Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

November 4, 2011

Hikers Learn About the Seeps and Geology of West Fork Canyon


by Pam Greene

On October 20th, the Mustang group of the Sedona Westerners hiked the West Fork Trail, which begins ten miles up Oak Creek Canyon. It was a glorious autumn day and the colors of the foliage were stunning. It’s said that Zane Gray stayed at the old Mayhew Lodge in West Fork, and was inspired by the location to write the novel, “Call of the Canyon.” Our group was definitely feeling the call of the canyon that day.

Paula Potter, our hike leader, had arranged for local expert, Dena Greenwood, to join us for part of the hike, to share her knowledge of the seeps and geology of West Fork Canyon. Dena wrote her thesis on the seeps (there are fourteen) found in West Fork on the three-mile section of the trail. Since this is a popular hike, the Mustangs divided into two groups (the other led by yours truly,) with Diane Luce and Perlina McCombs as tailgaters. The two groups would meet at three specified seeps to hear Dena speak about them.

The groups paused at the site of the Mayhew Lodge, which opened in 1925, making it one of the first facilities to cater to tourists in the Sedona area. It operated until 1968, when it was turned over to the U.S. Forest Service. They planned to renovate the buildings and turn the site into a nature center. Tragically, in 1980 fire gutted the buildings. Today, a few chicken coops, a root cellar and a few other remnants are all that remain.

The West Fork of Oak Creek, flowing in West Fork Canyon to the confluence with Oak Creek, provides a colorful and shady hiking opportunity. It is said to be the most popular hike in northern Arizona by some. The Sedona Westerners learned about the many seeps in the canyon walls, in the Schnebly Hill Sandstone/Redrock layer.

Here, the group could get a good overview of the geological layers in West Fork. The lowest exposed layer, Hermit Shale, was originally mud before turning into shale. Next is the Schnebly Hill Sandstone/Redrock layer, where the seeps occur. Above that, one sees the Coconino Sandstone, characterized by its golden tan color. The Torroweep layer, where the tree line can be seen along with the interplay of limestone and sandstone, comes next. The highest layer is the Kaibab – the limestone cap rock. As the sand dunes subsided in ancient times, the sea spilled in from the West, depositing shell fragments into this layer.

Along the way to the first seep, a lot of yellow evening primroses, fin ferns and poison ivy were sighted. The first seep is the largest of the 14 and just to the left of the trail. Water seeps out of the drip lines in the wall. Where there is any soil built up, ferns take hold along with golden and crimson monkey flowers, lobelia, and columbine. In summer, the seeps are hanging gardens; in winter, they are sheets of ice. There are 86 different plant types in the seeps. The aspect (the direction which the wall of the seep faces) determines what will grow in that location.

The water leaching iron from the sandstone, weakening it, causes rock falls in the seeps. These rock falls cause the alcoves to deepen. The walls of the seeps are very slippery and were difficult for Dena to study. She used no lines on the walls – just hand and foot holds – but did use her binoculars a lot! Just a short distance down the trail is the next seep, which has a spring. The next stop was seep 5, the first seep on the right side of the creek. It is long and skinny, and has a southwest facing aspect. However, floods have scoured the walls, so there was is little, soil or vegetation. At this point, Dena had to leave and get back to her busy life. The Mustangs owe kudos to Dena for sharing her valuable time and expertise.

The groups continued on to the end of the trail for lunch, where a few hikers donned water shoes and continued up the creek. The Mustangs then followed the trail back toward civilization all the while enjoying the beauty and serenity of West Fork.

The Westerners always welcome new members. If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website,, for membership information. You may also join at one of our monthly meetings. Our next one will be on Thursday, Nov.10, beginning at 7p.m. at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley Center, 100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona.