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Bell Rock Bliss

Text and Photos by Nick Smallwood

A cool breeze traveled through the Village of Oak Creek and into the town of Sedona carrying moisture and fog. The morning temperature was in the low fifties, and the once-blue sky was now shrouded in a film of grey. Up above, drops of rain slowly trickled down from the heavens, darkening the rust-colored rocks below. As time went on, the pace between them began to quicken...one drop, two drops, three. With each splat, the stone fortress we were standing on became more and more treacherous.

The morning of our departure, my girlfriend and I made the four-hour drive from the desert of Tucson, into the land of red rocks, looking to escape our hectic college lives and spend a few days in the outdoors. While we didn’t have a set schedule, I took it upon myself to research a few places I thought would be interesting to visit during our time there. Bell Rock was one of them.

The red-clay trail leading to the butte was surrounded by gnarled alligator juniper trees. To our left and right, they sprung out of the ground one by one, covering the land in all directions. They were nature’s army, silent soldiers which stood, some upright, others slumped at various angles, watching as hikers passed by. On their leaves, small berries grew, dusted in the color of  worn teal.

When we reached the base of the Bell Rock, we hopped off the main trail and found another, less obvious pathway which wound its way steeply up the side of the terrace. In an attempt to escape the crowd, we chose the path less traveled on and slowly began climbing upwards.

As we ascended foot after foot up the red-rock goliath, views of the valley became more spectacular. In the distance, Courthouse Butte stood peeking through the mist. Far below, cars made their way back and forth along the black asphalt leading into the Village of Oak Creek. We stopped, took a few photos and then continued upwards.

The temperature was in the low fifties and the morning sky was now shrouded in a film of grey. Up above, drops of rain slowly trickled down from the heavens, darkening the rust-colored rocks below. As we hiked upwards, the pace between them began to quicken...one drop, two drops, three. With each splat, the stone fortress we were standing on became more and more treacherous.

Scrambling up the rugged monolith was hard work. As I inhaled deeply, cold air entered my lungs chilling my insides. With each wrong step, loose rocks crumbled and fell off the side of the monument, exposing the layers beneath it.

While I trusted my hiking shoes to keep grip on the slick rock, the bottom of my girlfriend’s shoes were worn down from years of use. The once a raised hexagonal tread pattern was now completely flat, providing little hold on the rocks we were climbing.

As the rain continued to fall, my mind flashed back to her slipping the previous day and I began to grow concerned. If the weather got any worse, we could be in for some serious trouble. It was in that moment that the rain turned into snow.

We stopped and looked at each other, questioning whether we should continue forward. It was hard to predict what the weather was going to do in the next hour, and I had made the mistake of not checking the forecast earlier that morning.

If one thing was certain though, it was that it was going to be her call. With her shoes being the way they were, I wanted to make sure that she felt one-hundred percent confident hiking up. Looking back at me, she smiled and then continued forward. The decision was made. We were going to climb.  

After a few minutes, the snow had stopped falling and the once foggy landscape had become clear. While the sun was still hidden behind a thin mask of grey, a few rays began to peek out from above, giving the area a new life.

When we reached our stopping point, we took in our last view of the landscape and began our slow descent back down to the parking lot.  

Finding the safest route to the bottom of the butte was challenging. Without a trail, we had to pick and choose our own path down the treacherous terrain. Oftentimes, what I thought would be a good route, would end with a twenty-foot drop to the ground below. When we eventually made our way off the rock and looked back at what we had descended from, it was a feeling of great accomplishment.

Making our way back to Tucson, I couldn’t help thinking that there was something mystical to the place which we had just visited. Looking back on it, I think it was the combination of the beautiful red-rock scenery, dramatic weather, and getting to share the experience with my girlfriend, that made my adventure to Bell Rock such a memorable experience.

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