West Fork Trail Autumn Colors
With great expectation the Amblers planned to hike the West Fork trail in mid-October, and the day dawned clear and cool. Each year we vigorously debate the right week to view autumn colors at their most vivid in this creek-side riparian canyon micro-climate. Enthusiasm was not dampened, even though construction along Hwy. 179 delayed the usual 9:00 a.m. carpool start from the Posse Grounds assembly point.
The hikers finally arrived halfway up the Oak Creek Canyon road to Flagstaff at the now-crowded Call of the Canyon / West Fork trailhead. Author Zane Grey’s “Call of the Canyon” was set here, and the hikers were about to find what was the appeal of this iconic setting. The company of many families with excited children on school break served to heighten the hikers’ anticipation even more. Some in this Amblers beginning level hiking group had not been on this easy rated trail before, and were eager to see for themselves the memorable scenery they had heard so much about.
The first part of the trail went past an abandoned orchard and resort from the 1940s and -50s, and featured large areas filled with ferns that had turned golden yellow from the nighttime chill. The next feature took them over a rustic steel and wooden footbridge where they could look down into the crystal clear, rippling waters of the West Fork branch of the Oak Creek.
Now hike Leader John Mezera lead on to the canyon section of the trail, passing a soaring red rock multihued bluff set off by gold and red foliage and true blue skies above. Then was the first of many creek crossings, the hikers helping one another to carefully navigate the slippery rocks, stepping from one rock to another and using hiking poles to great advantage. Also, a 20-inch diameter tree trunk had fallen across the trail and needed to be straddled, and further on huge red rock boulders marked our path. Dennis Perry was our tailgater who shepherded the Amblers through shady patches and bright open sunlight stretches, back and forth over multiple creek crossings between towering canyon walls. Some crossings had Mother Nature’s convenient rock steps built into the banks to help us get back onto the trail.
Because the weather had been so dry for weeks prior, the almost ankle-deep loose sandy conditions made today’s hike slow-going, similar to walking on a beach. But nobody minded...it allowed more time for cameras and to “Ohh ...and Ahh...” and take in the splendor of the carpets of gorgeous yellow ferns, intense red maples, golden oaks, and majestic green ponderosa pines touching the bluest of skies overhead - all framed by the canyon’s red rock spires and cliffs. This year’s colors seemed the most intense that we have ever seen here, showing a full spectrum of hues from deep crimson magenta to salmon pink to pale peach to dazzling chartreuse greens to mottled golden-reds and every shade in between.
The group enjoyed a lunchtime rest at the expansive, wide slick rock overhang twenty feet above the meandering creek, and had picture-postcard views up and down the creek - with mallard ducks playing along the banks. By now it was plenty warm enough for layers of clothing to be stowed in backpacks. After a group photo, the Amblers were back on the trail to return to the trailhead, savoring the full panoply of colors once again. About four hours and five miles were the day’s statistics, but the spectacular views made us appreciate why Zane Grey’s “Call of the Canyon” location was such a hallmark of Western authors.
The Westerners always welcome new members! If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website www.sedonawesterners.org. You may also join by attending the next monthly meeting which will be on Thursday, January 14th, beginning at 7 p.m., at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley.