Sunday, October 14, 2012

The West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon

Just north of Sedona (off of route 89A) is one of the loveliest hikes that you will ever find.  My first experience hiking the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon was in late May of 2007.  That almost-summer hike offered multiple sightings of the beautiful Red-faced Warbler.  This week’s mid-October hike brought beautiful fall colors and cool temperatures, few bird sightings, and multiple musical calls of well-hidden tanagers.

The rick-man and I arrived at the trailhead midweek at 8:30 a.m.  The parking lot was mostly empty but enough cars to confirm that this popular hike, during perfect fall weather, would not be a solo adventure.  A $9 fee is required to enter the parking lot.  A bathroom building with pit toilets is available near the trailhead.

My photo of the trailhead sign was not meant to be an abstract self-portrait of myself clad in binocular and blue jean attire:

I took a photo of the trailhead sign to document the 13 stream crossings that would be required of this hike (translate to a total of 26 water crossings for the out and back 6.6 miles).  You see, I am fairly graceful on a tennis court.  And I am fairly surefooted over rough and rocky trails.  But when it comes to crossing creeks I’m as clumsy as I would be attempting to walk a gymnast’s balance beam. 

I’ve watched my friend Mary quickly and gracefully skip and jump from rock to rock over streams in Arkansas campgrounds.  I will follow her at a snail’s pace, with multiple teetering of balance to avoid wet boots. She will encourage me to move faster, urging that I never pause from step to skip to step.  I will playfully accuse her of unfair advantage due to her somewhat petite stature.  And this teasing always results in an energetic reply, with her ever upbeat and feisty spirit, that she is “The Naaational Aaaaverage” in height (5’4”).  I admit to teasing her just to hear her own rendition of national average. 
Put me on a tennis court, and I’ll quickly and athletically move from baseline to net and in-between.  Put me at a stream crossing, and I will not be graceful; but I will have fun.  Slowly.  Really slowly.  And true confession, I would not have crossed one of the 13 streams without my faithful walking stick. But with it, all 26 were crossed with a joyful smile and a dry pair of boots.  This photo shows one of the easier stream crossings with lots of closely placed stones:

The trail leads the hiker through the Oak Creek Canyon, with canyon walls closing in on the trail.  The first mile of the hike offers stunning vista views of the canyon walls:

The further the hike, the more stream crossings and the closer the canyon walls come to touching the trail:

The 3.3 mile hike dead-ends at a beautiful canyon pool:

I would like to say that I spent time at this pool, in solitude, giving Mother Nature my ears and eyes to hear and watch the beauty of this amazing corner of Creation.  But I was not alone, not nearly; what appeared to be an extended family of about ten people were pool-side, greeting the rick-man and me with their light-spirited chatter and laughter. 

And so we paused for a short time, to remember this place and this day, before retracing our steps along one of the loveliest hikes that you will ever find.

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