Freedom Tree: An Alternative Instagram Moment

The Freedom Tree

Take a
drive up Sedona’s Dry Creek Road on any weekend between October and April and
you’ll encounter hordes of pedestrians and a quagmire of vehicles packed in a haphazard,
bumper-to-bumper mass that’s strung out for miles. This is the overflow parking
from the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead located on adjacent Forest Road 152.

View from the Dawa Trail

Most of
the vehicle occupants are going to Devils Bridge.

Bridge is one of hundreds of awesome natural wonders in Sedona’s red rock

Doe Mountain seen from the Ok Trail

The russet sandstone arch can be reached via the convenient (and notoriously
crowded) trailhead and a moderate trek, making it one of the most
heavily-visited destinations in the high-desert forests northwest of downtown.

Blue grama grass in a meadow near Dry Creek

me– a hiker who generally shuns crowds– the Devils Bridge Trail has a claustrophobic
feel. It’s just a scenic vista removed from the essence of a carnival ride
where customers are herded through a turnstile for their shot at a three-minute
thrill and a requisite yoga-pose Instagram moment. No, thanks.

Why put up
with this craziness when there’s another cool sight about a mile beyond the commotion
where you won’t have to jockey for a parking spot to get a fantastic look-at-me
photo. May I recommend a hike to the Freedom Tree. The tree is dead, and I made
up the name, but the massive skeleton of what appears to have been a coniferous species, is a noteworthy
feature in the Cockscomb Trail System.
Located in a quiet pocket of Coconino National Forest between the famous
bridge and Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness, the system has dozens of miles
of trails that wander along Dry Creek and its feeder washes. To get to the
tree, begin at the tiny Dawa trailhead–really just a dirt turnout–on Boynton Pass Road. Hike a few yards and hang a left on the Ok Trail.

The red ridge of Mescal Mtn seen from the Dawa Trail.

This short
passage features wonderful views of Doe Mountain to the west and Mescal
Mountain to the north. In less than a half mile, head right at the Arizona Cypress
junction. After and easy crossing of the usually dry creek bed, thick stands of
cypress, junipers, yuccas and sycamore trees wrap the trail in greenery and shaggy bark textures. Soon, a gigantic, twisted snag appears where the
trail makes another sandy creek crossing. Soaring to perhaps 30 feet, the woody frame
sprawls skyward.

The Freedom Tree stands at the edge of Dry Creek.

Its gnarled branches and dominating presence reminded me of
the scene in the movie Braveheart where Scottish rebel William Wallace famously
hurls his sword and arms toward the heavens while yelling, “freedom”. The divergent narratives of Wallace and the
tree both represent a departure from sacred norms and known places.

The route crosses Dry Creek and feeder washes.

Although the tree appears well-grounded and
able to remain standing for many years to come, both it and Devils Bridge will
eventually succumb to the forces of nature.
Whether that happens in the next years or not for centuries, the demise
of the bridge (hopefully when there are no hikers on board) will be headline

A sandy wash crosses the Dawa Trail.

The deceased conifer, though, will likely just fall over and join disintegrating
log jams in Dry Creek, barely causing a ripple in the Instagram universe.

Arizona cypress trees sport shaggy bark.

complete your visit to the photogenic tree, hike south to the Dawa Trail where you
can hang a right and follow it back to the trailhead for an easy 2.7-mile
circuit or create your own trip using any of the connecting trails that offer
freedom from the masses.

A shady section of the Arizona Cypress Trail
Stay on trails to protect sensitive soils and emerging plants.

2.7-mile loop


4339 – 4485 feet


From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, go
3.2 miles west (left) on SR 89A to Dry Creek Road. Go 2.8 miles north on Dry
Creek Road, veer left at the Long Canyon Road junction and continue 0.5-mile on
Boynton Pass Road to the parking turnout on the left. A Red Rock Pass is not
required at this trailhead.