Johnson: West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon, Part 1
West Fork near Sedona is heavily managed. Due to its popularity, the Forest Service has contracted out its management to Recreation Resource Management Inc. Therefore, if you have an interagency annual pass, it is not accepted. Neither is the Red Rock Pass.
It’s currently $10 per car, $2 per person to walk in and $18 per week to backpack in or through — unless you come down from the top, which is the normal way to hike through any slot canyon.
The parking lot holds less than 50 vehicles and there is a line of cars waiting to get in an hour before it opens on any warm weather weekend. The parking lot’s hours are 8 a.m. to dusk. Some hikers park off to the side of Highway 89A and walk in, but those options are limited.
The attraction is obvious — colorful, soaring canyon walls with a small stream running between them.
Sometimes that stream fills the slot wall-to-wall, and that’s where it gets challenging, especially when it is so deep you can’t touch the bottom.
The first few miles of the trail from the entrance off Highway 89A are well-worn, sandy, mostly level and easy to follow. You will need to cross the creek every now and then, which provides a unique opportunity in Arizona to cool off your feet.
Access is convenient, sort of. I had to creep and crawl through the traffic jam in Sedona and then wait in line at the trailhead.
The cultural history is as rich as the natural beauty. The vegetation is lush, and even though there are crowds, it is quite possible to slip through the trees and find a place of solitude with your feet in the cool water with no one else around. If crowds are a problem for you, time your hike accordingly to midweek or the off season or both.
Next time, I’ll talk about another way to look at these fellow hikers as an attraction in their own right, as long as you have a well-developed sense of humor. You can see it all here — more than you might expect — from skinny dippers to the infamous plumber’s crack.
Though I have hiked in some phenomenal places in May, I’m glad it’s over. Every year, for the past 10 years, at least, I have struggled hiking throughout this month.
I looked at a variety of pollen and allergy sources online recently. They confirm my suspicion that I get bombarded in the spring with all sorts of airborne junk, which just seems to weigh me down and wear me out before I even get started.
I will never forget my attempt to hike the Nankoweap Trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in May. I felt as though my get-up-and-go got up and went.
What was wrong? I had no idea back then.
But the pattern has repeated itself so many times, I have little doubt that my respiratory system becomes so compromised in this season that I just need to take it easy and wait until the air clears before I attempt anything more rambunctious.
This is yet another reason why hiking West Fork is perfect this time of year.
A refreshing and casual stroll through the woods next to a babbling brook and without much effort is just “what the doctor ordered.”
Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at email@example.com.