Artists are not cheerleaders,
And we’re not the heads of tourism boards.
We expose and discuss what is problematic,
What is contradictory, what is hurtful
And what is silenced
In the culture we’re in.
Almost turned the vehicle round and considered a different plan for the day, somewhere the other way. Twice. The smoke from the Whiskey Fire was thick, stinking, in our face visual, disheartening. Longer Wildfire Seasons and a wake up to poor air quality now normal. While traffic jam ups and travel time outs are normal and should be expected in Oak Creek Canyon, they were numerous this day, and longer than usual.
But the air hinted fresh pine, and the sky was mostly blue. Jam ups here are visually stunning experiences, if you look up , with the colors and details of the Canyon Walls showing up in dazzling morning light.
Our plan is to visit an afternoon with some old Ponderosa Pine Trees up in Secret Canyon Wilderness Area, starting at the 89A Oak Creek Canyon Entrance. Located just below the Switchbacks (a series of big sharp steep, climbing curves to the top of the Mogollon Rim portion of the Colorado Plateau) from Sedona.
Normal for this particular trailhead: vehicles spilling out of the parking lot ($11U.S to park) in every shape, size, and variety, lined up on both sides too close to moving cars coming out or just beginning on of those Switchbacks. Then there are people carrying so much stuff not related to hiking. People drawn to coordinates on their GPS, shared social media, the coolness of the higher elevations and getting creek-side. Visitors often up from the Southern Sonoran Desert for the day, weekend, people camping in the campgrounds, and many far away visitors. Old familiars too.
This morning though, it was a clean left turn into an empty parking lot. The air was crisp, clean, invisible, and the sky was that gorgeous Arizona Blue. Definite Happy Dance at our good fortune. We hiked most of the morning with just ourselves and the Canyon. Those earlier traffic jam ups actually a fortuitous blessing, many avoiding the Canyon traffic all together, or turning back from wherever they were first delayed.
There are options for exploring the West Fork #108 portion of the Secret Canyon Wilderness Area. There is a short run of concrete that allows access for just about all to get out into nature, experience the riparian area, and it’s well known Oak Creek, framed with the background of the Canyon Walls.
The ruins of the Mayhew Lodges, are next. Once owned by Carl Mayhew, a still photographer from Flagstaff , who in 1922 fell in love with the area while working on the film crew of Zane Grey’s ‘ The Call of the Canyon‘. Had the opportunity to purchase the property and did. Lodges for renting out was a success with his family continuing following his passing. The old foundations and use of the local materials for building, as well as the still bearing fruit apple orchard, fire up the imagination in what it would be like to live your days, or spend your holiday, in such a powerful every sense fully engaged natural environment, with a backstory of movies, film stars, cowboys, Native Tribes, fresh fruit, and millions of years of geology.
The next mile is an easy walk about of trail which gets way too much use. The forest floor along the creek here is worn from the heavy foot traffic cut thru paths. The Creek, Canyon, Trees, and Vegetation still did not disappoint.
The next chunk of trail is three easy miles and some, is maintained, and suggested as an option for hiking by the Forest Service. Could risk getting our feet wet on the thirteen Creek Crossings, the number used to designate the end of the maintained trail. But the Creek is low and we had arrived to where we wanted to be.
Secret Canyon Wilderness area gets real and very real now at nature’s whim and whimsy. It’s a place where we keep our wits about us, but also relax into our surroundings. The West Fork Trail continues and with the proper skills, equipment, and time, for fourteen miles through the Canyon to Forest Road 231(Woody Mountain Road). Not today though.
Our plan is a big day hike a few more miles into the forest until we get to the wild, remaining mindful of the sun’s changing position in the Sky/Canyon Walls. The sun sets early in this Canyon, a regular trickster. We’ll return as we came, hopefully without headlamps lit.
During the last miles on the return we met many people just starting out for a stroll, enjoyed hearing their enthusiasm and wonder for West Fork, but indeed the parking lot was now way full of vehicles and people, and the phrase ‘loved to death’ came to mind. Another new normal.
Created this Big Gallery of one of our favorite places.
Peace and blessings to each and every one. Encourage everyone to get out and enjoy our shared planet. Thank you for stopping by and visiting JoHannaMassey.com
If you go to West Fork: US Forest Service Information for area. and current Wildfire reports are suggested.