My father considered a walk among the mountains
as the equivalent of churchgoing.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.