The rising sun illuminated the vibrant reds, greens and purples that paint the canyon. The crisp morning air carried the fresh aroma of Arizona Cypress. I, along with my companions, took our first step onto the West Fork Trail and began our adventure through Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona.
With me were my great friends Alyssa, Lance, Mike and Si’on. As full-time students at ASU, it is not often that we can indulge in our love of the outdoors and our desire to explore. We could not, however, surpass the opportunity to hike in the Coconino National Forest; and so, we embarked from Tempe on an early Saturday morning in September.
The two-hour drive up Interstate 17 passed quickly as we surveyed the morning desert transform into a red-rock mountain wilderness. A few miles up State Route 179 North stood Sedona’s awe-inspiring Bell Rock — a triumphant red-rock formation, home to twisted Juniper trees, and vivid green and yellow agave plants.
Numerous turns up the mountainous road of highway 89A disoriented the group. Considering the possibility that we had already passed the trail, we stopped at a convenience store for directions. When asked where the West Fork Trail was located, the clerk’s smile alluded to the commonality of the question. “It’s actually just a half-mile up the road,” he replied. Sure enough, in a half-mile we arrived at the trailhead lot. Parking cost $9 in the lot, which is guarded and maintained by park rangers. The lot was littered with walking sticks used by past travelers. We each selected our respective walking stick, grabbed our gear (lunches, water and a camera) and began our journey through the canyon.
A small bridge guided the group over the creek and onto the West Fork Trail. My curiosity was sparked at a peculiar site on the outskirts of the canyon. An old, brick structure lay in shambles next to a small cave carved into the red rock. The site was once home to the Mayhew Lodge, home to tourists and travelers in the early 1920s. As we sprinted toward the ruins, I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia. My childhood dreams of being an adventurer in the wild were being fulfilled.
As we journeyed further along the trail, the tranquil sounds of the creek grew nearer. We had reached our first, true creek crossing. A trail marker sat across the water, but this time there was not a bridge to leisurely stroll across. Being accustomed to such circumstances, due to his years spent backpacking, Lance guided the group across one by one, jumping from one stone to the next. Our first crossing was a success; our hike would consist of over 10 more.
At every chance possible, we climbed the massive, fallen rocks, which, for many years, have rained down the mountains to the bottom of the canyon. Each rock surmounted grew larger and increasingly difficult to climb until we finally met our match. “Let’s eat lunch up there,” Alyssa said as she pointed to the top of a 40-foot, rock cliff.
After contemplating the possibilities, Lance disappeared behind the cliff, determined to find a way up. Minutes later, he appeared atop the rock, triumphant, and again guided the group to the summit. I couldn’t help but smile as we enjoyed our cliff-top picnic.
Descending the rock was quite easy for everyone, except me. As I scaled down, I lost my footing and quickly grabbed onto a protruding branch. Knowing it wouldn’t hold for long I signaled Mike who stood on the ground below. The branch finally gave way, and I slid down; Mike braced for impact and broke my fall. We couldn’t help but laugh as we dramatically retold the story to the rest of the group of my treacherous five-foot fall.
Soon after, we arrived at what many would have considered the end of the trail. A pool of water filled the middle of the smooth canyon walls. Before I even had the chance to take off my shoes, Mike and Si’on ran straight into the creek bed; Alyssa, Lance and I followed. With the sun beating on our back, we waded through the cool, waste-deep water. I paused for a moment and gazed into the air; I sighed in contentment.
Surrounded by nature’s green giants and enclosed by the canyon’s massive red walls, I couldn’t help but feel at peace. Just for a day, I had escaped the stresses of day-to-day life. For a day, I had escaped into the wild, carefree, with four of my greatest friends. It was now time to make the journey back.
After wading our way out of the creek, we grabbed our gear and returned to the trail. Passing by the familiar sights of the trail, we recalled the events of the day as if they were distant memories.
At last, we emerged from the canyon. We signed our names in the trail log, returned our walking sticks to the ground, and began the drive home. As we drove away, I turned and watched my walking stick disappear. I smiled at the thought of the next adventurer beginning his or her journey, choosing the same walking stick I had chosen.
For more information about the West Fork Trail go to sedonahikingtrails.com