Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

October 10, 2014

Kelly Canyon


by John Losse

The Sedona Westerners Tuesday hiking group, the Dogies, took advantage of a coolish September day to hike into an unfamiliar area - Kelly Canyon. A tributary of Pumphouse Wash (the one which runs under Highway 89A at the base of the switchbacks in Oak Creek Canyon), Kelly Canyon is approached from a dirt turnoff on the right about a mile north of Vista Point at the top of the 89A switchbacks. The dirt road is passable to ordinary cars, and you park at a turnaround about one mile in.

Kelly Canyon - A cool early fall hike.

In a normal year, the Westerners September hikes are often in Oak Creek Canyon because there is shade and generally lower temperatures, but many of the usual trails in the Canyon have been closed since last June due to the Slide Fire. Hike leaders Don Kling and Bill Birkeland had looked around for alternatives and found a very good one in Kelly Canyon. On the hike itself they were assisted by tailgaters Liz Sweeney and David Nelson.

After a bit of rock hopping in the upper reaches of Pumphouse Wash, the hikers broke off to follow Kelly, which comes in from the left. They followed it for about 2.5 miles. The trail is clear and rises gently through an open forest of ponderosa and pinion pines, staying close to the drainage and occasionally crossing it. There is little flowing water but recent rains had left numerous pools in the sandstone floor of the wash itself, and the photographers in the group were active taking advantage of the reflections. In some sections the occasional flows have sculpted deep curving furrows into the sandstone. At this elevation the sandstone is pale, not red as it is in Sedona.

The forest floor was quite damp and many types of flowers and mushrooms had seized the opportunity to show themselves. Some members of the club are very knowledgeable about plants of the area. Yarrow, goldenrod, four o'clock, wild geranium, scarlet cinquefoil and asters were among the plants identified.

The Kelly Canyon trail is in the Coconino National Forest, but not in designated wilderness. It has been maintained irregularly but still offers good hiking of gentle to moderate difficulty. Mountain biking is permitted but only a few tracks were seen. In fact, on this hike the Westerners group was the only one seen or heard all day. At a little over three miles from the trailhead the trail intersects the same forest road it starts on, so a loop hike is possible, but the feeling seemed to be "who would hike back on the road when the trail is so nice?" With that in mind, the leaders chose a nice green spot among the trees to have lunch before heading back. Overall, the hike covered 6.5 miles with about 500 feet of mostly gentle ascent.