Monday, November 24, 2014

West Fork

Once upon a time, in a far away land, elves and faeries skipped and flitted across a field. They kissed the ground, and made flowers bloom. They carved out rocks, and spread green moss over them like butter. They made paths through the forest, cutting out deep gashes in towering cliffs. And when they were finished, they called it "West Fork".

It may sound fantastic (because it is), but when I hike the West Fork/Call of the Canyon trail in Oak Creek Canyon, I can't help but let my imagination run wild. The grand enormity of the rocks and boulders with moss and lichen growing on them is astounding. The sheer rock face of the cliffs that make up the canyon is dizzying. The scale and magnitude of some of the pine trees growing there is second only to the Redwoods. This area feels old and wild. While the trail starts out with a tame sidewalk through tall grass and an old apple orchard, the further in you travel, the gnarlier the woods becomes.

The trail wanders out for a solid 2 hours (or more, depending on your hiking speed). We hiked for 90 minutes as a family, and when we asked some folks on the return how much further to the end of the trail. They said, "It's another 50 minutes, at least." Needless to say with two children in tow, we did not finish the trail, but we did end up  travelling farther down the trail than we ever had previously.

When Carrick was 5 months old, we went down the West Fork Trail. Corey's sister was visiting, and we wanted to try something new. Boy were we surprised when we started our hike into this magical place. Halfway down the trail (probably after a mile of hiking) there is a natural swimming area with a "water slide". We didn't know about it, so we didn't plan for swimming on this particular excursion. We did spend some time resting there watching other enjoy their summer splash time.


However, when my parents visited a month later, we took them back and made an afternoon of cooling off in the creek at the swimming hole. I sat on a rock and nursed Carrick, mom and dad put their feet in, and Corey got adventurous and swam around in the pool. I took a few goes down the natural slide while mom and dad held Carrick. That was in 2009.

So here we are, with Carrick old enough to hike on his own, and Lily old enough to observe and enjoy what's going on. We hiked right past the swimming hole this time, as it was November, and about 49 degrees outside. It was interesting to see what the rock looked like that we were playing on all those years ago. The water level was so low (we haven't had rain in several months), that we could see all the way to the bottom of the swimming hole and hop across the slide if we wanted to.

One of the more curious scenes on this trip was a ginormous, angled boulder with all sorts of graffiti on it. The graffiti was written in charcoal, well, charred tree branches to be exact. The West Fork Trail was hit by the Slide Rock Fire earlier this year. When I heard that the fire had spread to West Fork, my heart broke in two. I couldn't imagine such a wonderful place being destroyed by fire. I was especially angry at myself for not going back since Carrick was little to enjoy it's natural beauty.

But, God is amazing, and created nature to be resilient. On the entire hike, there were only pockets of evidence that there was ever a fire in this area. Sure, a few trees had been burnt to a crisp, and their blackened hulls lay on the ground. For the most part, there were only trees with charred bases, showing where the fire attempted to make its mark, and even then, they were only visible very sporadically. The pine trees are especially hearty when it comes to fire. In fact, they need fire to germinate their seeds.

So we came to this boulder with all these names and dates on it. Carrick wanted to slide down it, I wanted to add our names to it. Corey just wanted to reach the end of the trail. So we left our hopes with the boulder and pressed onward. On the return trip, however, we got our wish. I used a chip of charred tree to add the names of our family to the list of hikers who had passed by this spot. Carrick was allowed to climb to the top of the rock and slide down. (He did not smear anyone's name in the process.)

On the way back, we passed by the ruins of the old lodge that once stood on the trail head. I took a picture of Carrick sitting in the old fireplace. Apparently the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable used to stay at the lodge. This fact underscores the relationship of West Fork as a microcosm of Sedona. Celebrities still come on vacation here. The apple orchards, the red rock cliffs, the creek, the woods, the boulders, the trail itself. This is what makes Sedona. Natural beauty, solitude, an oasis in the desert.

I feel so blessed to have been able to share this experience with my family, all three times I have hiked this majestic path. For a fee of $10.00 to park and use the restrooms, (Corey and I split it), it was the best 3 hours and 15 minutes I remember us all spending together in a long time. No computers, no cell phones (well, at least no calls, I took pictures with mine) and no TV. Just us, the crisp autumn air, and the glory of creation laid out before us.

Entry fee to park (and use restrooms)- $5.00 (split with Corey)
Soup and sandwiches all around at Indian Gardens afterward- $15.00

Balance this pay cycle- $80.00

Happy Spending!

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