They call this trail “Call of the Canyon,” you will know why when you go and feel the canyon walls close in as you explore further inside. West Fork is a side canyon of Oak Creek Canyon and has it’s own character, similar to Oak Creek with red rock and a rambling creek, yet different enough to captivate. In the fall, the variety of trees in West Fork put on a show! The quiet pools of the creek do a wonderful job of reflecting these colors even more vibrantly. This hike can be hard if you dislike rock-hopping and getting a little wet. On the other hand, it’s relatively flat with little elevation gain. The maintained trail abruptly ends at about 3 miles. You may choose to continue by wading in the waist deep water. I chose to stop there and turn around, the temps were in the low 50’s inside the canyon. In fact, the parking attendant mentioned it was 21 degrees in Oak Creek Canyon that morning. Maybe the cold kept some of the crowds away, because I actually got a parking spot just after 9am. Usually, this place is packed and parking fills up fast.
My daughter Cora was my hiking companion this year, a spunky 3-year old who chose to hire me as her Sherpa instead of hiking on her own. So, I considered this hike conditioning for an upcoming Grand Canyon hike as well. Immediately starting the hike, I was delighted by the color. Bright yellow Cottonwood trees welcomed the entrance of West Fork with morning sunlight illuminating the red rocks behind them. The morning sun wasn’t reaching many corners of West Fork, which created a soft moody feeling. The twists and turns of the canyon allowed light to enter in some spots creating amazing spotlighting of fall color and red rock.
I kept telling Cora how amazing all the colors were: “this is so lovely, it’s my favorite, look at all the color…” She could only agree with me. She attracted her own attention from other hikers with her cute pom-pom hat and puffy pink jacket. Cora watched me navigate the many water crossings, moving her head to each side of the backpack, making me feel more like a rocking boat than a booted-up hiker guy.
The little surprises of color kept me going and I kept snapping photos, knowing I will be able to paint these scenes for the coming months. I like to reference photos for paintings. At the same time, I also like to tap into my memory bank of images of how I remembered it, not necessarily how the camera captured it. Once, I had a certain vision of a place but none of my photos matched up. I could still paint it, using the photos as reference but creating a composition from my minds eye.
Here are the favorites from the hike: