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West Fork Oak Creek Trail #108
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mini location map2014-10-22
9 by photographer avatarhippiepunkpirate
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West Fork Oak Creek Trail #108Sedona, AZ
Sedona, AZ
Hiking avatar Oct 22 2014
Hiking5.90 Miles 220 AEG
Hiking5.90 Miles   3 Hrs   25 Mns   1.73 mph
220 ft AEG15 LBS Pack
 no routes
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Went with my Dad to West Fork in the afternoon to check out fall colors and the effects of the Slide Fire.

I should note my position concerning the Slide Fire. Even as it was happening, I viewed the Slide Fire as partially a disaster as it of course had a lot of areas that crowded, but also could see the silver linings (which I probably don't need to document here to a great extent, alas, it's probably headed that direction). A major irritation for me during and following the Slide Fire was the perception that the entire "burn" area is something akin to a nuclear detonation- complete and utter destruction, which is simply not the case. It is this perception along with others that continues to perpetuate the vast misunderstanding of the natural fire adaptation of our forests, and the necessity of fire in our forests. I remember a lot of the folks claiming that West Fork was "gone", and even an AZ Highways blog post declaring West Fork as a "lost gem". At the time, not a single person making these claims had been into the fire area to see the effects first hand, so it was speculation driven out of control by sensationalization by news media and over-extended emotions driven by the new age of social media combined with widespread misunderstanding of the behavior of wildfires. Soon, photos were released from firefighters documenting the lack of destruction in the lower reaches of West Fork, but I don't think anyone paid much attention. Today, I was able to go in and see with my own eyes the effects of the fire, which I'll share here along with a few other details of the hike.

The stretch of canyon I covered was approximately the lower 2.5 miles. We'll start with the positives. For the most part, this stretch of canyon, as viewed from the canyon bottom, was relatively untouched by fire directly. My Dad and I noticed numerous small burn areas that were apparently spot fires (sorry, I didn't count how many we observed). Most of these spot fires were low intensity burns with a hair bit of moderate intensity as well. All of these spots were actually very beneficial to the area. This whole area is obvious overgrown and drastically needs low intensity fire to loosen the high fuel loads and replenish nutrients. In these spot burns, most evidence of fire was blackened pine needles on the forest floor and burn marks running a couple feet up the bottoms of the tree trunks. Exactly what you want to see from a wildfire. My Dad noticed that in the areas that burned, the bracken ferns looked much healthier in comparison to the ferns in untouched areas. In a couple of the spot burns, some isolated torching and crowning was evident, with a few deadfalls as a result. Even these were positive in such small doses as this overgrown area could use thinning.

On to the negatives. About 2 miles in, there was a stretch of high intensity burn that was part of the main fire. Definite torching and crowning in a stretch of forest a few hundred feet wide coming down from the canyon wall to the south. In this area it was also evident that deadfall has washed down from the larger high intensity burns upstream, and parts of the creek are becoming choked with debris. Throughout the hike, there was noticeable ash deposits on the banks of creek, especially among the debris piles and the creek crossings. Another observation of mine was that the water flow in the creek seems slightly lower than what I have seen previously on many other occasions, although I cannot say one way or another if this is a result of the fire.

To sum up my report on the effects of the Slide Fire on lower West Fork, I would like to say that it is very close to what I expected going in, and the evidence of healthy burning exceeded my expectations. I was also expecting to see more evidence of torching near the riparian zone. That said, negative effects were not absent, and I'm certain that the fire was much more devastating further upstream. The big takeaway is: West Fork is NOT gone!

On to some other notes about the hike. The parking lot was full when we arrived, and the on-street parking was pretty packed too, but we snagged a good spot anyway and I got to use my Red Rock Pass. On the way in, I had a sneaking suspicion that I would run into some fellow landscape photographers. It didn't take long for my prophecy to become true. Just after crossing the bridge at Oak Creek, we ran into my old buddy Chuck Ruscher, who I've shot and hiked with many times, and actually was a teacher of mine in high school. Later, on the hike out, I ran into three other photogs, who up until today I had only had contact with online: Peter Coskun, Bob Miller, and Don Lawrence. Great to meet all of those dudes.

The first half of the hike was crowded as expected, but relatively empty on the way out. Lots of color, but still kind of green for the first mile or so. Really enjoyed doing this with my dad, he makes me stop and notice cool stuff that I would tend to blow by on my own. The maples are, of course, the best! Also took some long looks at some of the beastly old growth pondos, and of course the fire stuff. Same of knock-your-socks-off West Fork scenery, baby. Photography wise, it was a pretty good outing for me. I forgot a couple things that I usually bring. I usually wear water shoes instead of regular shoes, so that deterred me from tromping into the creek. I also forgot my polarizing filters for my lenses, which deterred me from shooting a lot of water period. It all worked out though, as it challenged me to find shots without water, or at least ones where I didn't need to polarize.

Made it out just before dark. Thoroughly satisfying afternoon in many ways. Maybe above else is spending some quality time with my Dad out in the wilderness.
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Autumn Foliage Observation Substantial
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