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West Fork, Oak Creek Canyon
October 25, 2020
by Lin Chao
  Trail Map 
Trailblazers in the west fork of Oak Creek Canyon. [photo by Kin]
front:  Kevin, Tom, Chris, Carolyn, Debbie, Carl, Erika
back: Heather, Li, Tamar, Lin, Michael

If I say West Fork, what does that mean to you? Beautiful, fun trail, family trail, cool creek, fall colors, red canyon, wildflowers, cold, colorful boulders. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then you need to read this report or go hike one of the most popular hiking trails in Arizona.

On October 25, 2020, 12 of us got up very early in the morning and left at a variety of times, trying to be at the trailhead by 8 AM, before the gate opens.

Li, Tom, Carl and I met at East Valley at Bosa Donuts at 5:10 AM, drove directly to the trailhead, by my Map app I should be there at 7:45 AM. Sounds very promising. We will be there before the gate opens and get our parking spot ... NOT.

I was very surprised before we arrived the trailhead. There was a big sign, “Do not make a left turn”. No Left turn? We need to make left turn to go into the parking lot. Sure enough, they blocked the entrance with orange cones. It was only 7:45 AM, and the parking lot was full. Wow! Now what? We must park on the side of the road, on AZ 89A.

“Help me. Keep your eyes open. We need to find a parking spot,” the driver said.

“OK, we will,” Li, Tom and Carl replied.

For the next few minutes, we drove slowly on AZ89A, trying to find a parking spot. While we opened our eyes to search a parking, we saw Michael and Heather walking on the side of 89A toward to the trailhead. This is good sign! It means they already found a parking. We kept driving, about ¾ miles from the trailhead we found a parking spot on the right. There was not very much room, and the road was uneven. But we didn’t care. We were just happy we got a parking spot. It took about 20 minutes to walk from our parking to the trailhead.

The minute we walked into the gate, we saw our hikers. They were all waiting by the picnic table on the right. Almost everyone was there. While we were waiting for Erika, we were all excited telling each other the parking stories. Some of them were here at 7:20 AM.

By the way—when I saw Carolyn was in the waiting group, I was surprised and embarrassed. Somehow I did not include her on my last two emails. How can I miss her name on my list? She must be invisible. Sorry, Carolyn. I am so happy you were here!

After quick group pictures, we were ready to hit the trail. The air was cold, about 50° F. But most of us were prepared, wearing jackets or a winter vest and jacket. Some of us wore gloves. Yes, it was only 50° F, but if you live in Arizona, enduring 150+ days of about 100° F, you know what I mean. Your blood is so thin, even with 50° F, it will freeze.

Parked on the side of AZ 89A. [photo by Lin]
Only ¾ miles from the trailhead. [photo by Lin]
Everyone besides Erika at the trailhead picnic table. [photo by Lin]
The air was cold and the parking lot was full. [photo by Lin]

The first section of the West Fork Trail was more of history than view. We passed by what was left of the old Mayhew Lodge with a few walls still standing after a big fire on March 26, 1980. If you are interested the rich history of this site, the Mayhew Lodge, please read Arizona Highways, October 2020 issue.

After you cross the bridge, you were entering the canyon section. There are many hikers on the trail on this beautiful cold Sunday. It was cold, but we know if we kept walking it would warm up soon. We did not see many fall colors on first 0.9 mile, crossed few times of creek before the swimming hole.

Red Rock, dry and golden color of ferns. [photo by Lin]
Crossing the creek. [photo by Tom]
Watch the rock, Michael! [photo by Tom]
Li is enjoying the view. [photo by Tom]
Window of Fall color at West Fork. [photo by Lin]

As soon as we passed the Swimming Hole, the fall colors were on full display. There were many colors in all directions. They were yellow, orange, pink, red, and golden. It was just beautiful.

Sun shining through the trees, making the fall colors come alive in the early morning. [photo by Lin]
Orange fall color on display. [photo by Lin]
Green, yellow, orange and a quiet road. [Lin]
Fall color on the hill. [photo by Lin]
Water make the colors vivid. [photo by Lin]
Awesome Fall color. [photo by Lin]
What color do you want?
[photo by Lin]
Roots at the creek with
fallen leaves.[photo by Lin]
Li and Tom enjoy the fall color. [photo by Carolyn]
Tom takes a break to enjoy the fall color. [photo by Li]
Happy Kevin. [photo by Li]
Smiling Tom. [photo by Li]
Tom and Li at the swimming hole. [Carolyn]
Erika [photo by Li]
Trailblazers pose for a picture. [photo by Li]
Three happy ladies. [photo by Tom]
Sisters in bonding. [photo by Tom]
Tamar and Li, doctor and nurse practitioner. [Tom]
Stylish Li is always smiling and poses for a picture. [photo by Tom]
Tamar, Erika, Carolyn and Li. [photo by Tom]
Those two just know how to dress to match the view. [photo by Tom]
Carolyn, Tom, and Li at the swimming hole. [photo by Li]

There were two groups of hikers. The first group doing the 7-mile hike (in and out). The other group of hikers, doing the longer hike, which involved wading in the water and going as far as our bodies can handle. There were 14 people signed up. Two could not find parking, so they left. Debbie did not feel well. Chris decided to stay with her and return to Phoenix. There were only 10 people left. 9 of us decided to wade into the creek to explore beyond the maintained trail. Carl was the only person decided cold water was not in his plan today. After a quick change to water shoes, water pants, 9 of us bravely walked into the water.

It was cold. The cold water did not take long to shock your brain cells. Your feet numb, then hurt. Your body tenses. Your head hurts. Then all your body could do was “ohhhhhhhhh…” screaming as loud as you can. I thought I was well-prepared (compared to last year). I put hand warmer on my belly, winter vest, long sleeves, and a jacket. It still shocked me, mentally and physically. After I walked a few yards, I walked back to the shore. It was just too cold for me to continue. I needed to catch my breath. Kevin, Tamar, Erika, Carolyn already turned at the corner and disappeared. I can do it, I can do it, I can do it!

I walked into the water again with Heather and Michael by my side.

“Wow, the water is cold. I think my legs are going to cramp…”

“Ahhhhhh, that is cold, oh my gosh, that is cold, Ahhhhh”, Lin just keep screaming. Carl told me later, he could hear the screaming from q half mile away.

Here come Li and Tom, calmly and happily, “it is not so bad today, it is much better than last year”, they both said.

What? Better than last year? Are you kidding? What do you wear today? What did you have for breakfast?

The water was shallower than last year. The view was beautiful, and the colors were much better than last year. One of my goals was to take as many photos as possible during this section of wading. There were not many people on this section. The creek was so pretty with colorful leaves floating and chasing each other. Boulders of different sizes and colors lay buried in the green grass and pink leaves. It is just amazing to see the whole canyon live with a breath of color and heartbeat of water sounds. So Zenful, so peaceful, and so spiritual.

About a mile in from the end of maintained trail, we decided to turn around. The water was still cold. Your body was still trying to scream as hard as it could, but by then the beauty of canyon took your breath away, and you were lost in this paradise canyon, you no long felt the cold in the water and air.

Carl decided he is going to keep dry and warm. Smart Carl! [photo by Lin]
So happy to see them not screaming - COLD!
[photo by Li]
Tom is taking a picture of Li taking a picture of Lin. [photo by Tom]
It’s cold, but still we're having so much fun:
Lin, Li and Carolyn. [photo by Tom]
Dress up warm enough to smile this year. [Tom]
Happy Lin. [photo by Li]
Lin and Carolyn.
[photo by Li]
Relaxing at this most beautiful creek
in the fall season. [photo by Li]
Carolyn and Michael. [photo by Li]
Tom and Kevin at the creek. [photo by Li]
Heather, dressed up in warm clothes. [photo by Li]
Michael is trying to find a dry place to walk. [Li]
Heather was prepared, brought gloves. [photo by Li]
Happy Li at the the creek. [photo by Lin]
Leaf and water. [photo by Lin]
Wet shoes and colorful leaves. [photo by Lin]
Reflection of fall colors in the creek. [photo by Lin]
Blue sky and colorful leaves. [photo by Lin]
Zenful in the creek. [photo by Lin]
Last water walk. [photo by Lin]
Double Tom and Li. [photo by Lin]
Tom is dry and warm. [photo by Lin]

Returned to dry land—no more wading in the creek—was mixed emotions for me. Finally we can put the dry shoes on, be warm and dry; but it also means we leave the most peaceful and beautiful canyon behind. Sometimes do you wish that you could just camp in the canyon, walk in the creek and enjoy the fall colors during the daylight. Just you and few friends with passing clouds above the sky. After sunset, the stars twinkling, crickets singing, moon dancing, listening to the creek water running while you sleep at night. Wait, did we do that on June 2020? Yes, we did it.

I did not take too many pictures after we returned to the maintained trail. There were so many people on the trail. Everyone was hungry and ready to go back to the trailhead.

To find a restaurant to eat on a weekend, in this most beautiful season in Sedona, was almost impossible. Tom spent many hours to researching restaurants that have a patio that we could sit outside and enjoy the food. We tried few of the locations, but they all told me that tables would not be ready by 5:00 PM to 5:30 PM. That means we must wait for few hours.

Tamar and Kevin decided they would leave and skip the late lunch. In the meantime, we were hungry and still looking for restaurant to have food.

“Sounds good, is everyone OK with that?” Lin Asked.

“Yes”, “Yes”, and more “Yes”.

We left the parking lot and walked toward to our “parking spot”. After about 20 minutes we found our car, with Carl patiently sitting and waiting for us.

Knowing uptown Sedona would be crazy flooded with tourists, we decided we would take AZ 89A North, go up to Flagstaff and take I-17 to El Patio restaurant. When we arrived the restaurant, the place was busy. It was windy, but we decided we would sit on the patio and enjoy the beautiful cool temperature. Just when we were finally sitting down, with water on our hands, chips, and salsa on the table, it started to rain. Yes, we have not seen any rain for past 4 months, and finally it was cool enough for us to sit at patio and enjoy our food, and it rained! The wind was strong and thin-blooded Arizona Trailblazers just could not handle the cold very well. So we were picked our belongings and moved to the inside. It was much warmer, and the food was good, very good. Everyone was satisfied and happy.

Time for lunch. [photo by Lin]
Yummy! [photo by Lin]
So much food. [photo by Lin]
Lin’s plate. Yes, she’s hungry. [photo by Lin]
Great hike, yummy lunch. [photo by Lin]
Carolyn, Michael, Lin, Carl, Tom, Li, Heather, Erika.

Side note: While we were still eating at restaurant, we got a text message from Tamar, who left early to avoid the traffic. There was delay on I-17 and it could be a delay about two hours.

After lunch we looked the traffic app, and it said two hours 55 minutes delay. So, we decided that we would take AZ 260 through Payson to go back to Phoenix. The sunset was very pretty. The clouds formed to the Southwest promised there would be rain before we arrived at Payson. It rained. We got heavy rain here and there. In the meantime, while Carl drove carefully in the dark and rain, Li, Tom and Lin were doing their best to keep hungry Kevin and Tamar company. They sent them pictures of yummy food, suggested delivery of cold beer while they were driving 10 mile per hour on I-17. They mentioned a sweet dessert. I do not know exactly how Tamar and Kevin felt, but those in our car, (Carl, Lin, Li and Tom) had great laughs all the way home in the midst of the rain.

Sorry, Tamar and Kevin, please forgive us. We hope you still love us!

Note from the Leader Lin

Thanks for everyone for getting up very early to join me on this hike. It was cold, it was windy (at the end), parking was bit of problem. But I think was it worth every step we took and every creek we crossed. Thanks for all the brave hikers who walked into the cold water to chase the fall color on the cliff and beyond the water. Thanks, Carl, for patiently waiting for us while we had fun on the trail. Thanks, Erika, for joining us for the first time. Hope you enjoy the company and will continue to hike with us.

Debbie, I hope you are feeling better. Chris, thanks for staying with Debbie.

Carolyn, I am so sorry that I forgot about you on my early email. Glad you came and everything worked out. Thanks!

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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated November 8, 2020