This is the third and final post in my series on my trip to Arizona. The earlier two parts covered the Lava River Cave and Slide Rock, as well as Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon, and Page, Arizona. Chronologically this occurred between those two posts. However, I decided to save the best adventure for the end.
On the same day we went to the Lava River Cave and Slide Rock, we went to the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon. It was a few miles away from Slide Rock and just outside of Flagstaff. The park is managed by the Arizona state park service and the US Forest Service. I drove into the parking lot and paid my entrance fee just after 4 in the afternoon.
The trail was 3.0 miles one way with a 5300 foot elevation at the trailhead. The way back was backtracking the same trail. It was flat, with the elevation change being 150 feet. It was around a mile from the parking area to the trailhead.
The biggest feature of the hike was the creek itself. Going into the woods, the trail crossed the creek over a dozen times. It was normally only a few inches deep, but there were stones at all of the crossings. Here Larry is acting like Captain America and balancing on a loose branch.
On one of our first crossings I fell into the stream. I got a little wet, scratched up one leg, and got a big bump on my other leg. An area over two inches in diameter swelled up instantly. However, it was not too bad so I kept walking.
As before, Larry wanted lots of pictures. I tagged along and got in a few of the frames.
We kept hiking. Peter did most of the leading, while I was at the end most of the time.
Aside from the creek, there were lots of larger rocks. Every rock worth climbing on or getting a picture of was climbed or photographed. The most iconic rock had a flat face and was next to the trail.
I watched Larry climb it and knew I could get to the top as well. However, what concerned me was getting down. It is a bad idea to go up without having a plan to get down. After some thinking, I decided I wanted to get to the top so I pushed all my concerns aside and started climbing.
After both of us were on top, Peter decided he had to get to the top of his rock.
There were a lot of creek crossings. Since they all had stepping stones and were clearly visible this was not a problem.
We knew we reached the end because the creek went off and there was no trail to follow it.
This is one of the many pictures at the end of the creek. It seems I did not pack my smile.
The Trip Back
While Larry, Peter, and I were used to hiking (the three of us have hiked the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park), Eric and Andy were not. Andy was not in shape.
As we started the way back the sun rapidly set and it was getting dark. We were making good time. Then we lost the trail. While there was only one main trail, it was a heavily visited area and people had worn out a lot of smaller paths to the stream at different points and up to higher vantage points. After some scouting and stream crossings, we found the main trail again and were back on track.
Earlier in the day it was 80+ degrees so none of us were prepared for the temperature drop when it got dark. At one of the creek crossings Andy slipped on a rock and got wet. We dried him off as best we could, which was very little. We continued on and the trail took us to the creek as it often did. However, there was no crossing and we could not see a path on the other side. We deduced we had made a wrong turn earlier so we turned around and went back. At this point the sun had set and all of us pulled out flashlights. Luckily, we all had flashlights packed from the Lava River Cave earlier that day.
After a lot of walking there was more uncertainty. We started to think we had taken a wrong turn again. We took some tree branches and started leaving markers on the trail. Then the trail took us to the creek again, but we did not see a crossing. We surveyed the other side with flashlights but did not see a trail. We turned around.
While it was not very cold out yet, the temperature was going down and we did not have jackets or even long pants. I knew I could keep going for a while but Andy did not look well. He was winded and with his feet wet he was not handling the cold well. We ran into one of our markers so we knew we were going in a circle.
While we did not know if we were going the correct direction, we kept going. I started to think about what to do if we had to spend the night somewhere outside. There were no places that looked like good shelter. At one point the trail split. We decided to let Andy stay at the fork while Peter and I scouted one way and Larry and Eric checked the other. Peter and I found the trail crossed the stream and had a visible crossing. Larry and Eric were gone a long time. When they came back we debated about which way to go. I remembered going against the flow of the creek for the entire second half of the hike on the way in, but I did not remember if we were going with or against the creek for the first half of the hike. There was also the possibility there was a second creek that intersected the main one. We decided to take the way Larry and Eric came. As we walked Andy looked bad. There was concern Andy was going to faint and we stopped and made him drink Gatorade a few times. We walked for a while and came to a crossing that looked familiar. However, we still could not agree if we were going out of the forest or further into it. After we crossed the creek, there was more hiking until the trail forked with one side following the creek and the other going further into the woods. The sun had set a couple of hours earlier and all of the rocks and trees looked the same.
Larry remembered this fork from the hike up because I had suggested we follow the stream while Peter suggested we go further into the woods. Larry also remembered we took Peter's suggestion. However, Larry and Peter decided to scout one of the trails before we made a decision. I sat with Eric and an exhausted Andy while they went forward. They walked a long way and almost gave up, but one of them said to keep going for a few more feet. They came to a rock. It was the big rock with a smooth face that Larry, Peter, and I had climbed on the hike up.
They knew we were going the wrong way, but they were excited to find a sure point of reference. When they came back, they told us and we started backtracking. My flashlight started to die on me. Luckily, I had an extra light in my bag from the hike in the lava river cave earlier that day. The very first crossing we came to Andy slipped and face-planted into the water. He was soaked. This made us go as fast as we thought Andy could handle, as if the dropping temperature and desire for food was not enough to keep us going.
We hurried and made good time. It seemed the fall had given Andy a second wind. We found a marker we had left earlier so we knew we were on the right path. Larry kept saying he thought the next creek crossing was the one where I fell. After an hour we finally recognized the starting stage of our hike. We kept going and the trail became a sidewalk that took us to the parking lot.
At the end I was never happier to see my car. We pulled out some dry clothes for Andy and I started the heater. Then I went and looked at the entrance to the parking lot. The gate had been closed and locked shut. It was the only way for a car to get in or out. The signs said the park closed at dusk. Even though my car was parked right next to the gate they decided to lock us in. Larry and Peter tried to make phone calls, but as soon as they were connected and started talking to a person it cut out. Next they went to a nearby house and knocked on the door. There was no answer. They tried the phones again and eventually got through to the county sheriff. Peter told them where we were and they told us to wait. Almost an hour later the sheriff came and unlocked the gate so we could leave. As I drove out the time was just past midnight. We had been in the park for nearly 8 hours.
Since it was dark for most of the hike back, we did not take any pictures. However, this one says it all. The trees and rocks around us looked the same, it was dark, we had no idea where we were, and everything was a blur. Larry's reaction speaks for our collective mood.
Eric's album Beware the ~Call of the Canyon~ ! has more pictures. His album description summarizes the trip, "Did you know that there is a Blair Witch 3? How do I know? We lived it!"
This brings new meaning to the phrase Lost in the Woods.