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Discover Secret Sedona: The Riparian Environment of Soldier Pass and the Seven Sacred Pools

Soldier's Pass Trail in Sedona, Arizona.


Visitors to Sedona, Arizona have a tendency to look up at the Red Rock scenery but usually don’t look down—to find an incredible and unique ecosystem with its scores of unique animals, butterflies and insects, and plants.

An entirely unexplored world awaits visitors if only they take the time to find and understand it. One of the more popular hiking destinations in Sedona that offers a fascinating and diverse natural history is the Soldier Pass Trail area. Hikers can expect to discover several spectacular gifts of nature on this hike. Located off Soldier Pass Road in Sedona, it is relatively easy to find the trailhead and the hike is only moderately challenging and easy to follow.

This is not intended to be a detailed description of the Soldier Pass Trail—there are already plenty of excellent trail descriptions out there that do a great job of guiding the hiker. Rather, this is a story about the natural wonders of the Soldier Pass Trail area and the fascinating encounters one finds along the way.

The trail provides a very diverse hiking experience. The trailhead is actually located in a neighborhood, and is open from 8 am to 6 pm daily. Eventually, the trail ends in the secluded and remote Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness. The first part of this trail can be very busy, and commercial jeeps are frequently conducting tours of some of the special features. Also, it is a popular trail for mountain bikes, so hikers should be aware of the added traffic and take precautions.

Devils Kitchen Sinkhole

The trail does have some very interesting features that add to the visitor’s enjoyment. One incredible feature is a one-hundred-foot wide, fifty-foot deep sinkhole with sheer walls known as the Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole. The sinkhole was formed in the 1880's when the ground collapsed with a loud boom that reportedly could be heard miles away. During the collapse, a cottonwood tree slipped into the sinkhole, and it still remains today, thriving in its new environment. In 1989, shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake shook northern California, another large slab of rock in the corner of the existing sinkhole broke off from the upper edge.

An expert source reveals: "The most common cause of sinkhole formation in the Sedona area is due to the collapse of caves in the limestone bedrock." Chances are, at some point in the future, this sinkhole will continue to grow. Maybe it won’t happen for a few hundred years, but most likely, it will happen. See more information about this amazing sinkhole at: http://www.azgs.az.gov/arizona_geology/winter09/article_devilskitchen.html

The Seven Sacred Pools of Sedona, Arizona are water-filled even during a severe drought.
Above: The Seven Sacred Pools of Sedona, Arizona are always water-filled, even during a severe drought.

Further down the trail, hikers will discover the fascinating and picturesque Seven Sacred Pools. A small stream and runoff carved out the small pools and are enough to keep water in the pools year-round, even during a severe drought. The pools provide a unique, ecologically rich riparian habitat that includes a variety of amphibians, mammals, insects, reptiles, and flora. At different times of the year, one finds numerous species of frogs, lizards, colorful butterflies and moths, and a rich assortment of birds.

In late June and July, the visitor may observe a variety tadpoles somewhere in the evolutionary process of becoming a frog. Looking carefully, the tadpoles can be found in all seven pools and very small frogs that have reached the final stages of metamorphosis can be seen hopping about in the immediate area around the pools.

To fully appreciate the features of this unique ecosystem, a return hike following the drainage area just below the pools eventually guides visitors back to the trailhead leading from the parking lot. The way is shaded by wild Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica), uniquely beautiful evergreens only found in small populations across the Southwest. Lizards dart among the rocks, and colorful butterflies land to sip moisture from the mineral-rich earth.

A buckeye butterfly stops to sip the mineral rich water from a recent rain puddle.
Above: A buckeye butterfly stops to sip the mineral rich water from a recent rain puddle.

Canyon tree frogs bask in the heat of the sun, a rare behavior for amphibians in general.
Above: Canyon tree frogs bask motionless in the heat of the sun, a rare behavior for amphibians in general. They are reminiscent of gargoyles standing guard from their cathedral-like perches.

Due to the fragility of this unique ecosystem, visitors should respect the riparian terrain. As it is a part of the National Forest, it is also prohibited by law to remove or harm any native wildlife or vegetation. For more information, visit the Coconino National Forest Service website.

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