Where Even The Sheep Have it Made - Reflections by Sedona Author Jim Bishop

Contributed by Gateway To Sedona on . Posted in Sedona Feature Stories

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Anyone who uses their ability to see beauty never grows old. — Franz Kafka

There, you can feel yourself alone amidst others, leave it like it is. — Author Lisa Schnebly Heidinger

Near the banks of fabled Oak Creek, not far from busy uptown Sedona, Arizona, and not far off the highway by car or by foot, one faces a deluge of beauty that at once arouses the senses and surprises anyone who has been deprived of beauty for far too long. When one starts to wander in this unexpected place what is in store are some attractive wooden structures, sheep quietly grazing, and the sound of mountain water crashing over old rocks. But that is not all. Next, there is the odor in the air of fresh-baked muffins, the chatter of birds playing in and around the creek, and the delight of seeing flaming colored flowers seemingly everywhere. At that point, one might decide to stop and to stare at a giant, heroic sycamore tree whose beautiful spring and summer plumage is slowly but steadily departing, leaving it all in nakedness. "Can it ever adjust to its loss of beauty," a tall, striking looking woman appears. She is studying the tree, and pauses for beauty and utters aloud, "It has and it will be beautiful again."

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Meet Joann Olson, renowned owner and creator of the Briar Patch Inn since 1983. Together with her now late husband Ike, she fell in love with the land by the historic creek. "In many ways," she tells visitors. "How can I express the sense of calm that flows into my soul as I watch one more day announcing its arrival into this wild, yet soothing and mystical canyon? It is the perfect setting for a magical oasis being at the base of surrounding red rock formations and the spring waters of Oak Creek." At her side throughout, is her son, Rob.

Where the Briar Patch Inn is today, Charles J. Thompson homesteaded the place in 1920 and lived and farmed there until they sold a portion to the Etter family in 1940. The first cabin was built in 1947 to lodge the Hollywood movie crews, there not being much lodging in small town Sedona back then.

Click an image to view slideshow.

What guests marvel at these days is that those new owners built many retaining walls of river rock along the creek, and created terraces on a steel slope which ran from the creek to the main highway, now SR 89A. What is now called the Lodge was then the barn for their milk cows. What these days are a wild patch of ivy coming down from that highway was a small two-structure, which housed goats. In time, the Etters sold, and the new owners made the barn into a private residence, and created the first overnight rentals in small buildings that had been used to store apples, and clean fish from the creek—wondrous rainbows. These new owners called it Briar Patch Resort. When the Olsons had purchased it in 1983, leaving a ranch behind on the Verde River and a life behind in Scottsdale, they called it the Briar Patch Inn. As it has grown and developed over the years, its maxim becoming, "The Way Life Should Be."

Nowadays, a visitor is welcomed to a quiet blending of 9 acres, 19 cozy cottages, timeless oaks, dappled sunlight, squirrels, pet sheep, legendary breakfasts—and surprisingly different amenities from those of other B and Bs and resorts: no TV or telephone in the cottages, MIFI at the Lodge, but all sorts of amenities including puzzles and games by the stone fireplace or outside in tables above the creek in warm times. Recalls Ms. Olson: "I've heard guests say they had good old fashioned fun playing scrabble together. It was the best night, and they say, ‘thank you for not changing anything.'"

While not as wild as it once was when the first pioneers settled in Oak Creek Canyon, in the 19th century, when wolves, jaguars and bears, and Indians were still in evidence, nature is still in charge in and around Briar Patch Inn. Fish are jumping, hawks and eagles fly in the sky above, and javelinas, and small and not so small wild rodents, roam often at night. Truth be known, many guests have never been as close to nature, one touch of which penned Shakespeare "makes the whole world kin."

As for the variety of guests on any given day, there might be six different languages spoken at one time. Happily, many shared their experiences as guests. "I found me," stated Californian Charley Desjardin. As for Bambi from Chicago, "this is my dream in real form." For Michelle Montag from New Jersey, "It feels like my heart is at home at the Patch." Wrote a visitor from France: "This is a little, wonderful paradise, where the river is maestro, nature the musician, and together they play a peaceful harmony."

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Indeed, sometimes nature can be too much evidence. Time was that there were some guests from Japan. One morning a woman came running into the main lodge, calling out "sake, sake." Well, two staff handy men heard the fuss and rushed to the scene and captured a rattlesnake in no time at all. After that, her husband asked whether many rattlers live in and around Briar Patch. The reply was perhaps one or two a year. Comforted by the news, the couple began to walk around on the grounds as if there were no more threats from dangerous snakes. The next morn, the Japanese woman again running into the lodge yelling "sake...sake." To put them and future guests at ease, Joann Olson made it known that "rattlesnakes are rare and more afraid of us than we are of them."

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Speaking of guests, they depart speaking about the powerful sense of history at the Briar Patch, and often make reservations for years ahead. It is not usual for a couple to marry there, bring their children later, and down the line, welcome their children, too.

Joann notes that many of the guests, especially the overseas variety, are "interested in our Native American art and crafts shown throughout the cabins and lodge." Native American art, crafts throughout the cabins and lodge is evidence of the owner's interest and love of the Native Americans of the Southwest, especially the Navajo and Hopi Indians of Arizona, beginning in the early 1960s, as their family traveled throughout the reservations, meeting and acquiring "their treasures."

From time to time, Olson feels like a pioneer in such an exceptional place but then she stops herself and remembers that Indians farmed her land for countless years and the first white settlers, the Thompsons, first built a homestead nearby years and years ago. "No," she told me recently, "we who came through in the 1900s were not pioneers, we were a modernized version of adventurers perhaps looking for a relationship with nature, and a feeling of awe toward this special place which is somewhat protected from the ravishes and growth of population."

JoAnn Olson, Rob Olson, owners of Briar Patch Inn, Sedona.Rob Olson, JoAnn Olson, owners/innkeepers at Briar Patch Inn.

About Oak Creek Canyon

Fifty years ago, the amazing Zane Grey wrote of the "beauty and grandeur... but wild, savage, violent! Not livable. This insulated rift in the crust of the Earth was a gigantic burrow for beasts, perhaps for outlaw men­­—not for a civilized person."

Not even close, Mr. Grey.

Decades later, people are roaring up and down the highway hard by The Briar Patch, and rapid change is one constant condition from Flagstaff and down the Canyon to The Verde Valley. Old time ranches are becoming upscale developments, boutiques are replacing cowboy bars, and jeep drivers are replacing cowboys for more sophisticated, urbanites. The Briar Patch Inn, meanwhile, not only has lost none of its romantic, peaceful, and life-changing qualities and has gained more cabins, lush, creative landscaping, and a worldwide reputation.

Exclaims Sedona's meditation mogul, Sara McLean, "I've been around the world, and can't find another place like it, and I have looked. It is a different world there, more magical even than the red rocks, way beyond anything that money can buy."

Winding Path at Briar Patch Inn, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona.

Although the great Western author and poet, John Muir, had never been in Oak Creek Canyon, as far as any one knows, his poetic prose about beauty captures the essence of The Briar Patch Inn: "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike."


Learn More About Oak Creek Canyon here on Gateway To Sedona, and visit Briar Patch Inn online.

Article written by Jim Bishop.

Jim Bishop, Sedona Arizona author and conservationist.


“My object in living is to unite my avocation and my vocation”
—Robert Frost from “Two Tramps in Mudtime”

James Bishop, Jr., a twenty-five year resident of Greater Sedona, is an author, free lance writer, editor and creative writing instructor who is also committed to grass roots organizing, arts advocacy and environmental sanity. Since leaving the nation’s capital for the West two decades ago, he has served as a consultant to government agencies and non-profit organizations ranging from The RAND Corporation to the Grand Canyon Trust, The Aspen Institute at Wye Plantation to American Rivers and the Coconino National Forest, Sedona Ranger District and the Sedona Creative Life Center. His writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines from Seattle to Denver, Prescott, Arizona to Washington D.C. His book, “Epitaph for a Desert Anarchist – The Life and Legacy of Edward Abbey” is now in paperback.

Before moving west from D.C. and New York City in the early ’80s, Bishop was a senior member of the White House Energy Policy and Planning staff responsible in 1977 for creating the nation’s first comprehensive energy plan focused on the nation’s renewable energy potential. A year later, he became Director of Communications for the Federal Energy Administration, Chief Spokesman for Energy Secretary James Rodney Schlesinger and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental and Institutional Relations. In 1980, Bishop received the Secretary’s Medal for Outstanding Service that included an innovative energy conservation education program.

Nowadays, Bishop, the descendant of Nantucket whalers and the Delaware Indian Nation and the son and grandson of distinguished artists, is far from retirement in Sedona... (READ MORE)

For more about Jim Bishop, visit him online at www.NewTerritoryArts.com


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