Hiking the Pumphouse Wash

January 01, 2021

By Monica Prerost Drum

These towering, gorgeous, striated cliffs that form part of the towering walls of Pumphouse Wash were viewed about half way through the 5 mile hike. The cliffs were framed like portraits by the awesome fall colors below and the pure blue sky above. This hike w

The Rough Riders of the Sedona Westerners hiked the Pumphouse Wash on Saturday, October 17, 2020, a beautiful cloudless autumn day with the fall leaves in gorgeous array. Our group drove up to the top of the switchbacks on Hwy 89A in the Oak Creek Canyon towards Flagstaff and parked at a gate where we began our hike. One of the drivers left a car at the bottom of the switchbacks at the bridge where the wash runs under Hwy 89A, the final destination of the hike. The Pumphouse Wash hike was only 5 miles in length and had a loss in elevation of about 800 feet, but the water pools and rocks and boulders and narrow passageways made it very slow going in places. The hike leaders were Deb Weinkauff and Randy Dent.

The trailhead was located near Kachina Village and near a historical water pump station. Pumphouse Wash got its name from the same pump station and stone pumphouse that was built in 1882 to provide water to Flagstaff. The major purpose for the pump station was to provide water for steam locomotives. The whole pumping system consisted of O’Neal Spring near Kachina Village, Pumphouse Wash, a stone pumphouse with a Worthington Pump, a stone cistern, and 8 ½ miles of wrought iron pipeline. After 1959, pumping from O’Neal Springs was discontinued as maintenance was deemed too daunting, and the pipeline was abandoned. (Pumphouse to the Pioneers, by Betsey Bruner, Arizona Daily Sun, July 28,2009)

This hike by the Roughriders through the Pumphouse Wash was during the peak of the spectacular fall foliage season. Pumphouse Wash is a tributary wash-gorge-canyon of Oak Creek Canyon that runs between Sedona and Flagstaff. Our group started at the north end of the wash, where it was at its widest, and the sides were gently sloping. We followed the dry bed at first over a combination of loose soil and small rocks through fairly low density growth of various trees and undergrowth. The trees growing in the canyon included Ponderosa pine, juniper, aspen and maple, among others. The greens, yellows and reds were alternately splendid in the bright sun and exhibited a more subtle beauty in the shaded areas. Most spectacular in color were the red maples and the lemon yellow leaves of the wild grapevines. The wild grapevines in some open areas actually covered the floor of the wash like a beautiful yellow carpet. Soon the canyon narrowed, and the towering rock cliff walls rose steeply in striated shapes. In some areas, they rose over 1000 feet, framed like beautiful portraits by the splendid fall colors below and the pure blue sky above. 

Along the way we encountered several deep pools of water that had remained through the hot, dry summer, a legacy of the rains and snow melt from the spring. At one point during the hike, we exchanged our hiking shoes for water shoes and waded through cold thigh-high water, clinging to the edge of a slot canyon that dropped off steeply below the water’s surface. One of our hikers was wearing swimwear under her hiking clothes. She promptly adjusted to her swimwear, dove in the pool, and took a short swim to the delight of all watching. After the wet traverse, we again changed our footwear and continued down the colorful wash. The rocks became larger and more numerous, and then there were large boulders and solid rock formations and our hike became more technical. Suddenly we were boulder hopping, skirting obstacles and squeezing through narrow passageways among huge boulders and rock formations, all now a standard part of the hike. The photogenic scenery was amazing and was captured by many in our group who were moved and inspired. Our hike ended at the underpass of Hwy 89A, before the wash merged into Oak Creek. This hike was not really strenuous, but it did require patience and at times close attention to insure safe footing. The only people our group encountered during the whole hike were a couple doing some rock climbing with their dog, and a single hiker who was enjoying the solitude. 

After we completed the hike, the driver of the car that was left at the Hwy 89A bridge, shuttled the other drivers back to the top of the switchbacks where their vehicles were parked. The drivers then picked up their riders at the bottom of the switchbacks and proceeded back to Sedona. While waiting for their drivers, the group of happy hikers at the pick-up point discussed the day’s hike and the fall beauty. One thing was for sure. The Pumphouse Wash hike was best done in the peak of the fall color season. It was all about the scenic fall beauty along the way, not just reaching a final objective.

If you are interested in joining the Westerners club, please visit the Sedona Westerners website at www.sedonawesterners.org/membership. Monthly meetings are only facilitated via Zoom at present until the Covid 19 restrictions are lifted.


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