Last weekend, we spent a day hiking the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon, as we’ve often done during my birthday weekend. It’s one of the loveliest places in all of Arizona, in my opinion, as it’s difficult to surpass the beauty of sandstone cliffs, a flowing creek, and the blaze of fall colors on maple and oak. It’s a place we’ve come back to frequently over the years, in spite of how crowded it can be. Once we were adventurous enough to hike the entire sixteen miles, requiring the traipsing of a web of forest roads for a shuttle vehicle to drop us off, a trip I hope to repeat when our girls are a little older. Today’s hike, though, was a check-in. Last May, we wrung our hands in helpless horror as reports of the Slide Fire poured in. We feared the worst – another tragic fire with loss of life and property – and tried to come to terms with the likelihood that our beloved West Fork would burn. And if it burned, then a second blow would be dealt to the canyon when monsoon rains fell later in summer. With no vegetation to absorb the run-off, silty ash and debris flows would clog the canyon. This was our worst-case scenario.
When we heard that the canyon had been reopened to hikers, we jumped at the chance to return. This year, we were a bit late for the peak of the fall foliage, although there were still gorgeous leaves to behold. What was most pleasing, and such a relief, was what hadn’t changed. The sandstone cliffs. The spruce and ponderosa, the oak and maple. The majority of the canyon, as judged by the three-plus miles in that we hiked, remained as it’s always been over the past two decades since I’ve been visiting.
There were a few areas were fire had reached the canyon floor, but the damage was not significant. Parts of the creek bed were silted in with ash and charcoal, washed down from up canyon. If anything, these changes served as reminders to appreciate the beauty that still exists, here in this canyon, in abundance, but also elsewhere. Resilience and constancy, two of our most powerful and yet undervalued traits – both exist and often co-exist within the natural world – which includes, of course, ourselves. Both will reveal themselves to you if you search for them, smaller, subtler forms of alluring grace that deserve a brief interlude of thanksgiving.
|Dan on the trail|
|Me & Dan|
|Sandstone and spruce|
|Madz & Dan|
|Maple and sandstone|
|Ashy silt in the creek bed|
|Grass clumps on stone|
|Trail lined with fallen leaves|
|Where we turned around, around 3+ miles in. Usually this is a deep pool, now partially silted in.|
|Leaves on the trail.|
|A narrow section of canyon|
|Three of my favorite people on the planet.|
|Yellow maple leaves|
|Red maple leaves|
|Madeleine & Arden in West Fork in 2007|
|Madeleine & Arden re-staging the photo from 2007.|