It was 6:30 pm and the sun was slowly setting, casting a glow that set fire to the surrounding red rocks. It was a sight that begged to be admired, however I was too busy panting, and determined to make it to the end of the trail before the sun hid behind the canyon. In late May, the sun sets over Sedona at around 7:30 pm, so time was ticking.
It was our first full day in Sedona, AZ. My two aunts and I were feeling ambitious and decided to take on two trails that day. We were headed to the second trail— Devil’s Bridge, which is located on the western side of Sedona. It is the largest natural sandstone arch in the area, created by wind and weather erosion. Thanks to a little Google research, I had seen pictures of the gorgeous views overlooking the valley. Not to mention, the epic photo-op on a natural sandstone arch hovering 55 feet above the ground.
It’s a 1.5-mile walk from the parking lot to the trailhead along a rocky dirt road and then a 1.5-mile hike from the trailhead to the bridge. The trail starts off wide and mild, but the last stretch to the bridge is narrow and steep. It consists of steep rock staircases, which required me to use both my hands and feet to climb up at some points. My Aunt Mari had to take a breather at this point, but my Aunt Ana and I continued on. The quick change in elevation would have been unbearable if it was any hotter, but luckily the temperatures were kind to us at 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is one of the things I love about hiking—that moment when you’re exhausted and sweating, you feel like your heart is pumping out of your chest, you’re parched and thirsting for water, you’re covered in dust and dirt, and then you look up and see this…
Gorgeous views of red rock formations greeted us upon arriving to the top of Devil’s Bridge. Given that it was a late Tuesday afternoon, the bridge was pretty empty. Due to a Yelper’s review that said there had been 200 people on the trail when they visited, seeing only 10 other people at the top of the mountain was a lovely treat.
Everyone was waiting to take their scenic I’m-a-badass picture on the bridge. I gave my camera and phone to my aunt and waited for my turn. The bridge doesn’t seem that high up at first. I’m not one to be scared of heights…usually. But I felt a whole lot of butterflies when I made my way out to the middle of the bridge. It is roughly 4 feet wide at its narrowest, but my knees got shakier the closer I got to the middle.
After pretending to be brave and posing for some pictures, I turned around and fully realized what surrounded me. I took it all in: the sights, my nerves, the fresh air, my goosebumps. I absorbed the magical contrast of clear blue skies over a backdrop of red rocks and miles of green tree tops. I had a ‘small girl, big world’ moment and am once again reminded of how moving mother nature can be.
…and the people you meet along the way.
After I had my turn on the bridge, Aunt Mari finally makes it to the top with a woman she befriended along the way. She is in her 30s, has dark curly hair and a welcoming smile.
“My name is Ani,” she says in a distinct accent as she extends her hand to me. We learn that she is from Romania. Ani quit her job in pharmaceuticals at the beginning of the year, and set her sights on backpacking the world. She had recently explored Asia, and was now making her rounds through North America.
Ani kindly asks my aunt to take her picture. “Be prepared to take it quickly though,” Ani adds apprehensively, “I’m petrified of heights.”
I watch her cautiously mosey over to the center of the bridge, as if it could collapse any second. She looks over to us and gives the camera a quick frantic smile. After a few photos, she looks down and catches a glimpse of the much too large distance between her and the ground…and she freezes.
We cheer her on in an effort to keep her calm. But little did we know that ever since Ani began her journey across the globe, she had also been on a quest to overcome her fear of heights. She challenges herself by intentionally taking on the situations she fears the most (like her most recent venture of cliff diving in an island of Thailand, no big deal). It’s so easy to let your fears get in the way, so her boldness struck a chord with me.
With one deep inhalation, Ani gets it together and darts off the bridge. She makes her way back to us with both satisfaction and relief written all over her face. My aunt gives Ani her camera back and Ani thanks her while tucking it away into her backpack. She then begins her descent to ensure she makes it back before dark. We say our goodbyes and wish her well on her travels. My aunts and I sit on the ledge and relax for a bit before making our way back down the trail.
Tips for Hiking Devil’s Bridge
If you are ever in Sedona and make a trip to Devil’s Bridge, here are some tips to make the most out of your hike:
- This hike is one of the most popular in Sedona, so you can expect flocks of people year-round, especially on the weekends. Start early or opt for a sunset hike to avoid the mid-day rush.
- Parking is free!
- Bring plenty of water (at the bare minimum, bring at least one quart per person per hour of hiking). Don’t forget sunscreen, especially if trekking in the warm summer months.
- Wear sturdy shoes with good traction so you don’t slip when climbing up the rocks.
We finish the hike right after sunset. We make it back to our car and head east on the highway back to our hotel, when we spot a lady walking along the side of the road. She has her backpack strapped on and her thumb in the air.
“It’s Ani!” My aunt hits the brakes and pulls over on the side of the road in front of her. We lower the window as Ani makes her way to our car.
“Hi I was wondering if I could catch a ride down to…” she begins to ask as she peaks her head in, only to find our familiar faces. We gladly offer her a ride back into town.
Ani hops into the backseat beside me. She begins explaining where she is staying in town. The hotel rates in town were too expensive and even Airbnb rates were abnormally high. So she opted for Couchsurfing (a social networking site that allows members to stay as a guest at a host’s home for free), something I’m not sure I’d have the guts to do. It led her to the couch of a public defender in town. She describes him as one of those new age thinkers with a deep love for nature, who opens up his home and provides out-of-towners a free place to stay. He also started a club called ‘Top of Bell Rock’ as a way to unite travelers and show them the beauty of his backyard that is Sedona.
She explains how she caught a ride to Devil’s Bridge Trail earlier with some people she met staying near her. “I just sincerely believe most people are good and willing to lend a hand.” Relying on the kindness of strangers along her journey has allowed her to meet many people from all over the world.
It’s funny how when traveling, you can meet a stranger and connect in an instant. She describes her favorite parts of Southeast Asia. She tells us about how her mother passed away 2 years prior, how she felt unfulfilled at her job and how the pharmaceutical industry didn’t align with her core. She shares how one of her favorite things about traveling is seeing whom you will cross paths with. She craves new experiences, and has encountered people from all walks of life by feeding this craving. I learn all of this over the course of a 30-minute car ride.
When we arrive to the apartment, she thanks us once again, and once again we wish her safe travels.
It’s almost 10 pm. On the way back to our hotel, l look through the pictures on my camera, studying them closely. I couldn’t help but think about the day and what had transpired.
There’s something about sitting out on a cliff’s edge, looking at the sunset to your left and the shadow of the mountains to your right, while talking about life with people you just met.
Wherever you are, be there fully. Sightsee just below the surface of fear and have deep conversations with strangers. A spark of adventure and the compassion of a kind stranger you encounter can lead you into a space of inspiration and gratitude.
Everyone has a story and they are all intriguing, if you listen. Whether it be the people you’re traveling with or the people you encounter along the way, embrace the different values and beliefs they represent. It expands your mind and opens your eyes to the world around you. Everyone has a story and they all deserve to be heard.