do. :) And you and I both know Mark would ride that trail.

  15. I am SURE we stayed in your exact boondock spot nearly 2 years ago. Although there was a fair amount of traffic on FR525 passing by our camp, mostly “pink”, our only REAL disruption was after watching the full moon rise over our campfire. Probably no campfires now due to fire high risk. In any event, after settling in to bed, we had somewhere between 10 and 20 Javelinas come into our pitch black camp. It was as if we were thrust into a Stephen King novel for well over an hour. We actually felt as though they were trying to get in. The blood curdling shreaks will NEVER be forgotten. Maybe they were in heat. Who knows? But believe me, your experiences were bad, but could have been downright scary. FR 525 is probably off our list in the future.

    Having said all this, and as I have mentioned in the past, we retired geezers have to pick our visiting “seasons” in popular areas. You were there very close to approaching summer; maybe even in close proximity to spring break. City dwellers have come out of hibernation and are out and about, making for extreme crowding. And this is in addition to the ever-increasing young folks and families who are full-timing due to not having a pot to pee in. Sad, but true.

  16. When people hear we once had a home in Sedona, they often ask how we could ever move away. Your post speaks to why we moved away. Yes, Sedona is beautiful, but it has become totally overrun with tourists, so much so that you cannot move through town during the peak season. The trails, once calming and pristine, are anything but anymore. I agree that Sedona should have been named a national park long ago, to protect and preserve it. We used to visit every year after we sold our home but no longer. I want to remember it back when it was a joy to live there.

  17. Your tolerance deserves an award. Thanks so much for your honesty and the gorgeous pictures of an area I will now probably not visit. I missed my Sedona window obviously. Glad you seemed to have a good time anyway. Doubt I could have stayed like you did in the face of such neighbors. Poor Sedona. I pity the people who live there now and feel grief for those who loved it way back when.

  18. Like so many other places, Sedona is just over run. I doubt if we’ll ever go back. Too many cars, too many people. Of course, there are so many places we can say that about. Glad you got a tranquil moonrise.

  19. Now I feel bad. Usually, if you get on a hiking trail fairly early, you can get a great hike. Don’t write Sedona off completely. Plus, camping in Dead Horse Ranch, near Cottonwood, is wonderful. That is worth checking out.

  20. I’ve always wanted to visit Sedona, it’s a shame that is has become so touristy.

    Seems you met some “interesting” people at this boondocking site, the site still has to be better than a crowded RV park.

  21. We first went to Sedona in the 70’s and it was a lovely small town with great scenery. Today it is a total zoo. So sad to see so many nice places from my childhood around the country have suffered the same thing. You did get some awesome photos.

  22. We were a bit disappointed with Sedona in our visit there in 03, but your descriptions of your ‘fun’ sharing that beautiful had me laughing hysterically. Deede came in to the den to see if I was alright.

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