There Are Mustangs and Then There Are Mustangs

November 16, 2018

By Kelly-Leigh Thomas

Devil’s Bridge, a natural sandstone arch, as viewed from the trail underneath it. This photo was taken by the Sedona Westerners while they were hiking the Devil’s Loop, which includes the Devil’s Bridge.

The Devil’s Loop hike was on the program for the Sedona Westerners’ Mustangs hiking group recently.  Our Mustangs hikes are every Thursday, from September until mid-May, and promise lovely scenery and a good physical challenge.  The hikes are usually seven to nine miles long, with an elevation gain of 1,000 to 2,000 feet, while hiking at a moderate pace or more.

We enjoyed this perfectly sunny day with ideal hiking temperatures.  It made our 6.7-mile trek, with 1,200 feet cumulative elevation gain, a walk in the park.  The hike was co-led by fellow Canadians, Ernie and Lynn Pratt, both experts in all things geological.  We began this scenic and diverse hiking loop at the Mescal Trailhead parking lot on Long Canyon Road.  Why so many hikers choose to take the shorter Forest Road 152 (Vultee Arch Road), walking on that dusty, dirt road to get to the Devil’s Bridge Trail, is a mystery to me.  Starting at the Mescal Trailhead provides a quiet and more intimate experience by crossing Dry Creek while hiking through a lovely forested area, before the trail opens up to the wide-open vistas of Dry Creek Basin.

With all the rainy weather in October, Dry Creek was anything but… dry.  It still had much water in it and its banks were clogged with deadheads and debris that had washed up during the downpours that filled the creek.  Massive branches have been thrust up ten feet high and lodged in adjacent trees.  The high-water mark was very impressive, when you consider how much of the year this creek is bone dry.

Surprisingly, we passed very few hikers as we ascended the trail to Devil’s Bridge. Our hike leaders led us under the Devil’s Bridge, instead up and onto it, as is usually done.  This relatively soft Supai sandstone arch holds hundreds of visitors a day for their perfect photo op.  What these people cannot see from above, is the large crack below that traverses the center of the arch.  We all pondered the fate of this fault in the rock and speculated that it will give way one day.

After a snack break, while enjoying the lovely weather, we continued to hike and rock scramble through a slot in the rock to our next destination, lunch.  Stories of past travels and future ones filled our lunch break as we swapped tales.  We mused over our group’s name, “Mustangs,” which are free roaming horses of the American/Canadian West.  Their name is derived from the Spanish words for “having no masters.”  Mustangs are considered feral horses, as they are not native to our countries, but were imported from Spain in 1519, by Hernando Cortes. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has not been able to reduce the growing population of Mustangs and this has led to discord with the ranching industry over shared land resources.  Management strategies such as round-ups, efforts at adoption, and now overcrowded long-term holding facilities, have all failed to solve this overpopulation issue.  The Canadian solution has been to work with a non-profit organization, the Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS), to implement a contraception program.  The Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) vaccine can be delivered to Mustangs through darting and it reduces their fertility rates dramatically.  This program has replaced the Canadian Government’s capture and cull program with success.  This “Mustangs” example shows that there are always a lot of subjects to ponder while hiking on the trail.

Later during our Devil’s Loop hike, we were descending on the trail through an area of chaparral and scrub.  Our hike leaders pointed out the honeycombed sandstone, called “Tafoni,” which is an interesting geological feature common in arid regions, resulting from weathering.  Boulder hopping in Dry Creek led us toward the end of our trail.  What a great way to spend a day with wonderful fellow hikers.  Try it!  Join the Sedona Westerners. 

If you are interested in joining the club, please visit the Sedona Westerners website at  You are invited to our next monthly meeting at 7 p.m., Thursday, January 10, at the Sedona Methodist Church, 110 Indian Cliffs Road.  Written by Kelly-Leigh Thomas.

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