Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

October 31, 2014

In Search of the Goblin of Oak Creek Canyon


by Bob Taylor

The arrival of October heralded a welcome shift to cooler, less humid weather and the reopening of many Oak Creek Canyon trails. That combination proved irresistible to the Sedona Westerner Mustangs, who recently ventured to the Harding Springs trailhead for an adventurous into some of the larger recesses of rock formations on this trail.

The Harding Springs trailhead is the starting point for several appealing destinations: Ritter Butte, linkages to the Cookstove, Telephone and Thomas Point trails, as well as stunning rim level views up and down the canyon. As great as these destinations are, they lack the mystique of some of the unexpected dark recesses within these trails, especially in October as images associated with Halloween begin to creep into our psyche.

The Goblin of Oak Creek Canyon

On our hike we were able to see a conglomeratic (sedimentary stones held together by a fine matrix) and a large recess for this area. A conglomeratic is distinct from the typical sandstone alcoves peppering the cliffs of the Sedona area.

Many of the Oak Creek canyon trails are steep (West Fork is an exception) and the Harding Springs trail gains 900 feet in elevation in less than a mile. The trail was originally built in the 1880s and was one of the East rim trails used by early settlers to travel to Flagstaff, a difficult journey made much easier when 89A was built in the 1930s. About half way up there is a small overlook and our group caught our breath while enjoying north facing views of the canyon before pushing on to the top.

Gaining the top, we were immediately greeted with a meadow full of yellow flowers. Nearby, we sat on large rocks on the edge of the rim, enjoying the cool morning air and the spectacular views of the West wall of the canyon. It was easy to see areas high on the West side burned by the Slide fire; more remarkable were the areas that were not. The canyon is still beautiful and we can all be thankful how much of it was spared the ravages of wildfire. A special thanks to all of our firefighters and all others involved in preserving a beautiful part of our world.

Refreshed, we headed off to more remote rock alcoves, a couple of miles distant. The terrain was gentle and undulating, as we wound our way through forest and meadows. At one point we entered a burned area where a spot fire had jumped to the East side of 89A. Again, the rapid and stellar work of fire crews prevented a serious escalation of the fire, which at that point in time could have easily spread toward populated areas along I-17.

Winding our way along a ridge, we finally reached a point where a steep descent was necessary to arrive at the small dark recesses of the rock formations. Hiking poles were especially useful in this section of the trail and a slow descent helped avoid the agave, yucca and cat claw that were prevalent. After a brief respite at the entrance, we entered and wound our way around corners into the depths of the rock alcoves. There, Cy Elliott, who with Mark Ducharme served as the hike leaders for the day, emerged from the darkness clad in a frightful mask of the Goblin of Oak Creek Canyon that served as a perfect tune-up for Halloween. Cy's growls and gestures provided comic relief for the steep climb back to the top of the ridge and the return to the trailhead. We arrived tired but greatly satisfied with all we had seen and experienced. And it is unlikely we will soon forget the strange creature found growling in the dark recesses of Oak Creek Canyon.

If you are interested in joining the club, please go to our website at or just come to one of our monthly meetings. The next one will be on Thursday, Nov 13, 2014 at 7 pm at the Sedona Elks Club, 110 Airport Road.