Oak Creek Canyon: The Equivalent of Churchgoing

My father considered a walk among the mountains 

as the equivalent of churchgoing.

Aldoux Huxley


Woke up with a need for some churchgoing. Headed out to Oak Creek Canyon,  a long time sacrosanct place for me,   a place which had experienced some serious trouble while I was living in the South. The Canyon stretches between Flagstaff and Sedona for about twelve miles of a most scenic of routes.  Oak Creek runs along the bottom, an all seasons flowing  stream and tributary of the Verde River.


Hundreds of thousands of global  visitors come to Oak Creek Canyon, for camping, hiking, swimming, fishing, photography, or their own personal form and need of spiritual renewal. Others pass through traveling to Sedona from the Grand Canyon, or to the Grand Canyon from Sedona, white knuckle navigating the high canyon switchbacks, seeking a pullout to take their perfect vacation photos.


Now I knew it was a Saturday in summer and water is always  an attraction in the desert. And  I knew that Sedona was hosting it’s annual Cowboys Weekend.  I had no thoughts or expectations of anything but sharing Oak Creek Canyon with many others. Even as layperson,  I  knew many people were going to be showing up to get near the renewing water. The analogy of a very well attended service sits well.


The Canyon welcomed me with easy familiarity and recognition, the prodigal   daughter returned.



” Giant’s Mitten or Teapot Rock”
“Camel Rock”
About 9:30 AM catching site of Midgley Bridge. Cars were already overflowing the parking area,  and even along the narrow shoulder of the roadway.


Now I admit to knowing where there used to be some very  carefully camouflaged  local knowledge only  paths to plunge into the baptism of ice cold deep water pools that Big Fish trout shared without fuss or flight. This was before GPS, cell phones, Sharing, and Links, and when these places were under a kind of unspoken local blessing and protection.
By the time we had passed Grasshopper Point and arrived at Slide Rock State Park, named one of America’s top ten state Parks, we realized with a gut punch the our beloved Canyon was in deep trouble again this year, only it is not fire scorching it to ruin.


While many  visitors  paid the fees that help maintain the parks, campgrounds,  and picnic ares, hundreds of vehicles lined both sides of the narrow road up the Canyon, filled the pullouts double and triple parking.


Image result for no parking sign
Over and over, and then over and over once again groups of thirty or more people were  carting coolers, cases, umbrella’s tarps, boxes, fishing gear, babies, suitcases, diaper bags, plastic containers, bar b q’s, strollers, cell phones, inner tubes,  chairs, tables, pull behind wagons,  and plastic bags of ice down the narrow road to the now many public citizen created trails and paths along the creek. It was for me, an environmental Dark Night of The Soul.


 Maybe you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth, but like every American, you carry a deed to 635 million acres of public lands. That’s right. Even if you don’t own a house or the latest computer on the market, you own Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and many other natural treasures.

John Garamen

I embrace John Garamendi’s words and believe them to be true. How do they reconcile with the numbers of people coming into Oak Creek Canyon on this Saturday morning in July? The ‘public lands’ they are enjoying do not have parking, trash cans, fire pits, potable water, and most important of all,   they do not have bathrooms.


The designated recreational areas in Oak Creek Canyon, and they are numerous, are designed around the carrying capacity of Oak Creek Canyon’s ecosystem. The carrying capacity being the number of people living and recreating, in addition to all the other plants, animals, birds, insects, amphibians, all living things that can be supported in an ecosystem without causing  degradation.


Standing up at Oak Creek Vista  at the top of Oak Creek Canyon, you could not see one hint  of what was going on below.  It looked as pristine as the brochures and tourism promotions that abound.


How can the Canyon heal from the Slide Rock Fire with so many people flooding in and no longer using the designated recreational areas?  How can this beautiful unique ecosystem survive with even a semblance of health and vitality?
I think first of all, people need to know what is actually happening to  Oak Creek Canyon. The shock, futility and sadness that I felt  at seeing such disrespect for this hallowed area, gave way to my belief that giving up and giving in to it’s demise is not an option. With proper management and respect and a zero tolerance for violating the creek while continuing to provide the recreational areas so many use, Oak Creek Canyon will not only survive but thrive and be available to the next generations.


I encourage you to watch this slice of what the Mornings After look like up in Oak Creek Canyon. What 3,736 pounds of trash, 2,041 pounds of recycles, 260 pounds of feces, 69 diapers, The Oak Creek Watershed Council has made this excellent short film:
                                          Loved to Death


Then get involved. Whether you live in the Verde Valley area, or are one of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to enjoy or who have enjoyed in the past  the Oak Creek Canyon, let your voice be heard that Oak Creek Canyon should be saved.
Steps you can take:


Practice:  Leave No Trace
Join or support the Oak Creek Watershed Council,
Friends of The Forest or your organization of choice that is committed
to preserving and protecting the integrity of this or any watershed, and is at ground zero with boots on the ground doing the dirty work of cleaning up, restoration, public education, research, and water sampling.


and the Sedona Chamber of Commerce. Let them know that Oak Creek Canyon matters for recreational, spiritual, and economic and environmental reasons.


 And if you are a praying person, now would be the time.
It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.
Neil Armstrong


  1. I can relate to the feeling of reverence while walking through mountain forests. I had that spiritual experience while in BC. The massive trees, the gentle winds, the musky aroma of the coniferous needles on the undergrowth. Who’s soul wouldn’t be renewed with faith and gratitude?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I took the husbandguy to Oak Creek Canyon while we were dating and it was the first time he’d been anywhere in Arizona he thought was beautiful (he hadn’t seen much beyond Phx and suburbs). I love that place too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Can’t think of a more romantic place than Oak Creek Canyon. I have met several people who move to Phoenix and just never go much beyond. Arizona is one of the most diverse places I have ever lived as far as geography and ecosystems go. Thanks for stopping by.


    1. Oops pressed post by mistake…i meant to say Thanks for a very moving tribute to this wonderful world that we live in…I live by the ocean and it’s awful when youngsters but also adults litter the beach when they have to pass trash cans on the way back. Blessings.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I had the most amazing blessing in my life of having lived for a time on the Oregon Coast, of the Pacific Ocean, in the United States. Got to watch the whale migrations pass from the comfort of my bed. Saw the sun set in so many magnificent ways that I tried to always show up for the daily miracle. Got to pick up trash with labels from far away countries that came in on the tide. Got to dig deep holes in the sand in an attempt to bury ghost nets that came ashore full of long dead rotting seals, fish, and plastic. Living on the Ocean is such a gift and such a potential for fresh insult. Living there, your very being becomes part of the rhythm of the tides. I totally understood how awful it feels to you when you see folks passing the trash cans and to throw their litter down.

        My best to you.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful post! Thank you so much for posting Aldoux Huxley’s quotation — tis a wonderful one and I immediately took out my journal and wrote it down.
    Feel like I’ve been a voyeut, sneaking along with you to Oak Creek Canyon! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, god, it’s so beautiful, and I completely understand your distress. I’m a leave no trace camper, and my boyfriend, Matthew, and I always perform a trash pick up before we leave a site, making sure we have all of our own trash, and whatever we find that others have left behind. Once we picked up over 200 blue plastic pellets from a child’s bb gun. Boggled our minds that someone thought it would be a good idea to take that camping.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder how many “Oak Creek Canyon’s” there are on the planet right now.

      I am finding that over the last few years, “leave no trace” is coming to mean cleaning up others’ left behind trash. Must be done though. No surrender.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. These pictures reminded me of a hike along Oak Creek a few years ago. I need to go back and revisit. There isn’t a hike that goes by that I don’t find the reminder of a previous camper who couldn’t be bothered to carry out something as light as a water bottle once it had been emptied. Sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on The Traveling Quill and commented:
    I’m re-blogging this post because the state of our natural lands means something to me. I read this post and was saddened by the over-use of this sacred area. I too have driven Oak Creek Canyon a few times, pulled into the overlooks, and slid past Slide Rock State Park. Wow, is about all I could say when I saw the pictures. We MUST protect these sites from ourselves, it seems. While yes, we own them, but we also own our homes, our cars, our boats, campers, etc. Do we not take care of them as well???
    These public sites, parks, and trails, have been protected for our use, but also protected to ensure their longevity for the use and enjoyment of future generations. It saddens me to see the continual misuse and “me, me, me” attitude that our society exhibits.
    Please, please, if you are so inclined to ignore the No Parking sign, (put there because of the fragile ecosystem you’re about to trample all over), the least you could do, while packing all that crap you’re about to drag into the woods, pack a frigging garbage bag to carry the trash out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amen to that!

      I appreciate the re-post as it helps to let the many people world wide who have visited this area know that it needs their voice to speak up for it’s protection.


  7. Reposted on The Traveling Quill. WOW. I haven’t been down that beautiful winding trail in many years. But I’ve traveled it probably 15 times or more. I was shocked to read your post. It seems the more we get outside to breathe the air that brings us such peace, the more we see what our “neighbors” have done to remove said peace. Hate that we almost need citizen “police” to remind people how to act. We create all these rules and laws because of so many people that just don’t think. Thanks for waking me up again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the re-blog. So many people from all over the planet have visited this area, and just hold it in their hearts as one of the most beautiful experiences they have enjoyed.

      The Canyon now needs their help by having them voice their concerns and support it’s protection. It’s why I included a list of who to contact to speak out for the protection of the Canyon.

      Your re-blog of my post helps do this. Again, Thank you.


  8. I would agree that a bit of communion with and inhalation of God’s wonders of creation is a form of churchgoing. Matter of fact just got back from a church service and picnic in a beautiful park and it was very refreshing. Thanks visit my blog.

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  9. I found the detail in your observations, the information you offered and your photographs supported what i experienced as your reverence and love for this place. “It was for me, an environmental Dark Night of The Soul” tells me how deeply you care. Thank you for writing this piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Fabulous post! So many could learn from it. We have on many an adventure stopped… hopped out with our big black garbage bag and cleaned up after others. I can not believe what others leave out there in our great big beautiful world!
    But there are many of us who get it! Let’s hope “the many of us” prevail!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Went up the Canyon this week to Flagstaff, and it was ‘normal.’ Sigh of relief. Hiking trails busy, campgrounds full with tourist season, but nothing like those summer weekend out of control. And everyone I talked to said they had seen it worse than what I had written about!

      Liked by 1 person

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