The Rough Riders Hike the Sandys Canyon to Walnut Canyon Lollipop
January 14, 2022
By Allison Thomas
The Westerners occasionally venture out of the Red Rocks and go north towards Flagstaff. This meadow is in Sandys Canyon.
Ten of us enthusiastic Westerner Rough Riders met at Posse Grounds, and we were all looking forward to another great hike. The hiking etiquette and safety rules completed, we drove up Oak Creek canyon and made our way to the outskirts of Flagstaff and the Sandys Canyon Trailhead which would ultimately lead us into the Walnut Canyon.
This hike, a particular favorite of our fearless hike leader Jay Mackey, was guaranteed to be filled with exhilarating views and some caves to explore. As I made my descent along the rocky path to the Sandys Canyon floor, I was preoccupied with the thought that this was all downhill and could only mean one thing…an uphill climb at the end of this 9-mile adventure. Confirmed by our Hike Leader, any hike with the word ‘canyon’ in the name means a descent at the beginning and an ascent at the end of the hike!
Arriving at the bottom of the canyon floor, we proceeded across very grassy fields smattered with yellow wildflowers on the tail end of their life cycle. A flat trek ended at the Arizona Hiking Trail. As we approached the intersection of trails, and looked up and to the right, we could not help but be in awe at the stunning 100’ sandstone cliff, an enormous layered rock formation. This was Fisher Point!
For the Sedona Westerners, this marked the beginning of what was to come. Veering left, we took the Arizona Trail, with a series of short yet steep switchbacks, out of Sandys Canyon arriving at the very top of the Fisher Point rock formation! A worthwhile climb to a vista where we could enjoy the spectacular view of the pine-filled valle and beyond the San Francisco Peaks. We reflected on the beauty that lay before us and truth be known it was snack time!
Fisher Point is named for Ed Fisher, an early forest ranger. The road here was closed in the 1980s due to the growing popularity among party goers. At one point, so they say, a sandblaster was brought in to remove the graffiti from the cliff and cave. Unfortunately, while visiting the cave at the base of Fisher Point today, there was recent graffiti from those that seem ignorant to respecting the magnificence of such a site.
Once able to pull ourselves away from this meditative spot, remaining longer than a traditional snack break, we continued our ascent for a short distance. We then realized, as we left the trail and dropped down into the Walnut Canyon floor, that our leader had decided to put the “rough” back into “Rough Rider”. Making our way to the Canyon floor, we all carefully climbed over and under fallen trees, maneuvering over boulders, and crawling amongst overgrown and scratchy brush. It was quite evident that the effects of an active Monsoon season this summer had forced the growth and vegetation to narrow our trail.
For sure, the ultimate highlight of our hike was the discovery of a deep, dark, and cool cave. Here, we got to finally pull out that headlamp we have always had tucked away in our pack and made lugging it around all worthwhile. How could we not explore this 25-foot long cave?
The curious nature of one Rough Rider led to a wonderful discovery at the other end….a surprise exit that truly was the “light at the end of the cave”! A bit of a crawl through this crack but room to stand once in, we all followed suit making our way through and popping out on the other side!
Another great hike on the trail was over. For me, I was hard pressed to identify any Walnut trees for which the Canyon is named. You will have to let us know if you see any when you venture out on this hike!