The Amblers Venture North to Kelly Canyon

September 23, 2022

By Kim Spangler

The diversity of our region never ceases to amaze. A mere 20 minutes north of Sedona off of 89-A lies Kelly Canyon, with a cooling forest and much different rock formations.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” … wise words attributed to LauTzu and applicable for any new hiker, like myself, who have joined The Westerners.  We hike to begin a new season to see some of the area’s beautiful trails. We hike to learn, to stretch, to move, and to grow.

I came to hiking later in life, and have learned to enjoy the connection one receives with nature while being outside of your normal comfort zones.  A good hike will awaken the senses and clear out the cobwebs. I try to listen to each sound - the crunch of the gravel under the boots, the crack and snap of twigs, the flap of a winged creature flying overhead. The sensory pleasures are abundant when you really tune in to your surroundings and take in as much as you can as you meander a new path. 

As we set out to hike Kelly Canyon, just south of Flagstaff, led by our hike leader Deb Hicks, and held together by our tailgater Jan Taylor, we immediately noticed that we felt far away from the familiar red rock hiking of Sedona, even though it was just a short ride up 89A through Oak Creek Canyon. Kelly Canyon trail is tucked away off of Forest Service road so it is a hidden gem in the area.

The Kelly Canyon trail is a scenic trail through the forest of Coconino Pines and Douglas firs.  Some things that can really make a hike memorable are the wide variety of plants, vegetation, trees, rocks, and grasslands.  This trail was one of those, as we passed by meadows, wildflowers, mossy ledges hanging overhead, big orange mushrooms just off the trail, dry creek beds, and a sprinkling of orange and yellow leaves indication that autumn is just around the corner.

As a new hiker it was good to have a trusty pair of hiking poles as we navigated across a few dry creek beds and over the picturesque wavy white sandstone. These moments can transport your mind to far-away places where you feel the world’s ancient formations taking place millions of years ago. 

Hiking requires keeping your eyes down on the trail ahead, but I always try to stop and look up, and this particular trail offered wonderful optics of striped canyon walls made of Coconino sandstone formed millions of years ago. Dramatic curved slashes of color give your eyes a visual feast and reward you with awe of such unique creations.

Take time to inhale and breathe in the cool canyon air, and you can smell the scent of moss and ferns. The rocks are a haven for the tiny creatures that scatter themselves in the nooks and crannies we saw around us. A tiny flower seems to grow out of rock. A stone has balanced on a ledge.  A leaf has landed on a log. Nature always surprises you with all the little observations you take note of on your hikes.

I believe every hike should include a moment that you can take home and really reflect on, whether it be something you see, smell, hear, or feel.  For me it was the moment in Kelly Canyon where I leaned into a tree to try to smell what was behind the bark of a Coconino Pine. This scent from within the tree was a wonderful aroma that smelled of vanilla, maple, honey, and cinnamon. I wish I could’ve bottled that scent and take it home. Instead I made a mental note and reminded myself how lucky we are to be out in this serene setting where so many interesting scents and sounds abound.

In getting back to our new hiking season, it was clear my muscles needed this wake up call and my mind needed this nice hiking refresher.  Kelly Canyon was a nice way to start the journey of a thousand miles, or in this case, 5 miles and over 500 feet of elevation gain. Taking a few hours to free us up from work, computers, and problems is good for the soul and it was indeed a much-welcomed interlude. 

The Sedona Westerners always welcome new members, and we have hikes multiple days of the week for all abilities. If you are interested in joining the club, please visit our website at  You will find an interesting history, the whole season’s list of planned hikes, and a handy membership link. It only takes five minutes to sign and start your new adventures here in the Red Rocks.

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