By Rob Samuelsen
Before Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon was settled by homesteaders because of its abundant water and mild climate. Although the impressive red rock was noted, tourism had little to do with the growth along Oak Creek. It was water and historic native gardens that attracted Midwesterners to the area – enough water and soil to prosper. Theodore Carlton (T.C.) Schnebly and his wife were two of those early settlers. When eastern settlers started to complain about slow and infrequent mail service, the enterprising T.C. decided to petition the U.S. Government for an official post office to accompany his general store and hotel.
Post offices were a big deal in those days. The postmaster was always leading citizen and having an office created a place on the map. Ironically, getting a post office name was not so easy because it was constrained by how much room was on a cancellation stamp. Long names didn’t fit so T.C.’s attempts to name the area Schnebly Station, Red Rock Crossing, and Oak Creek Station were denied. Instead, T.C.’s brother suggested naming the town after T.C.’s wife – Sedona! It stuck and here we are today one hundred and twenty-one years later!
The Town of Sedona was so isolated it requiring a four-day trip to Flagstaff to resupply. The Schneblys decided a new road would be necessary to accommodate trade, so they convinced the county to offer up $600 to carve out a new route to Flagstaff on the edge of the Mogollon escarpment. Following a broken cattle path, the local citizens gathered their shovels and pickaxes and started chipping away at the cliff. This new road, Schnebly Hill Road, reduced travel from four days to one day allowing for better mail service and commerce in the area.
To call Schebly Hill Road a road is an overstatement. It might have been better maintained in days of yesteryear but today, it’s intentionally NOT maintained to cater to the many four-wheelers. The rougher the better! Even Jeep Corporation has designated it as a “Badge of Honor” trail. The best way to describe it is a road paved with bowling balls. It requires high clearance, strong suspension, and nerves of steel. While playing dodgem derby with boulders, the cliff (there are no guardrails), and exuberant (and perhaps inebriated) off-roaders, the trail hangs over the Oak Creek valley providing spectacular views of the red rock canyon below. In a mere fourteen miles, one can climb the last stairstep of the uplifted Colorado Plateau from Sedona to Munds Park (just south of Flagstaff) in about two jarring hours.
There are pull-off vistas at strategic viewpoints along the way because navigating and sightseeing on this perilous path are not simultaneously recommended. It’s better to pull aside, step outside of your vehicle, feel the wind, view the gorge, and sense the serenity without the snarling of high RPM motors. In fact, sitting on a rock high above the vortex valley while contemplating life brings a masterful sense of purpose and allows the blood to flow back into your tightly clenched white knuckled hands.
Rob Samuelsen is an executive and adventurer supported by his long-suffering but supportive wife!