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Pine Flat Car Camping
May 25-28, 2018
by Lin Chao Yen

Pine Flat is one of my favorite campgrounds—green trees with plenty of shade, the soothing sounds of the creek, the huge size of each lot, the birds singing in the morning, the golden light reflecting from the cliffs at sunrise and sunset, the stinking smell of skunks (yes, we smelled them every time we camped there), the cool breeze that danced past the tents. All of them made Pine Flats the most relaxing, calm place to stay for the summer. One hiking club, one RV, 10 sites, 12 cars, 16 tents, and 25 people will call this place home for the next three nights and four days.

Friday, May 25

Today is our first day of our three night and four day car camping trip. Some of us left earlier to try to beat the traffic, some of us had to work and tried to leave as early as possible. The drive to the Pine Flats Campground is easy, just take I-17, turn to SR 179, and merge into 89A north.

When we got to the Campground around 2 pm, there were many early birds who had already set up their tents, and were drinking the cool beer and enjoying the cool pine smell in the early afternoon.

As per usual, we used Rudy’s site as our get-together site. Without any announcement, we all picked up our chairs and settled in Rudy’s site after dinner and started our nightly gathering. The evening was very pleasurable, with John S playing guitar, Jade and Vanessa joining in to sing the songs, and the rest of us just cruising through the songs with few words we knew. A very relaxing night.

Oak Creek
This is John S and Jim’s campsite. Nice pants, John!
John and Ann are just settling in and preparing dinner.
Do you want me to show you how to eat Watermelon?
Quick dinner: Sura, Pierre, Jade, Carl (and Lin) enjoying Fried Wontons and Salad.
Fried Wontons and Salad
Can we play the guitar now? Deidre, John S, and Jim
Chuck, Rudy, Barry, Joe, Mohammed’s brother Mohammed (Darrell),
and Darrell’s brother Darrell (Mohammed) are ready for the party.
June, Robert, Deirdre, and John S.
Pierre, Sura, Jade, June, and Robert are ready for the party.
Three happy campers.
Yanis is preparing for tomorrow, Cyd is directing, Carl is drinking.
Finally the guitar is playing.  Vanessa and Jade are singing.
The most economic and environment-friendly campfire ever.
Yes, I am wearing all purple. No, I do not want to talk about it at this time. [Jade]
Thanks for the fire, and thanks for the light.
Saturday, May 26

We scheduled one hike today—the Inner Basin hike. However, due to the closure of San Francisco Peaks area, we had to switch to Plan B: One group will do the "C" hike on the West Fork Trail; the other group will do the "B" hike on the Kendrick Peak Trail.

Chuck will lead the West Fork Trail hike, and I will lead the Kendrick Peak hike. There are six of us accepting the challenge of the Kendrick hike: Quy, Deidre, Jim, Darrel, Mohammed, and Lin.

Kendrick Peak is one of the highest peaks in the San Francisco volcanic field north of the city of Flagstaff. Kendrick Peak rises to a height of 10,425 feet (3,178 m), which makes it the 11th in Arizona. There are three maintained trails to the summit of Kendrick Peak - Kendrick Mountain Trail, Pumpkin Trail and Bull Basin Trail.

We left the campground at 7:30 AM to try to beat the crowd, since there were only a few trails left to hike for this long weekend in this area. We got there before 8:45 AM. There were quite few cars already at the trailhead. We wasted no time in starting hike before 9:00 AM. After a quick group picture, we were on our way for the 3000 feet elevation gain journey. This was not a tough hike. The trails itself was much wooded, soft with lots of pinecones. You did not need to scramble over the boulders, jump across rocks, but there were many really long switchbacks. Beginning of the trail was an old logging road. It was easy but not for long. It started going up, and up. For some of of the hikers it was sweet hike, such as Mohammed, He just ran all the way to the top.

However, for some of us, it was a tough hike because the high elevation. We started at 7700 feet, ended at the summit at 10,339 feet. It was only 5 mile miles one way, but it sure felt that was more than 20 miles. My head getting little lighter. I could felt my heart pumping faster, my legs getting heavier. Luckily, the views were very enjoyable.

When we arrived at the saddle, there was old lookout cabin in the open flat area. The cabin was built around 1911-1912 and was the lodging for the fire lookout stationed atop Kendrick Mountain. Last time when I was here the cabin door was unlocked, we can see a spring bed, a spring bunk bed, some camping supplies. Today the cabin was locked, the structure still standing.

While Mohammed was taking his second naps. Some of us continued to the summit to visit the fire lookout. We were very hungry and eating snack or quick lunch at the cabin.

Visiting the fire lookout is always fun. Every time you would see a different volunteer who work there. Most of time they were very happy to talk to you. It was a very lonely world out there. Today Michael Jordan was on duty. Yes, the one and only Michael Jordan. He was Tall, handsome, rich and cute—NOT.

OK, the volunteer’s name was Michael Jordan. He was recently retired and this was his very first time up there. And he told us his girlfriend was planning to visit him there soon. While Quy, Jim and I were there, Jim gave him a one-of-a-kind Arizona Trailblazer Hiking Club keychain.

After we left the fire lookout, we were all together at the front of the cabin to take one more group picture before hiking back to trailhead. Yes we did wake up Mohammed to be part of group picture. Going down from saddle and back to trailhead was easy. It was down, down, down all the way.

I hiked the Kendrick Peak trail a few years ago. It was very beautiful trail. Wildflowers were everywhere, the vegetation was very green, and the view was breathtaking. Today the trail is still beautiful, but the scars of a wildfire were visible. We only saw a few wildflowers. They need rain and lots of snow.

Map of Kendrick Peak at the trailhead.
Lin, Deidre, Darrel, Mohammed, Jim, Quy [photo by Quy]
A view from the trail.
Happy to see a wildflower.
Just few more steps before entering the tower.
Scars of wild fire—a lonely burned tree
Humphrey’s Peak in the distance.
The fire lookout tower.
Victory sign for Quy.
Time to say “bye” to Michael Jordan.
San Francisco Peaks from inside the tower.
Very dry out there.  We need rain, lots of it.
Hikers are take a break on top of the helipad.
The view from the Fire Tower is awesome.
There are many burned trees.
The old lookout Cabin.
One more group picture before resting—Jim, Quy, Lin, Darrell, Mohammed, Deidre [photo by Quy]
Coming back to the trailhead is easy.
Still a long way back to the trailhead.
The fire tower at the top of Kendrick Peak
It’s so green here.
Our best view of the San Francisco Peaks.
Hope next time we visit, it will be much greener.

Tonight is potluck night, and it is one of a kind and always one of the highlights of the camping trip. The food was very delicious as usual, and we had lots of leftovers for tomorrow. I am so hungry after hard hike, I want to eat now. If you want to know what kind of food do we have, just take look at the pictures.

A short side story: The famous John S steak is missing this year. It is mystery we need to solve. If you want to know the details, please contact John S. By the way, John, we do enjoy your healthy dried fruits. Thanks!

June is smiling: she found her plate.
Wine or Watermelon—tough choice.
The strawberries look so sweet.
Healthy food for healthy people.
Chicken, Beef, and Pork.  We like them all!
June: Ann, I cooked this, do you want some?
Sorry—No Talking while we eat.
Rudy is finally relaxing.
Seconds all around for the hungry people.
June Robert
New members: June and Robert.
John Dottie
Old members: John R and Dottie.
Not really members.  We invited the campground hosts.
Do you want some dessert?  Ohhhh, Let me think.
Sunday, May 27
Today we are hiking the Hangover Trail. Jade Yen is writing the trip report:

The hike started, as hikes are wont to do, with an awakening that was far too early and far too cold to be anything less than awful. You know. The fun stuff.

But (and I can say this with almost absolute confidence) you are not hear me gripe for ages about early wake-ups and my severe dislike of cold mornings. So. The Hangover Trail:

Twelve Arizona Trailblazers set out from the campsite early in the morning with one goal in mind: to conquer the trails. The air was cold and brisk as we gathered at the trailhead and prepared for the 8.94 mile hike we were about to undertake.

The hike consisted of three trails smushed together into one giant trail Frankenstein (confusing and hard to keep track of what part is what, but hey, at least it’s a loop). The first section of the hike was a portion of the Munds Wagon Trail that took us alongside the Schnebly Hill Road until the junction that signalled our entrance into the loop section of our hike, and provided wonderful glimpses into the natural environment and wildlife.

After three miles, the Munds Wagon Trail intersected the Cow Pies Trail, that led onto gorgeous slickrock and views of the entire area. The Cow Pies Trail went for 0.6 miles before joining up with the Hangover Trail, which had as many interesting rock formations as it had ups and downs. The hike ended with a return to the Munds Wagon Trail for the final (if my math is right) 1.6 mile sludge back to the parking lot and the promise of cold water and leftover potluck food.

•   There were tadpoles! Near the beginning of the hike (I don’t know where, please do not ask me), Rudy discovered a small watering hole that existed solely because of the rain. And in this pond were tadpoles. Also these weird crabs with, like, Pebble Tec shells? Whatever. Point being, tadpoles!
The cheese rock. Yeah. Exactly what it says. There were a bunch of (probably soft and not volcanic rocks) that, due to rain, had a bunch of holes in them. Like cheese. Swiss cheese rocks.
A balanced rock. Like. Super balanced, one very tiny tip touching the ground and that’s all kinda thing. It was super cool.
Two Peas in a pod.
Rudy Jade
Tadpoles, Rudy, and Jade.
Cheese Rock
Cheese Rock
Super Balanced Rock!
Jade, what are you doing?  The trail is that way.
Truly a fashion icon.
Up and Up.
A discussion in front of Battleship Rock (affectionately dubbed the U.S.S. Uh-oh).
Back: Chuck, Carl, Gary, Rudy, Robert, June.
Front: Mohammed, Jade, Ann, John B, Dottie
Smile, Everyone!
Down and down.
Marching (Alternatively: Abbey Road, hiking style).
Keep going, down and down.
Who runs the world? Girls.  June, Dottie, and Jade
Chuck, what is that?
Mohammed, June, Jade, Lin, Carl, Robert, Gary, Rudy, Chuck, Ann, John B, Dottie
The Hangover Trail.
Century Plant

Hiking is an activity for discovering things, and this hike was no different. Crabs! Tadpoles! Century plants! New friendships! Old friendships! The last ham sandwich after a long trek up! My common sense! (Just kidding. I still have no idea where that one went.)

The Hangover Trail provided wonderful views and even better companionship and will (hopefully) go down in Arizona Trailblazer history as a trail to remember!

While the 12 of us were hiking on the Hangover trail, some Arizona Trailblazer tourists were enjoying themselves in Sedona. Thank you for your support of the local businesses.

Jeep streetcar
cars street
statue restaurant
Monday, May 28

It is the last day of our trip, we should pack and leave early. But the weather was so beautiful, we decided that we would do one more hike before noon.

Originally we scheduled the Vultee Arch hike. Last night, however, Quy told me that the trail was not well maintained and that we would have to park along the 89A road. So we decided we would take Mark’s suggestions and hike the Soldier’s Trail at Fort Tuthill Park. What a wise decision!

Fort Tuthill County Park is 13 miles north of our campground, the drive was very scenic, and when we got in the park, there were not many people there. We parked behind the FLGX building, knowing we can use their restroom (another smart choice). Since none of us hiked this trail before, we had to stop and ask a few people before we found our trailhead. It is a very relaxing, quiet, and pretty trail. We did 5.34 Miles in less than 3 hours.

After the hike, we went back to our campground and wasted no time in packing our tent and all our belongings, trying to get out before 1 PM. We did it. We left at noon. The last people to leave the campground were Yanis and Vanessa, then John and Ann (who decided to stay an extra night).

It was a very peaceful and relaxing weekend. Thanks to everyone for all your help and support. Cannot wait to go camping with you again in the near future.

Group picture at FLGX sign: Joe, Chuck, Jim, Barry, John S, Rudy, John B, Ann and Carl
Green trees and blue sky.
Blue sky and white puffy clouds.
Joe Barry
Joe and Barry are enjoying their time on the trails.
It is a beautiful day, and everyone is just enjoying the cool morning.
We saw more bikers than hikers on this trail.
Some kind of obstacles course?
We saw our cars, yes!
Fort Tuthill County Park
Time to pack the tent, chairs, tables and go home.
Green tent at a green campground.
The party is over.  Time to pack and go home.

Thanks to everyone for joining me for the long weekend, welcoming our new members June, Robert and John B (yes, we add one more John. We need a system to separate them, such as John 1, John 2). It was a relaxing and fun trip. We did four trails within three days. The weather was almost perfect, the scenery was beautiful, the air was clean, the sky was blue, the food was yummy (always), the song of birds every morning was music in the air, and the night was a bit cold. The time we spent together is priceless. An awesome weekend!

•   Thanks to Jim, John S, Rudy, Carl, Chuck, Darrell, Carol Lin, Joe, Gary, Yanis, and John R for making reservations for the sites (6 months ago) .
Thanks Jim for taking care of the attendance for me.
Thanks to everyone for bring your favorite food and dessert to share. Personal thanks to Connie—your Pulled Pork is delicious.
Thanks to all the potluck helpers (June, Dottie, Ann, Sura, Jade). The food was so much better because of you.
Thanks, John S, Vanessa, and Jade, for your calm songs with your guitar.
Thanks, Chuck, for helping me lead the West Fork hike.
Thanks, Mark P, for your help and suggestion. We hiked at Fort Tuthill County Park at the Soldier’s Trail. It was very quiet and relaxing trail.
Thanks to all the safe drivers, knowing you will bring everyone safely to the campsite and the trailheads and home on this busy long weekend. I am so grateful.
Thanks to all for your patience, your understanding, and your flexibility with me due to last minutes changes to our hiking plans.
Thanks for all your input and suggestions to decide which trails we were going to hike, especially Quy and Deirdre.
Thanks to the Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club. Because of you, we were able to meet so many outdoor lovers, and share our joy and talent in this beautiful state of Arizona.
Thanks to Carl, Chuck, Gary, John R, John S, Quy, Joe, and Mohammed for your awesome pictures.
Thanks to Jade and Chuck for writing the Hangover and West Fork trip report. You’re the best.
See you soon and keep hiking!

→   More Pictures, by Quy Nguyen
→   More Pictures, by John Richa
→   More Pictures, by John Scruggs
→   More Pictures, by Carl Lunde
Supplemental Report
by Chuck Parsons
West Fork Trail
  GPS Map 

On Saturday, May 26, the first full day of our Oak Creek Canyon car-camping trip, we split into two groups. Lin is leading a contingent of 7 hikers to the top of Kendrick Peak. I’m leading a group of 15 hapless hikers, more interested in a less strenuous adventure, to an unknown destiny on the West Fork Trail. The West Fork is one of several smaller creeks that drain into Oak Creek. The West Fork Trail is probably the most popular trail in the entire Sedona area and always draws a big crowd on the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

15 eager Arizona Trailblazers gather at the West Fork Trailhead sign. [photo by Carl]
Front:  Rob, June, Chuck, Carl, Cyd, Gary, Joe, John S., Rudy, Sura, Pierre
Back: Ann, John B., Barry, Jade

So for that reason, 15 Arizona Trailblazers pile into four vehicles at the Pine Flat Campground at 7:30 AM on Saturday morning and drive the short distance down Highway 89A to Call of the Canyon, the trailhead parking area for the West Fork Trail, and come to a screeching halt in the back of a long line of about 20 other vehicles already waiting on both sides of the entrance to get in. Apparently a lot of other folks are thinking the same thing we are. As we sit in line, waiting for the 8:00 AM opening time, the cars continue to pile up along the roadside behind us.

We did this same car-camping trip and same hike last year over the Memorial Day Weekend and didn’t see nearly as much traffic—both getting into the parking lot and on the trail itself. Then it suddenly dawns on me that we did this hike last year on Monday, Memorial Day, which was the last day of our trip just as it is on this year’s trip.

So note to Lin or anyone else doing this trip next time: make sure you schedule the West Fork Trail hike on Memorial Day itself and not on the preceding Saturday or Sunday. It seems that most people are more interested in getting a head start on the traffic and heading for home on Memorial Day than they are in hiking. Which is a good thing for those of us who choose to hike the West Fork on Memorial Day.

The West Fork Trail is accessed from the Call of the Canyon parking area. [photo by Carl]

By the time we finally go through the entrance station and pay the $10/vehicle fee, find four parking spaces, hit the restrooms once more, and get a group picture at the large trailhead sign, it’s almost 8:30 and time to start hiking.

Arizona Trailblazers start moving out on the West Fork Trail. [photo by Carl]
The first of 13 creek crossings along the trail. [photo by Chuck]
This creek crossing is still in deep shade. [photo by Carl]

The old expression “It’s not the destination that matters nearly so much as the journey that takes us there.” is certainly an accurate and fitting tribute to the West Fork Trail. Of all the many lush riparian areas sprinkled across Arizona’s high country, many hikers will agree that the West Fork Trail stands alone at the very top of the list.

The lush riparian habitat at yet-another creek crossing. [photo by John]
Water is the life-blood of West Fork Canyon. [photo by Chuck]

West Fork Creek flows year-round through a lush and richly varied riparian habitat, ranging from agaves and cactus, to waist-high bracken ferns and ancient horsetails, to pine, juniper, and hackberry, then sycamore, cottonwood, mountain ash, and bigtooth maple, and finally towering ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, as we move farther up the canyon and the high canyon walls slowly begin to close in and then recede into infinity. Soaring cliffs of salmon and cream-colored Coconino sandstone, interspersed with towering pinnacles, columns, and bluffs of solid rock, seem to reach out and almost caress the cobalt blue skies hanging suspended over the canyon. This is both a hiker’s and a photographer’s paradise, unlike any other in Arizona.

A short distance from the trailhead, we come across an old fireplace and a few crumbling walls, all that remains from the old Mayhew Lodge. This was the site of the original Carl Mayhew cabin, where famed Western adventure writer Zane Grey penned the words to his novel, Call of the Canyon, in the 1920s. The cabin site would later expand into a grand hunting and fishing lodge, attracting many well-known celebrities to the area over the years. Purchased by the U.S. Forest Service in 1969 as a National Historic Site, the lodge burned to the ground in 1980, leaving behind only scattered skeletal remains, including this fireplace and a few crumbling brick walls. An ancient and long-neglected apple orchard nearby defies both time and progress and continues to provide small apples to passing hikers and visitors alike, especially the four-legged type. Deer consider apples a highly-prized treat they don’t normally find in nature.

Soaring cliffs of sandstone overlook
West Fork Canyon. [photo by Carl]
Rudy soaks in the scenery along the trail.
[photo by Carl]

Shortly after crossing the foot bridge and passing the remains of the old lodge, we make our first crossing over the creek that lends this canyon its name. The West Fork Trail traverses the West Fork of Oak Creek a total of 13 times along its three-mile passage, and each crossing seems to be more spectacular than the last. When the water surface is calm and perfectly still, the resulting reflections from the surrounding canyon walls and trees can transform an ordinary scene into an extraordinary scene. And extraordinary scenes are almost the norm on this hike.

Be careful up there, Jade!
[photo by Carl]
Jade is totally fearless.
[photo by Carl]
Don’t think I’ll jump after all.
[photo by Carl]

For first-time hikers, visitors, and photographers, the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon can be a bit intimidating and almost overwhelming at times, saturating the senses with an astonishing array of some of the most spectacular and breathtaking scenery to be found anywhere in Arizona. And as we all know, Arizona certainly has no shortage of spectacular and breathtaking scenery. Nature’s handiwork and palette of colors knows no boundaries and accepts no limits in this scenic and extraordinary canyon of the Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Do I see a face in the top center section
of this picture? [photo by John S]
The creek’s mirror-like surface captures reflections
of the canyon in this scene. [photo by Chuck]

As we make several additional creek crossings and penetrate deeper into the canyon, we come across occasional large tangled piles of debris up to 8 feet high, consisting of branches and tree limbs, entire logs, tree stumps, and various trash all mixed together with boulders and rocks of varying sizes. Then we start to see the first of several massive rock shelves overhanging the creek bed, creating an almost tunnel-like effect in some places. These so-called “wave caves” do look a bit like a huge ocean wave, caught and frozen in time as stone.

Flowers growing among the ferns result in an interesting combination. [photo by John S]
Golden Columbine are abundant along short stretches of the creek. [photo by John S]

Although numerous advancing and retreating seas over millions of years did deposit the multiple sandstone layers that make up Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, this is actually even more evidence of the periodic massive flash floods that have ripped their way through these narrow canyons over eons of time, as they undercut and erode the soft sandstone underbellies of the canyon walls.

From this point on, hikers must resort to
wading through water. [photo by Carl]
End of the line and the turnaround
point for most hikers. [photo by Carl]

On a couple of previous hikes through this canyon we’ve heard the loud buzz of chain saws periodically breaking the silence and tranquility of the canyon, as crews are hard at work clearing the trail for hikers.

Stopping to talk with a Forest Service crew clearing away fallen timber across the trail, I asked a few questions. They paused in their work just long enough to tell us about the earlier heavy spring runoff or the torrential up-stream summer monsoon rains, both resulting in massive flash floods that swept through the canyon at an estimated depth of between ten and fifteen feet, ripping out trees up to two feet in diameter and effortlessly sweeping them and large boulders along the way downstream like so many small sticks and pebbles.

Although very hard to imagine on this sunny, peaceful day, as we walk through a creek bed only inches deep in most places, spring and mid-summer flash floods are the most dangerous aspect of hiking in these narrow canyons.

What in the world are these Trailblazers looking at? [photo by Carl]
Praying for Rain. [photo by Carl]
Jade, Master Grass-Honker.
[photo by Carl]
Jade John
John S. learns the fine art of grass-honking
from the master. [photo by Carl]
Cyd, Jade, and John S. make up the Arizona Trailblazers Grass-Honking Trio. [photo by Carl]

Since water cannot compress, flood waters confined to restricted spaces like narrow canyons can go nowhere but straight up. This tranquil and shallow stream can quickly transform in a matter of minutes into a raging torrent of muddy, debris-choked water up to ten or twenty feet deep, as it smashes its way through the canyon without mercy or remorse, obliterating almost everything in its path. If you look closely enough, you can occasionally see small tight clumps of dried grass, weeds, and twigs all matted together and lodged in branches 15 feet or more above the trail. You definitely don’t want to be caught in this canyon during those times. So hikers beware and be prepared at all times.

At several points along the last mile or so of the West Fork Trail, many hikers are deceived into believing they’re about to hit a dead-end box canyon with no way out but straight up or turning back for the trailhead, only to find that the trail does actually continue on for almost another mile.

After three miles of steady hiking, we round one last bend in the trail and the West Fork Trail comes to an abrupt end, literally dissolving into the creek bed. From here on, hikers must resort to wading and even swimming through some of the deeper pools to proceed any farther. The waters of the West Fork are now forced to flow within the narrow confines of Upper West Fork Canyon, which continues on for another ten miles from here.

This spot marks the turn-around point for the vast majority of hikers and is a great place to stop, admire the views, and enjoy lunch among the boulders and trees at water’s edge. And that is precisely our plan for today, as we stake out a place to sit down and enjoy a well-deserved lunch break before returning on the same trail.

Trailblazers jockey into position for the final group picture of the day. [photo by Carl]
15 smiling Arizona Trailblazers gather for one last picture at trail’s end. [photo by Carl]

Although the trailhead sign indicates a total of 6.6 miles round-trip to this point, at least two different GPS devices show a total of 8.8 miles round-trip. Since we usually go with the average mileage readings of at least two GPS devices for the purpose of tracking and recording individual mileage credits for our hikers, we’re going to show the official mileage for the West Fork Trail as 8.8 miles round-trip today.


→   Three short videos, by John Scruggs
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updated June 21, 2018