Drovers Hike the West Fork of Oak Creek
November 23, 2018
By Guenther Pollak
The West Fork of Oak Creek viewed as it runs through Oak Creek Canyon. Fall color can be seen in the foreground and the massive walls of the Canyon can be seen in the background. Photo Courtesy of Annette Pollak
A beautiful, sunny October day provided perfect conditions for a Westerners’ hike to the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon. Although this hike occurs frequently on the schedule of the Drovers ability group, our hike leaders, Hassan Hosseini and Scott McFeely, announced that today’s hike might be different, due to low water levels in the Canyon. We might be able to try to progress on foot beyond the usual turnaround point. By carpooling, we arrived early at the trailhead and found parking easily and got on our way.
The West Fork trail progressed through what once must have been an orchard of mature apple trees, where we still spotted some fruit, unfortunately out of reach. Just left of the trail, we explored the ruins of Mayhew’s Lodge and learned about the celebrities that stayed there. About fifty yards across the trail, we found what’s left of the swimming pool that once accommodated the Lodge’s guests.
When we arrived at the first of the approximately 12 - 15 water crossings along the West Fork trail, I began to appreciate the extra support provided by the hiking poles I had brought while navigating the boulders, logs, and stepping stones required to cross the creek. Wide areas with flattened grass and debris hanging from trees and shrubs gave impressive evidence of the power and height of some recent floodwaters which had gushed down the Canyon.
Our hike leader, Scott, stopped occasionally to call our attention to the stunning and bizarre cliffs and rock formations on both sides of the Canyon, radiating beautiful shades of orange-brown and sandy to pale yellow, with occasional water dripping from edges and ledges. Combined with the West Fork’s unique vegetation taking on fall colors, it was an incredible experience of constantly changing shapes and colors. Even the leaf-covered trail seemed to be painted in shades of bright red, yellow, and brown. The poison ivy we spotted occasionally along the way had turned bright yellow and made the entire group appreciate the long hiking pants we were wearing.
After the Canyon widened and narrowed and twisted and turned, we arrived at the official sign that announced the end of the maintained trail. About 200 yards further is the point where we would have normally turned around, due to water covering the bottom of the canyon. On that day, however, we found a path to continue with dry feet along the right side of the creek. Given a choice by our hike leaders, the majority of the group decided to take advantage of the once-in-a-decade chance to hike deeper into the Canyon. As we walked past huge piles of washed-up debris, the strong impression of “an untamed Nature” left the entire group in awe and quiet respect. Finally, after about one mile, we were stopped by a wall of scrub and rubble and we turned around at that point.
On our way back, we stopped and sat on a large rock overhang about thirty feet above the creek and enjoyed a quick, well-deserved lunch break, before we began our hike back. When we arrived at the trailhead, everyone consulted their various GPS devices and their hiking apps on their smartphones, before comparing hike data, and then settled on the longest distance, concluding that we had hiked 8.2 miles with a cumulative elevation gain of 365 feet. Thus, we ended another fun day of hiking with the Westerners and then carpooled back to Sedona.
If you are interested in joining the club, please visit the Sedona Westerners website at www.sedonawesterners.org/membership. You are invited to our next monthly meeting at 7 p.m., Thursday, January 10, at the Sedona Methodist Church, 110 Indian Cliffs Road. Written by Guenther Pollak.