The Ambers Hunt Mushrooms in Kelly Canyon

November 03, 2023

By Karen Gieske

Take caution when picking mushrooms along the trail. This fly agaric mushroom may be pretty to look at, but it's one you definitely don't want to eat.

The Ambler’s hike on September 7 to Kelly Canyon had several firsts. It was the first hike by the Amblers for the 2023-2024 season and it was my first hike with the Sedona Westerners.

Kelly Canyon is located on top of the Mogollon Rim between I-17 and Highway 89A, about twenty miles north of Sedona, not far from Katchina Village. You can start the trail from either side. During the winter months, skiers and snowshoe hikers can trek across frigid snow. Hikers, like us, and mountain bikers take to the trail during the summer and fall to escape the warmer temperatures in Sedona – which reached nearly 90 degrees that day.

From Highway 89A, we made the right turn onto Forest Service Rd 237 and took the short drive along the unpaved road to the parking area. Our goal was to hike in about three miles along the canyon toward the I-17 trailhead. Our hike leaders were Jon and Terri Petrescu.

The Pumphouse Wash opens up not far from the trailhead. Standing pools of water from the recent rains filled the dimples in the white sandstone along the creek bed, reminiscent of the Seven Sacred Pools. It was otherworldly as we moved along the bed of the flat rock into the forest of Ponderosa Pines. 

Along the way, Terri stopped to help us identify edible mushrooms. A few people collected several 3-8” Porcini and other edible mushrooms for their dinner. Terri was very responsible and told us if she wasn’t sure a mushroom was edible or not, we would not collect it. We found a brilliant red mushroom with white squiggly lines atop it (the amanita muscaria/common name: fly agricaric) and we advised that one was not good to eat – just pretty to look at. One of the larger mushrooms we found – a boletus barrowsii/common name: king bolete – had been snacked on by a woodland critter and the exposed core was a stunning shade of white. Though that kind is very tasty when it is smaller and fresher, we left that one in the forest for the critter’s next snack. Both are found here under ponderosa when the monsoons have been going. The bottom drainage of Kelly Canyon collects moisture so they can sometimes be found there if the moisture and temperatures are just right.

Most of the trail is level but there is one challenging ledge we had to slide down. Stacks of rock lead down about ten to fifteen feet to where the trail continued. We took our turns – and our time – as we maneuvered down the steep incline. Many of us felt it was safer to slide on our posteriors than risk balancing ourselves from rock to rock. As you might guess, climbing back up on the return was an effort as well. 

About halfway to our turnaround point, we stopped for a group picture at an art installation among the trees just off the main trail. A metal sculpture of a cross-country skier constructed out of scrap metal stood about forty feet from the trail on a slope. The sculpture was about eight feet tall, with railroad ties for the skis. It was a very well-done piece of art, however, several hikers wondered whether the installation would be considered graffiti by the Forest Service since it was not natural to the site, or even made of materials from the area. The debate over the sculpture was a reminder that visitors to the area should heed the motto, “Leave No Trace.” 

We took a welcome break on another slope down the way. Cushioned with pine needles, the hillside offered a quiet resting point among the trees where we could visit, share homemade brownies, and think of recipes for those scrumptious mushrooms we had collected.

We all enjoyed this six-mile out-and-back hike through Kelly Canyon, the first Ambler hike of the season, and look forward to many more hikes this season. I know that I am. I’ll have to remember to ask how the mushrooms were that the others took home for dinner. It was a rare treat for sure.

The Sedona Westerners want to welcome Karen Gieske and all the new members who have joined the club this year. To learn more about the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club, view this season’s hiking schedule, or to become a member yourself, go to The hiking season runs through May 9, 2024, and the membership fee is only $30 for the whole season.

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