Dispatch from Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona

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I just spent 24 hours in one of the best places on the planet to recharge, reconnect and satisfy a love for the outdoors – Oak Creek Canyon.  More importantly at this time of year, it’s the perfect place in Arizona to soothe a New England girl’s heart that aches for fall.

The 12 mile stretch of sheer beauty and astonishing views was carved out of gravel and lava carried down by raging streams from northern Arizona millions of years ago.  With the additional help of a few major geologic fault shifts – the Oak Creek Canyon was born.

In just 2.5 hours I can leave my home on the desert floor and be up in its deep red rock canyons hiking along a rambling creek under a rare Arizona stand of oak and maple trees that give all the fall feels.  The ochre red, burnt orange and golden leaves were still hanging on before the first blast of winter arrived which ironically was happening as I wrote this post!

I’ve been coming here for years since arriving to Arizona in 1976.  I’ve gleefully glided down Slide Rock in high school, taken my boys cliff jumping from Grasshopper Point, stood in her water to throw rocks and sticks for hours just to “be” with friends, as well as, cherished many day trips down from Flagstaff with Brooks (the Viking) when we were NAU students to thaw our freezing wind-blown bones on her rocks baked warm by the sun.

Every time I return the fond memories flood back in, swirling around my heart, with the most gentlest current as if to tug and lift at the same time.  I don’t come up much during the summer as it’s a bit too over run with people.  However, if you’re patient and willing to be creative there are plenty of times to sneak away to enjoy the area in peace and virtual solitude. 

The colors of fall in Oak Creek Canyon

The colors of fall in Oak Creek Canyon

Now is one of those times!  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas and the month of January there’s a wonderful lull and it’s one of my favorite times to head up. Here’s what we did on our 24 hours of bliss in Oak Creek Canyon.

Day Trip Goals – Finding Fall in the West Fork Trail

I was hoping to catch the last of the fall leaves and the West Fork Trail has some of the best in the area known as the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.  While the sheer red Coconino sandstone and white Kaibab limestone cliffs are stunning – this is not the place if you want the typical red rock Sedona hiking experience.  Instead, you’ll find it an easy 7-mile walk through the forest with a soft path of sand and soil underfoot. The trail follows Oak Creek with multiple water crossings to add some finesse to the adventure. The sound of the water, punctuated by the caw of crows, and earthy scents of wood, pine needles and leaves decomposing on the forest floor makes this hike a sensory delight this time of year.

A Nice Surprise!  Didn’t know about the Mayhew Lodge ruins found at the beginning of the trail.  With humble beginnings as a cabin built in the 1870’s by a hunter, to the establishment of it as a guest lodge in the 1920’s, this rustic resort attracted politicians and movie stars like President Herbert Hoover, Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart.  Zane Grey was inspired to write the book Call of the Canyons from this bucolic place to retreat!  You can see many of the foundations, out buildings and original fireplace with towering chimney.  I spied spent berry bushes, apple, pear and plum trees tucked in a field with the sweeping carpet of chocolate brown ferns at their feet. Definitely worth spending some time to explore this fascinating ruin.

 

A Few Tips!

√ You cross water 13 times – so you’d be smart wearing waterproof hiking shoes and/or bringing a pair of dry socks to change into.

√ This hike is in a dark canyon, so dress in warm layers as not too much sunlight streaming through this time of year. Temps range from 60’s - 40’s during the day and 30’s at night. Check the weather in advance for snow or rain.

√ Bring hiking poles to help with creek crossings.  If you don’t have any, you might be lucky to find large stick poles left behind by kind hikers at the trail entrance for you to grab. 

√ We’ve tried several times to hike the West Fork Trail, but the paid lots and parking spots along the road have been full every single time!  Not this time – because we snuck away during the week after Thanksgiving and in the middle of the week arriving on a Wednesday!  Thrilled to pull right in to the Call of the Canyon day use area and park with no hassles.  It was $10 for the day paid into a cash box at the entrance.

√ For other hiking recommendations in the area, The Hike House in Sedona is a great resource.

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NIGHT TIME GOALS: ROMANTIC CABIN BY THE CREEK

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Junipine Resort was the coziest place to hang for the night.  Nestled by Oak Creek, our cabin had a private hot tub under the dark skies for incredible star gazing plus two wood burning fireplaces!

After returning from dinner, we lit the kiva styled fireplace in the master bedroom with piñon pine - the DREAMIEST smelling firewood on earth! It crackles and pops while sending its perfumed scent around the cabin evoking every southwestern cliché you can conjure – cowboys, campfires, and cactus. Be warned between stargazing and snuggling in bed with the crackling fire, you will be lulled into the tranquil unplugged zone never wanting to leave.

Since it was chilly and we weren’t going to be opening our cabin doors, we saved a bit of $ by choosing a cabin just off the creek.  Instead we opted to enjoy the creeks’ sounds by setting up our pre-hike picnic there after we arrived and checked in.  It was a simple way to have the best of both worlds.

Honestly, it was way more space than we needed - look at the beautiful loft upstairs with large sky lights and twin beds!

Cabin Perks:

√ There is a pile of piñon pine firewood, kindling and a fire starter ready in your room for instant bliss. If you need more, you can buy it from the front desk.

√ Kitchen was fully equipped – no need to lug anything extra.

√ I purchased a few Christmas gifts in their lobby.  They gladly wrapped and delivered them to our room so we could get right to our hike.

 

FOODIE GOALS:  EATING THE BEST LOCAL OFFERINGS

With just 24 hours – I was keeping the foodie adventures to the minimum opting for close by goodness instead.

 Garland's Indian Gardens Cafe and Market provided the foodie fix I was hoping for.  Since 1947 this outpost was the place were locals found groceries, gas, sandwiches and ice cream.  Now it’s pouring local craft beer, fine wines, brewing coffee with their own roasted beans and serving up cider pressed from apples grown right across the street. 

All the provisions for a yummy picnic feast or nutritious organic snacks for a hike can be scooped up here. The baked goods looked amazing, but I held back!  Instead grabbed a quart of apple cider and loaf of their delicious fresh baked sourdough bread to complete the picnic stash I’d packed. Not enough time, but highly recommend you make time to be part of the local vibe and hang out on the garden patio in the back. I loved the Mexican falsa blankets ready to keep you warm and cozy. 

We returned the next morning for breakfast and sooooo glad we did.  The historic roadside restaurant was warm, welcoming and buzzing with locals and tourists.  We picked a table by a sun filled window and gazed at the menu with the reflection of fall colors from the trees surrounding us.  It was hard to choose, but I settled with the smoked salmon and pickled red onions topped with crème fraîche on sourdough bread. The Viking went straight for the huevos rancheros made with crisp local tostadas and chunky avocado salsa.  Straight up delicious, high fives and I want to go back for more . . . now.  I really enjoyed the offerings of certified organic fair trade teas by Mountain Rose Herbs.  The Blossoms of Health blend was a delightful match with the smoked salmon.

Don’t drive by – stop in!  A must hang in Oak Creek.

Nothing more convenient than a cozy restaurant for dinner just steps from our cabin.  When you’re 8 miles from Sedona and want to keep it low key – The Table at Junipine was exactly what we wanted . . . good food, roaring fire, and casual atmosphere. 

Before the food, can we first talk about the Hot Toddy!  Man oh man – wasn’t expecting much, but this spiced mulled cider with whisky did not disappoint.  Sipping a steaming cup of this classic Scottish throw back by the fire while we waited, gave me time to warm my hands as well as get a wee bit tipsy. 

Saw Pozole on the menu – stopped looking and ordered it with the house salad while the Viking selected the almond encrusted rainbow trout. The pozole hit the spot with filing hominy, crunchy cabbage and splash of lime.  Purists would definitely like more heat, but since they’re catering to tourists, makes sense to keep it mild.  As for the trout is was good, but I think pizza or a burger would have been more filling for the Viking!

Driving back home, I felt my balance scale was in fantastic shape! We had a perfect blend of activity and rest with time to let the mind wander while being surrounded by wonder. All in just 24 hours - till next time Oak Creek!

It’s now your turn! Where will you go? It doesn’t have to be big, but it needs to be deliberate. If you don’t make time there will be no time left. Get on it!

With grace, love and bliss - Leslie


A mind stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.

Travel . Learn . Grow