Fall Hike – West Fork of the Oak Creek, AZ – Pt. 3

While hiking along the West Fork of the Oak Creek just outside of Sedona, AZ we came across this wall and cliff of fractured red rock highlighted by light and dark colors most likely from minerals in the rock and the effects of running water.


red rock cliff

Here’s a closer look. Trees grow along the overhanging shallow shelf above the cliff.

trees growing on the shallow shelf

Other walls along the trail had interesting colors and markings as well. This nearly black patch was highlighted by a stream of white reminiscent of a plume of smoke from a cigarette.

black patch on wall with smoke-like markings

We weren’t the only life form enjoying this brisk autumn stroll. A orange and black beetle was weaving in and out of the leaves and appears to be of the Nicrophorus defodiens species which enjoys eating fungus.

fungus eating beetle

A colorful leaf waiting for its close up and I obliged.

pretty red and gold leaf

On the return trip back to the trailhead, we revisited some of the previous sites this time lit with the afternoon sun.

red and white rocks in the afternoon sun

There were moments when the contrast of the dark and the light was stunning as with the golden-green leaves against the dark browns and grays of the trees

beautiful contrast of dark trees and light leaves

A bit disheartening are scenes like this where someone decided a tree branch needed to be adorned with and old sneaker or shoe.

old sneaker hanging over a tree branch

At the beginning of the trail, not too far from the trailhead, are the remnants of Mayhew Lodge that was opened in 1926. The lodge remained an active retreat until 1968 and is noted for attracting a number of celebrities such as President Herbert Hoover, Walt Disney, Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable.

Only a few partial walls remain standing, but with a bit of imagination, one can envision the raw beauty and solace that this retreat once promised.

Mayhew Lodge corner wall

Perhaps President Hoover or Clark Gable gazed out this window to watch native wildlife.

Mayhew Lodge round window

Which celebrities or notables warmed themselves at this hearth?

Mayhew Lodge hearth

The short video shows the outbuildings and a few shots of the lodge.

Even more information and pictures HERE:

We had a good day along the West Fork of the Oak Creek. We were damp, cold and tired and welcomed the heated seats and warm air provided by our Subaru Forester as we made our way back to the Valley of the Sun.

If you missed the previous posts about our hike along the West Fork of the Oak Creek, you can find them here:

Fall Hike – West Fork of the Oak Creek, AZ – Pt. 1

Fall Hike – West Fork of the Oak Creek, AZ – Pt. 2

Fall Hike – West Fork of the Oak Creek, AZ – Pt. 2

If you missed Part 1 of our narrative of the hike along the West Fork of the Oak Creek earlier in November, you can see it here:

Fall Hike – West Fork of the Oak Creek, AZ – Pt. 1

We continued to hike along the West Fork of the Oak Creek and through the surrounding canyon trying to stay as dry as we could at each of the 13 (26 both ways) stream crossings. At first I thought this was a small iceberg or snow, but it turned out to be a foam pile created by the churning water hitting the neighboring rocks.

churning foam

I am always intrigued by “walking trees,” that is those trees that gained a foothold on a pile of debris or dirt which has since washed away leaving a good portion of the roots exposed. In some wooded areas, the term walking tree is used to refer to this phenomenon.

walking tree

Some of the trees assert themselves by consuming nearby rocks in their extended growth. There are several rocks being visibly smothered in the bark and roots of the tree.

tree smothering rocks

Perhaps my favorite photo of the day personifies the beauty of the canyon along the west fork. The golden hour was approaching with the beautiful light allowing the red rock walls to reveal their splendor. The reflection in the wider portion of the stream adds to the drama.

reflection of beautiful red rock cliffs

Even the less magnificent views along the stream were pretty in this Fall light.

fall creekside

At places the water was very placid and “easier” to cross than at others where it was running apace.

stream stepping stones

We approached this broad area of the canyon where the trees, sky and red-and-white rock cliffs join forces to create a symphony of color.

canyon expanse with trees and red rock

A rather large, cawing crow stopped by to voice his approval as well.

large crow

There was not enough light to capture all of the fantastic colors in this area, but I hope you can appreciate the contrast and texture of nature’s palette.

hoodoo-like cliffs

The tree below had gained a foothold along the riverbank despite the crowd of rock slabs. It was a very pretty green against the red rock which is not captured at its best in the photo, but I think you can appreciate it as described. It is sad that this tree has a struggle ahead as it tries to continue to grow in an area that is not well-suited. Nature does not play favorites.

lone tree standing

As we continued our wandering, we were somewhat surprised to find this very green area of horsetail grass. There was an abundance of flora that was shedding its summer color to adorn its fall visage throughout the canyon and this intense green created a unique juxtaposition at this time of the year.

green horsetail grass meadow

Horsetail grass has interesting segments that create addiitonal interest in its use as an ornamental. Note, however, that it can become invasive and it is recommended that horsetail grass and its relatives be planted in manageable areas or pots.

horsetail grass closeup

As I end this installment of our narrative, which will conclude next time in part 3, I would be remiss not to include on last picture of the beautiful red rock cliffs towering above the Oak Creek.

looking up at more red rock cliffs

Fall Hike – West Fork of the Oak Creek, AZ – Pt. 1

Much of our lives were spent in the northeast and although we now live in the southwest and we are fond of the desert, once in a while we get the urge to experience a true change of seasons like those we experienced during the fall in our rural New Jersey home.

When this happens, we look to northern Arizona to satisfy our yearning. Recently we decided to take a November foray to an area just north of Sedona, AZ and hike the trail of the West Fork of the Oak Creek.


West Fork Trail #108 Sign

The trail is located off of highway 89A between mileposts 385 and 384. As always, dress appropriately, be sure to have waterproof/resistant footwear and perhaps bring an extra pair of socks. One other hint…many will find hiking sticks useful especially during the stream crossings. If you don’t have hiking sticks, a dead branch can usually be found along the way and often they are left at the trailhead sign.

Soon after we began, we were treated to this beautiful, red rock fall scene. It was a very crisp, clear fall day at the Oak Creek.

Beautiful Colors at the Trailhead Approach

Snow remnants

We were aware that it had snowed a week or so before our planned excursion, but we did not realize remnants would still be found. Mary picked up a handful; something we can’t do in the Valley of the Sun.

Mary grabs a handful of snow

As you may note, there are no officially maintained crossings of the stream which number thirteen each way for a total of twenty six. All hikers are left to decide the best route to attempt. Rocks are not always steady, logs are sometimes slippery and the dry footholds may be far apart. This provides some excitement and challenges. Many hikers brought their four-legged companions along for a frolic.

Mary at stream crossing; dog waiting

Gymnastics training could come in handy.

Gymnastic creek crossing

The creek widens and narrows along the route providing interesting and contrasting vistas among the red sand and rocks.

Contrast of stream and red rocks

Of course we need to mention the leaves; yes the leaves. In the desert, we don’t have fall leaf colors and shapes like these.

fall leaf colors

The contrast of reds, yellows and bronze against the dark bark and red cliffs was very pretty.

gold bronze leaves amid the  gray of fall

Change was definitely in the air. Leaves were donning their seasonal finery as they fell to the ground or attempted to cling to the branches just a bit longer.

Leaves change color

The patches of dried, brown foliage also provided a pretty foil for the remaining snow which provided the background for the patterns of fall.

patterns of dead ferns against the snow

To be continued…

For more information about the West Fork of Oak Creek, Sedona including hours of operation, fees and restrictions, see the links below:

West Fork Oak Creek #108

Hiking the West Fork of Oak Creek

Trail Map of West Fork Oak Creek