It was better without the bridges.The West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon is a dead-end trail with frequent stream crossings. Winter flooding capriciously shifts the actual trail on a yearly basis, leaving it in a delightfully “unfinished” state. Something about scrambling across rocks and logs elevates a hiking experience for me, and the patches of snow edging Oak Creek only added to the thrill. The very real possibility of toppling off a log into the frigid water enhanced my focus significantly and made each successful footstep back onto dry land feel like an honorable accomplishment.
As the crossings grew increasingly difficult over deeper and faster waters, it dawned on us to use walking sticks for balance. And we finally understood the reason for what we took to be an artistic gathering of weathered wood at the trailhead…
My stick was a “gift” from a passing hiker. It took a while to find an additional tree limb of suitable length and dryness, but our balancing poles made all the difference. We used them like gondoliers, moving ourselves carefully across unsteady rocks and logs that occasionally dipped and turned with the rush of water.
As we ventured further into the canyon, we could hear the weather of the outside world stirring far above us. The sky was but a strip of darkening clouds overhead, a narrow covering in constant motion above the riparian realm we had entered. Red and white cliffs soared high on either side, clearly defining our direction and enclosing us within a hushed fraternity of ponderosa pine, Gambel oak and snow-dusted ferns.
We were mere moments from Red Rock State Park and the remarkable red giants of Sedona, happily bent on a sandy trail to “nowhere” (the cliff walls eventually squeeze the canyon floor out of existence, and Oak Creek alone flows on through the narrow space). Shivering slightly as the weather chilled, we were oddly reluctant to leave this pristine place even when we could go no further.
Eventually we did make our way back, increasing our pace as the air continued to cool around us. We reverently added our own walking sticks to the growing wood sculpture at the trailhead and wandered back through the remains of an interesting side note.
Mayhew Lodge, burnt to the ground in the late 70’s, was the inspiration point for Zane Grey’s novel “Call of the Canyon” which becameSedona’s first movie. The property became a favored get-away for the likes of President Hoover, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Walt Disney and the like. All that remains today are crumbling buildings, an aged apple orchard and slabs of a cracked outdoor pool, but it’s easy to imagine the relaxed “summer camp” feeling the property might have once worn.
As the afternoon quickly faded toward dusk ending our hiking for the day, we traveled south again, content to watch the sun set fire to the reds and oranges of Sedona’s monolithic rocks.