Oak Creek Canyon

It’s the last full day in Arizona. Tomorrow we have to be up early to drive to Phoenix and board a plane back to reality, in this case reality is Albany Airport. So what to do today? We can take a drive…Monument Valley, Sunset Crater, Cameron Trading Post, Meteor Crater, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert…or a spa day…no more tours. I’m “toured out”.

We’ve been kicking this around all week. About the only thing we know for sure is that we’re going to do our souvenir shopping this morning then the day is ours!

Turns out the souvenir shopping didn’t take us long. Sandy knew exactly what she wanted to get and for whom. I stopped by the camera shop and Sandy actually found the last item on her list there so we were done in record time. We decided to take one last run up to the Native American stands on 89 A  for a last look at the jewelry and dream catchers.

After we made the last of our purchases there I asked Sandy if she wanted to stop at Slide Rock Park and she said no she wasn’t in the mood for hiking and it was still too cold for swimming in my book so we drove on up the winding canyon road of  89 A for the last time.

 At the top of the canyon where the road begins to straighten and flatten there is a sign for Oak Creek Overlook. I have never stopped here but figured why not. I don’t know when or if I’ll get back so let’s take 5 minutes and see what it’s all about.

Rand-McNally, that premier publisher of road maps, named this section of 89 A that winds through Oak Creek Canyon a “most beautiful drive” . The designation made it the first scenic drive in Arizona. A breathtaking series of switchbacks and hairpin curves makes maneuvering this highway a challenge unless you obey the speed limits…then it’s not too bad. I can now say I’ve driven this road at least a dozen times and I know what the road is about but as I mentioned in my post about the Bottom of The Canyon I had never looked into the canyon before. As the driver it is far better to keep your eyes and attention on the road.

Now as I parked my car at the top I wasn’t sure what awaited me at the overlook. We could see a lot of people. Far more than either of us expected but as we got closer we realized it was because the Native Americans had set up tables to display their crafts similar to the ones we had left just south of Slide Rock. I wandered through the tables but didn’t see anything more than what I had already purchased. I mainly wanted to see the canyon and it didn’t disappoint.

The walkway along the canyon rim follows a curving path giving you breathtaking  views into the depths of the canyon. Trees rise up and tower along the slopes. I had no idea the canyon was so deep or huge! Now I understand why  Oak Creek Canyon is sometimes referred to as a smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon.

The views reminded me of Joe’s (guide for Native American Journey’s) explanation that Oak Creek Canyon was formed along a fault line and that the fault had shifted twice to create this massive rift. Oak Creek, a tributary of the Verde River, flows along the bottom of the canyon and is credited with carving out much of what is today the existing Canyon. Oak Creek is one of the few perennial streams in this high desert region of Arizona.

As I continued on along the rim I spotted a red tail hawk floating on the thermals. To my surprise I was actually above the hawk when I first spotted him. The sun rays caught his back and feathers and turned him into a golden raptor and then he was circling higher and soon above me. It truly took my breath away to realize that the canyon was so deep that I could stand on the rim and watch a hawk start his upward spiral from below me. I would have expected that at the Grand Canyon but it was a surprise to me here.

As the moment passed I moved onto the last section of the lookout and there was the shot I have wanted since I first drove Oak Creek Canyon in 2008. There were the switchbacks and hairpin turns all laid out before me. Three big loops of highway and if you looked closely way down at the bottom the last bit of highway peaked through.

I am so very happy we stopped here. Even though the stop was short compared to some of the other things we had done, it was a real high point for me in this trip.

We had decided to drive on toward Winslow and the Petrified Forest. That’s quite a long drive so we wrapped up our visit and headed back to the car. I think I was still walking on air!

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