The Wooded Paradise Of Oak Creek Canyon
Oak Creek Canyon, just outside Sedona, Arizona, is a spectacular and diverse riparian area and the state's second most popular canyon. Towering vermilion and cream walls rise out of a lush green canopy, creating an other-worldly beauty, with vistas in every direction.
Unlike the wondrous Grand Canyon that is the number-one attraction in Arizona, Oak Creek Canyon is intimate, accessible and enclosed. Romantic hideaways are tucked along 89A, the only road through the canyon, a winding 25-mile byway between Sedona and Flagstaff that has dazzled visitors since 1884.
Driving along, you get the impression that nature parted the canyon walls just for the view. But in truth it was the relentless effect of water on a sandstone fault that created the meandering floor of the canyon and continues to provide sustenance to wildlife, trees, bushes, shrubs and wildflowers.
In Oak Creek Canyon it is possible to completely immerse yourself in nature. Imagine waking up to the sounds of the babbling creek or perhaps to the sight of a great blue heron. Linger in a romantic cottage by the fireplace or spend the day hiking the soaring sandstone cliffs or the undulating trails by the banks of the creek, fishing for trout, picnicking, bird watching, or cooling off in the pristine spring-fed waters of Oak Creek.
At night return to enjoy a Jacuzzi or the expansive, unimpeded star-studded Arizona sky. Oak Creek Canyon is a great place to explore or do nothing at all except read, rest and soak in nature's exquisite draping. In this magical setting, time not only seems to stop but roll back. Innocence returns. You feel embraced by the towering canyon walls, the whispering junipers and pinions and the rushing waters. The mind slips back easily to those unhurried times of childhood when there was time to notice a butterfly, to dream under a tree, to wade in a creek and slide down rocks.
Oak Creek Canyon - Red Rock Scenery Along Oak CreekFor those wishing to linger in the canyon, there are a dozen lodging options from campgrounds and motels to quaint and rustic resorts. In a few locations the whirling sounds of modern living are deliberately screened out. There are no harsh intrusions; no phones or TVs. The goal is to help guests completely shift gears, slow down and just be.
In those settings, nature is close at hand, just waiting to be explored. Frequently the creek abuts the property, trails begin and end at the doorstep and hammocks, chairs, decks, books and recreational equipment beckon. At the Briar Patch Bed and Breakfast, for example, sheep roam a manicured lawn, an outdoor gazebo has been built for creekside massages and there are private swimming holes nearby.
The outside world does not have to be far away however. Many of the properties do offer modern amenities - not only phones and TVs but also Jacuzzis, kitchenettes and Internet hookups. Most of the canyon's charming hideaways are nestled into the canyon and sometimes not even visible from the road. They are perfect locations for celebrations of all kinds, from romantic weekend getaways and weddings to family reunions.
Many resorts can do double duty. At one popular canyon resort, for example, a creekside gazebo is frequently used for small weddings and a sandy beach for family fun. Some of the properties in Oak Creek Canyon were once the homesteads of Sedona's early families - the Thompsons, Purtymans and Pendleys. Others came along in the heyday of Hollywood westerns, when the Sedona area was a large natural stage set for more than 100 Hollywood westerns. Even the most economical motels have character; a nostalgic flavor reminiscent of lazy summers long ago.
No matter where you stay in Oak Creek Canyon, its attractions are just minutes away. One of the area's most beloved hikes - West Fork - seems to be the canyon's very heart, offering a creekside amble past smooth iridescent walls, summer flowers and brilliant fall colors. When autumn paints West Fork with its fiery brush, you will think you are walking through a rainbow.
On the grounds of West Fork are the burned-down remains of Mayhew Lodge where presidents and celebrities once kicked off their shoes and where Zane Grey is said to have written "The Call of the Canyon." "There was a sweet tang of cedar and sage in the air and that indefinable fragrance peculiar to the canyon country of Arizona," wrote Grey. "I never understood anything of the meaning of nature until I lived under these looming stone walls and whispering pines."
A few miles south of West Fork, in the middle of the canyon, is Slide Rock State Park with its natural water slide that fills children of all ages with glee. And in several locations throughout Oak Creek Canyon are some of the best stops for Native American jewelry, pottery and other crafts. There is Garland's Indian Jewelry, Hoel's Indian Shop and the vista at the top of the canyon, maintained by the U.S. Forest Service where in warm-weather months Native American artists and artisans bring their exquisite creations.
The Forest Service maintains an information center at the overlook, which provides a panoramic view of the upper end of Oak Creek Canyon and picnic tables and restrooms. The overlook is shaded in Ponderosa Pines, which makes it delightful in the summer and a bit cool in the fall.
If you stay in Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona's red rock country is only a few miles to the south. Sedona is studded with magical red rock formations, vortexes and expansive vistas that can be enjoyed on foot, by jeep, by trolley, or from the air.
Sedona also houses several dozen fine art galleries, one of the largest spiritual and metaphysical communities in the world, small one-of-a-kind shopping experiences and a wide range of dining options - from fast food to fine dining.
Oak Creek Canyon Apple Sign On The RoadIn the Canyon choices for meals are more limited. The Junipine Creekside Resort offers casual dining in its rustic dining room. There is a Dairy Queen and the deli at Garland's Indian Gardens, where you can pick up a picnic or enjoy a sandwich and a cup of homemade soup.
But when space allows, don't miss dinner at Garland's Oak Creek Lodge. The lodge setting is cozy, with a huge stone fireplace where guests can linger over cocktails before dinner is served. Also memorable are the creekside breakfasts at the Briar Patch Inn, where in warm weather chamber musicians seem to harmonize with the murmuring trees.
"Oak Creek Canyon is simply one of the most beautiful places in Arizona," writes Barry Burkhart in The Arizona Republic.
No one will argue with that assessment. If you don't have time to stay in the canyon, at least take the drive up or down 89A, along the canyon's rock-bordered curves and past lush vegetation, abundant wildlife and stunning views. It is worth the trip! The road cuts through seven major plant communities created by changes in elevation, temperature and precipitation. The drive will forever change your image of the West as a desert wilderness where all there is to do is tie up a horse or ride dusty, open plains.
Places to stay in Oak Creek Canyon
There are many different lodging options in the canyon - from five campgrounds to luxurious creekside cabins. Campground season is from early spring through mid-fall or the first snowfall. Manzanita Campground is open all year. For more campground information, call the Red Rock Ranger District at 928-282-4119. Prices for the canyon's housing accommodations may range from $50 to $350 per night. Some include meals. With a fairly low proportion of rooms to visitors, it pays to book up early. Some people make reservations at their favorite hideaway months in advance.
Map of Oak Creek Canyon
The US Forest Service provides information and maps here:
Additionally, check out the Google Map for more details.
Article by Sylvia Somerville.