Before we decided to head up to Sedona the day after Thanksgiving to hike West Fork Trail, I did what anyone would do. I googled.
I hadn’t ever heard of that trail before, despite having been to Sedona a million times. Ron had already been salivating over it for, like, a long time. I don’t know how long, actually, but I know he was really looking forward to discovering it. So, when I googled, I came across the same word over and over again about the highly-rated trail.
Anyone who knows me at all knows that word speaks right to my soul. So, naturally, that took the whole adventure up a notch for me. But, when we were on the trail, another phrase kept surfacing from the other hikers we’d run into as we made our way back to the trailhead.
“Are we close?”
And, I feel like we gave the same answer a few times to hikers who were both excited and incredulous that they were still (or only) 30-to-45 minutes from what we perceived to be the “end.” Because the end that we reached isn’t really even the end. And others didn’t even reach the end that we reached – if that makes any sense.
West Fork’s “end” is up for debate. And that’s part of what makes it super cool. It’s a “choose-your-own-adventure” trail. It leaves the “end” up to you, and your sense of curiosity. It begs you to wonder, “What’s around that corner?”
A trail that begins on an unassuming sidewalk and winds through an open field of trees and vegetation, evolves into a hike along a mud-packed trail that is at-times sandy (like, beach sandy) and leads hikers alongside canyon walls, through Oak Creek a handful of times, and over fallen trees, if you dare.
West Fork is classified as one of the most popular trails in the Coconino National Forest. It’s an easy hike, and the maintained trail runs about 3.2 miles, according to the forest service. But, the full trail that leads to the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness area is described as a “strenuous” 14-miler that requires hikers to walk in the river bed and, at times, swim.
We didn’t do all that. The water was cold. And the shade in the canyon that day kept our noses consistently rosy. But, we did go past the maintained “end” of the trail, because we couldn’t get that far and not see what was around that corner.
And, when we saw, I didn’t even care that my feet were freezing. And wet. It was a magical slice of the universe, seemingly reserved for us – because not many people went that far that day. To get there, we had to balance on a skinny, sloping shore of rock that bled into the creek, with only a slick canyon wall, that curved over our heads, to steady us. Balance, and a willingness to accept wet toes, was key.
But once around the corner, it opened up. The creek trickled to the side. An unbelievably beautiful canyon wall climbed up to the right and curled just a little at the top. And on the other side of the creek, atop another rock ledge, was a gathering of ponderosa pines, reaching for the blue sky.
And there was magic all throughout that hike. The mossy overhangs, where we could hear the subtle drip of groundwater falling from the ledge above. The moments of imbalance as we looked up at the climbing canyon walls for a second too long, leaving us a little wobbly. The reflections of the canyons and trees that appeared in the creek in areas where it was as still as glass.
It is a hike that is worth the early alarm clock, which we recommend, because the parking lot fills up within the first hour it’s open. We actually learned the hard way, and lucked out with a spot just north of the trailhead.
It is a hike that will get your feet dirty, and wet. Like, scrape-your-feet-with-your-fingernails dirty. So, bring fresh socks and a rag to clean your feet.
It is a hike that will require lots of space on your phone – you’re going to take a ton of photos. You can’t not.
And, it’s a hike that has no clear end. No sign to tell you to stop. No barricade, except your curiosity.
So, see where it takes you.