Westerners Enjoy the Flagstaff Thaw

May 12, 2023

By Dick Williams

Sandy’s Canyon near Flagstaff, buried in snow just a few months ago, shows signs of spring. Here, the Mustangs hike near Fisher Point along a pond that is not normally there.

As normal readers of this column know, the Westerners hike many different trails and locations in our area.  Some depend on the weather, some depend on traffic or special events, and some are chosen for the abilities and desires of our specific hiking groups. 

We venture north to the Flagstaff area normally in the Fall and late Spring.   This is to take advantage of the cooler temperatures on both ends and beautiful leaves in the Fall.  There is just something awe inspiring about the yellow aspens against the deep blue sky.  Given the normally heavy snowfalls, and closed trails, we tend to stay down here in the Red Rocks during the winter months.

This season has been particularly tough on scheduling hikes given the excessive wintry weather, including rain, snow, and cold.  This was even more acute in the Flagstaff area, given their near record snowfall and snow pack. As Oak Creek and frequent users of 89A up the canyon can attest, there were torrents of water up on the rim that headed this way as it warmed up.

We were excited to head north for today’s Mustang hike to Sandy’s Canyon, then on to Fisher Point.  Everyone wanted to see how the area was waking up from the long onslaught of winter.

The travel up Oak Creek Canyon, except for some Sedona Police action in Uptown that had 4 police cars and the motorcycle in attendance, was pretty easy.  We were lucky to be going opposite the dreaded construction work on 179 south of the Y.  After getting to Lake Mary Road, we made a right and went about 5 miles…ending up at the Sandys Canyon Trailhead.  Our leaders, Dave Vanderwater and Amanda Maxwell, reviewed our safety protocols, oriented us on the day’s plans, and we headed down the trail.  The weather was chilly and very, very windy.

The first mile or so is pretty level before a drop into the canyon.  Once in the bottoms, the trail meanders through beautiful forest, interwined with parts of the Arizona Trail.  The trek is accentuated with rock outcroppings on both sides. Today brought a huge surprise, however.  There were ponds, lakes, and streams to ford almost the whole distance.  Several of our group, who have hiked this route for many years, had never even seen water in the canyon. This was our first experience with the amount of water Flagstaff and its environs got this year.

We had been teased that there were several caves to see along the way.  They are located at the juncture of the final part of the trail up to Fisher Point.  We headed down the path to the caves, only to be thwarted by high water and a wind-whipped pond in the first cave.  Several of us noted we had never seen “white-caps” in a cave.  Alas, we would need to return another day to see them.

Taking the turn up the hill, we began the long climb up to Fisher Point.  Up top, we were treated to beautiful views up and down the canyon. There was evidence of many recent animal visits to the area. And yes, the forecasters were right, it was indeed windy up there, and getting windier.  Some folks even needed extra rocks in their pockets to keep them from blowing away.

After our lunch break, it was back down the switchbacks and out the way we came in.  It always amazes me how the same trail can look different depending upon your direction.  Although only about a 200-foot rise to emerge out of the canyon and back to our cars, it is at the end of about a 7-mile hike so you really begin to feel it.  The altitude, only a few thousand feet higher than Sedona, doesn’t help either. 

This trail is marked for hikers, bikers, and equestrians.  Sure enough, we saw all three groups enjoying the outdoors today.  Additionally, there were race markers along the trail, along with several hikers/runners with participant numbers on.  Those runners were participating in the Cocodona 250, many of whom apparently spent the previous evening resting in Sedona.

Even with the wind, and cooler temperatures, we agreed it was a wonderful trip through Sandys Canyon and a nice way to re-acquaint ourselves with the Flagstaff area hikes that have been snowed in for so many months.  It was also a great last Mustang hike for the 2022/2023 hiking season. 

The Sedona Westerners take the summer months off, due to the heat and a plethora of travel schedules.  We will be back in early September for another year of fun and frolic in the Red Rocks we call our home. 

The Westerners, with over 400 hikers this year, always welcome new members—even if you are only here for a limited time. We have hikes multiple days of the week for all abilities. If interested in joining the club, please visit our website at sedonawesterners.org.  You will find an interesting history, the whole seasons list of planned hikes, and a handy membership link. It only takes five minutes to sign up and start your new adventures here in the Red Rocks.

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