Rest in peace, West Fork, Oak Creek Canyon
I’ve lived in Arizona for over 50 years, and for most of that time Oak Creek Canyon has been my haven.
I rode down the switchbacks in my girlfriend’s boyfriend’s ’57 Thunderbird, when it was brand new and we were, too. I had my Senior High ditch day at Slide Rock. I swam naked in the creek with one boyfriend and was proposed to by another, sunbathing on the red rocks near the creek.
Oak Creek fed my soul. When my first marriage was disintegrating I’d come down to the creek and stick my feet in the water and just cry until my toes were numb, and then dry my eyes and my feet and pick up the pieces of a challenging life.
This pristine beauty has been a sanctuary and an anchor for me, and I thought it would be always be there. Now it is not.
In just 24 hours, with 40 mile per hour winds and 10% humidity, the fire started north of Slide Rock and raced through the entire canyon. What had been a lush, green oasis in the desert, visited by something like 4 million people a year, is now a blackened crater.
I should be grateful. Thus far no structures have been damaged or people hurt. Part of the canyon, the lower part, they say is still at present intact, untouched by the fire.
Yet I mourn what has passed from my life and never will return.
I can never again experience the healing green, the murmur of the creek, the perspective from the top that said, “It will be OK. This, too, shall pass.”
For it has passed, and this will never be OK.
This past Sunday I took an early morning hike looping around Courthouse Butte.
Do you know why it is a butte and not a mesa? Because it is taller than it is wide. Here is another, Capitol Butte, shaped roughly like our nation’s capitol:
Here in Sedona, we like to name rocks. This is muffin top:
And of course, what else could this be but rabbit ears:
The wind was blowing, so the birds were keeping low, hidden in the bushes. They don’t like wind, for when everything moves, they can’t see predators. But a Western scrub jay was out. They signal intruders like me with a harsh caw like a crow:
A gray vireo was also out. Their song is a series of chu-weets, lyrical and sweet:
It’s easy to stay on the trail, for the forest service has constructed these ingenious cairns made out of red rock in wire cages. (That’s half of Twin Buttes in the background).
The strawberry hedgehog has a fruit that according to my plant book taste just like strawberries!
You wouldn’t want to eat the yellow berries of this plant, though. This is the silverleaf nightshade. It is an invasive species, often found where there is overgrazing. You wouldn’t think that would be a problem here, but this area’s original name was Big Park, and there were large herds of cattle grazed here.
Here are the berries. Poisonous, but used by native peoples to tan hides and curdle milk into cheese. All sorts of uses for plants.
We’ve had a very dry year. Some say we are starting a drought cycle. For that reason, water is precious to the wild animals. Even a small bit like this will draw deer for miles:
As I rounded the bend, I caught a glimpse of our most famous rock formation, Cathedral Rock:
People who say the desert is barren haven’t been to Sedona!