Mountain Biking Sedona’s Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock... High Desert Beauty in Sedona, Arizona.

Length: 9.6 miles
Effort: Moderate
Technical: Intermediate
Scenery: Stunning

You have probably seen a breathtaking photograph of Cathedral Rock on television, your computer, or maybe on a travel brochure, and don’t even remember it. I saw one on a popular game show 3 days after I did this ride.

It seemed strange to think I had been standing in the exact same place as the professional photographer who took that shot. I am pretty sure the photographer’s camera was a little better than my little Sony Cyber Shot! More on that later.

There are a lot more things to see on this ride in addition to Cathedral Rock, and I am going to share those with you here.

I started the ride at the Desert Quail Inn and rode past the Bike and Bean. About 50 yards past the Bike and Bean I carefully turned left off Highway 149 onto a trail with NO NAME. I took this trail on the advice of a fellow working in the Bike and Bean so … from now on I will refer to it as the “Bean” trail. The day before he had recommended the Submarine Rock-Llama ride, which I found was interesting … and a lot of fun. Crowded … but a lot of fun. I trusted the ride he recommended for this day would just as interesting and … a lot of fun. It was both.

As the Bean Trail neared the base of the Castle Rock, I began riding on larger pieces of sandstone (which off-road people call slickrock for some reason). After roughly 1.5 miles of winding around, up and down (but mostly up) I came upon a huge slab of slickrock. The increased elevation of this rock made the view of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte look somewhat different than when I looked at them from the Bell Rock Pathway, which runs right along their bases.

I took a few photos of Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock, then set-off farther down the Bean Trail to see what it might teach me.

From the giant slab table the Bean Trail descended through a couple different arroyos for about .75-miles until it ended at its intersection with the Templeton Trail … which would take me past the base of Cathedral Rock.

It was easy to tell that most people took the Templeton Trail to get there instead of the Bean Trail, as the Templeton was twice as wide and worn deeper. I found The Templeton Trail to be much flatter than the Bean Trail. As a matter of fact, the worker in the Bike and Bean said most people say the Templeton is the only flat trail in Sedona. I think I would have to disagree (I rode the Llama Trail the day before, and it seemed pretty flat to me).

After a fast 1-mile sprint on the Templeton (and passing the H.T. Trail junction) I came upon two mountain bikes laying along side the trail. I stopped to look for humans and saw a man and women just coming off a bank 25 yards down the Templeton. As they approached, they said they had hiked to the top of one of the spires above (over toward Cathedral Rock) and pointed it out to me. I was impressed!

They said the view was incredible and then told me they were from Maine. They were visiting her sister in the Phoenix area and came up here to do a ride. They had gone to a bike shop in Oak Creek Village only to find all 75 of their bikes were rented for the day. They eventually found two rentals at another shop in the Village. I took their picture, said adios (goodbye in Spanish) and headed out. After traveling another .75-miles or so I came to the Cathedral Rock Trail junction. There were at least 20 hikers here … some coming up from the Cathedral Parking area below … some heading up to the base of Cathedral Rock … some just resting.

I stopped to take a photo of Cathedral Rock, which might be the best known landmark in Sedona, then sped on. I had just started descending the switchbacks into Oak Creek Canyon when who steps out around a turn … Cindy! She had driven to the parking area below and was on a hike to Cathedral Rock. I am sure she had told me earlier that morning that she was going to do that particular hike … but I didn’t remember. She told me what to expect on the remainder of the trail and we agreed we would meet at the car. We figured I could ride down and do the Baldwin Loop in about the same time she went to Cathedral Rock.

A few more steep switchbacks brought me to the bottom of the canyon, thick with Cottonwood trees with wild grass and weeds below. There I immediately came upon 4 bikers lying in the grass resting. They had ridden down from Oak Creek Village and were just getting ready to head back up toward Cathedral Rock. I asked them if they knew about the Bean Trail and they had not. I showed them on my map and they were real happy they would be able to ride some skinny single track and not have to take the Templeton all the way back.

Right after leaving the bikers I came upon Buddha Beach. The beach actually had sand … and a nice swimming hole beside a huge piece of sandstone standing on end but at an angle. Across Oak Creek kids and parents were playing in the shallow water.

I rode on in search of the Baldwin Trail … my next venture. The Templeton leaves the creek and trees and crosses a wide open area of bushes in sand. This is where I found the Baldwin Trail. It was clearly marked. The Bike and Bean worker had told me this trail used to be an out-and-back but had recently been made into a loop.

The trail immediately climbed out of the sand and up through a saddle of rock, bushes, and cacti, then skirted the base of a small mountain, to the west of Cathedral Rock. While on the base of this mountain I was afforded the view of a small community of ranches and a most unusual fence.

The Baldwin’s circular 1.6 mile path brought me to the parking area and our car … but no Cindy. I set off down the Templeton back toward Buddha beach in search of “The Wife”. I arrived at the beach and still no sign of her. I called her and she said she had followed the creek instead of taking the Templeton, and was just getting to the car. I told her I might jump in the creek (and I did) then I would head her way.

I set my helmet on a rock and ran the video camera as I jumped off a rock into the creek. I struggled to swim back to the place where I could get out … the current was quite strong and my muscles knotted like instant “rigor mortis” upon hitting the frigid water. Not happy with that jump I did it again … and this time felt good enough to swim to the other side of the pool … get out … walk back upstream … and cross back over.

I lay on a rock to dry and warm up … then put my shoes, socks, and shirt on … and headed back to the car.

This time I followed the creek (instead of the Templeton Trail) as Cindy had. I walked my bike through river rock, and bushes…no sign of a river-side trail. I pushed through some branches on the toward the creek and found myself standing on a huge bench of red sandstone … which jutted at an angle all the way across the creek.

Farther downstream Oak Creek’s water spread out on top of the sandstone slab … then dropped off its edge and formed a large pond.

I took pictures downstream, then hiked down to take pictures upstream. When I got below the falls and looked upstream I was blown away! What a photo opportunity. Cathedral Rock was reflecting off the pond below the falls. I took at least 6 photos … in case the other 5 didn’t turn out.

I noticed a guy to the left of me, standing in the middle of the rushing creek with his tripod, trying to get the perfect shot.

I left this postcard scene and biked back toward the car. I was almost to the parking lot when a guy and gal stopped me and asked if I knew of the spot where all the famous pictures had been taken. I said, “Oh, that must be where I was just at,” … then I told them how to get there. Sure enough, we were watching Wheel-of-Fortune a few days later when I saw the exact same scene I had taken a picture of. I stopped the DVR and played it back again. Yes … I guess I did direct those people to the famous spot.

We loaded the bike and headed for the Subway, split a $5 foot-long, then headed for Flagstaff … to hike in a lava tube and ride the Sunset Trail the next day.

Cathedral Rock proved to be a fine mixture of slickrock, dirt, rough rocky, and sand terrains. The entire ride was photo worthy.

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