I was born and raised in Sedona, Arizona and growing up I always heard of the mysterious legends that are hidden amongst the red rocks of the remote Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness area surrounding the town of Sedona.
The first disappearance of a Forest Service wilderness ranger, David Miller, in May of 1998 led to some local rumors of some foul play in the wilderness area. David Miller had entered into the trail system of Secret Mountain Wilderness for an intended couple-day backpacking trip and did not return. It was a shock for the community as David Miller was an experienced hiker and knew the area well. Miller’s disappearance led to a large search for him in which he was never found.
A local rumor sprang from Miller’s mysterious disappearance to be the result of a secret government operation or some supernatural force that was out there.
This rumor was magnified when, again in 2003, a visitor to Sedona who went on a hike back in Secret Mountain Wilderness disappeared. His body was found some time later. Locals definitely thought some strange happenings were tied to the wilderness area.
Because of these mysterious tales of the wilderness area, I found myself avoiding the trails back in that region for the majority of my life. However, enticed by the incredible remote beauty back there, a couple years ago my partner and I decided to take our chances and went back for a two-night backpacking trip. The first night, at our camp, we got set up and explored further up one of the side canyons that made up the basin area we were camping at the mouth of. As we went, the wooded area got thicker and the trail a little harder to follow and we came across a little boneyard of deer bones and some other small creature bones. There was an air of spookiness to the area back in here and we couldn’t help but think how hard it would be to find someone out here if something happened.
We went back to camp and when night fell, we got into our tent with my dog. We stayed up a little in the tent talking and my dog, who was sleeping at our feet, suddenly shot up and started growling towards the entrance of the tent. We had the rain fly on and could not see the outside beyond our shelter. We watched my dog’s ears perk, his deep growl get louder and his unrelenting stare at the entrance to the tent. We were a little terrified at the possibility of what awaited us in the dark and how my dog was reacting. We debated silently if we should open the tent fly to investigate with our headlamps as we were feeling there was definitely a presence outside our tent.
We decided to stay in the tent and silently listen for clues. We heard nothing too alarming other than the occasional rustling. After some time, we fell asleep from fear and awoke in the early morning light to my dog still wide awake staring at the entrance to the tent as if he never moved.
We woke up noting our strange night and what could have been lurking out there, of course, wondering if the mysteries amongst these rocks and woods were real and if someone or something was waiting for us last night. Happy to be spared from whatever mystery it was, I started getting my pack ready to continue to our next night’s camp. I backtracked on our trail in to camp to collect water from the nearby stream and I saw that right next to our old footprints from the day prior were some newer and larger ones. At first glance, I thought they were human prints and my heart fell. However, I knelt down to get a closer look and discovered they were some fresh mountain lion prints following the same path we had traveled the day before.
That must have been what was lurking around our camp last night and warranting that reaction from my dog! A lion could also explain the boneyard near the camp. Seems we may have been the trespassers in his or her home.
While no supernatural force or foul play that we know of, like the legends tell, happened to explain the restless night, the mountain lion visiting our camp was enough of a scary trail tale for me in the Secret Mountain Wilderness.