We’re climbing a moderate slope as I bring the car to stop, rolling down the window to let in the crisp air you get in Sedona in the early months of the year. The views are increasingly grand and, while this panorama may be one of countless spectacular ones in the area, at this very moment— angled awkwardly on the edge of the trail—I’m convinced there can be no finer stretch to gaze out onto.
This parcel of the American Southwest packs in postcard-worthy views at seemingly every turn, but we’re told the view at the top of this particular trail will be one we’ll want to take in. The same could probably be said for any of the trails in the area, to be fair. Getting us there is the 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport, a new, more capable Pilot, which also looks the part more than ever. It still packs a V-6 engine, but now up to 285 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque arrive producing fewer emissions, something to appreciate as we’re roaming pristine wilderness. The transmission gets an extra speed, now 10. Adding to the tougher looks, it has been lifted an inch, and the 8.3-inch clearance is similar to a Jeep Grand Cherokee. The TrailSport also gets all-terrain tires, steel skid plates, a full-size spare, and front and rear recovery hooks.
Being a red rock butte-strewn Mars-scape means that even getting to the Broken Arrow trail—rated moderate, like half of the public trails in America—is a scenic joy. We pass Dry Creek, a misleading name after a wet winter in the region, and take a two lane highway pointed towards the edge of the Coconino National Forest. Along the route spectacular famed buttes majestically rise into the cold air, boasting evocative names such as Bell Rock, and Castle Rock, so called for their shapes, or approximations of them. Everything is all the more serene with a fresh cover of snow that arrived overnight and into the early morning. Earlier I had stopped in at a local cafe to fortify with a mocha made with a hint of hatch chili, which seemed perfect for the now sunny, brisk weather.
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While I had employed the Snow mode en route to Broken Arrow, once at the trail I switch into one of this Pilot’s other modes, aptly named Trail. The sun has been working on melting most all of the snow, and making for wet conditions in spots. Shady areas still have some small patches of snow and ice, but with 18-inch Continental all-terrain rubber, and a capable all-wheel drive system that can send up to 70 percent of the power to the rear, and up to 100 percent of available torque to a either rear wheel that might need that power, this Honda appeared up to the task.
There’s little meandering about on this trail: once we shift into gear and get moving, we’re immediately ascending a narrow, red mud-and-rock runway. Steep switchbacks lead to another narrow lane lined with trees. The Trailwatch system uses a series of cameras to display views on the in-cabin media screen, and as I don’t want to snag a branch, I switch to a view that shows me what’s on either side of the vehicle, a neat trick made possible using cameras tucked into the side mirrors. Coming upon a small boulder on the trail, I switch to the front camera view to help me snake around the jutting rock. The desert landscape out here is surreal, as if this little heap of earth was plucked from another planet and set here to amuse the dinosaurs maybe. Alien cactus and pine scrub bushes and gnarled tree limbs line the Broken Arrow trail, and as we pass each I mentally scan their shapes and characteristics, documenting a foreign land.
There are great places of New Age lore tucked in to this zone, vortexes and energy fields, ways to explain the gnarled trees perhaps. There is unquestionably some energy about this place though, a magnetic entrancing draw that if nothing else, will suck you right into the present moment with its impossible beauty. Not wanting to quite tumble off of the trail into all of that beauty, I focus in as we cross through water just deep enough to give the tires the benefit of a muddy cold plunge. There are trickier rock sections up ahead, and after we cross them we pull slightly off the trail to take in the surrounding splendor. But I don’t linger for long, the sun is lowering each minute, and I know a grand view awaits at the top.
As we ascend, a flock of Jeeps is coming straight towards us, and I reverse slightly into a wider part of the trail that allows just enough room for the convoy—its assembly all wearing large smiles—to pass. There’s one more sweep, one that puts a few good knocks on the underside of the skid plate, before we’re up and making our final approach. The trail opens on to wide, smooth red rock, and once up I can’t park fast enough. I zip up my coat and hop out, up a series of natural steps and onto a boulder with sweeping views of the valley, buttes, and open sky surveying over all. With long horizons, it’s a landscape painting in each direction. I take the opportunity to connect, to soak in the terrain. As if in its design, faced with such immense grandeur before it, the mind quiets. We’ll soon have to make our way down before dark, but for now, victorious in the afternoon’s mission, the Honda Pilot TrailSport and I both sit idle, in awe.
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