When Arizona heats up in the summer, Phoenicians and Flagstaffians answer the siren's call with a day by the river. Most people head to Fossil Creek, Slide Rock or Wet Beaver Creek, but there are challenges with these top-of-mind refuges from the heat. Fossil Creek is under review for environmental concerns and visitors are turned away when the river is at capacity. Slide Rock is closed for the 2014 summer due to flooding concerns after the recent Slide Fire. At the best of times, there's a fee, it's a long wait to get in, or a long wait for the water. RootsRated offers another option. Head out to Chavez Ranch in Sedona instead, for a comparatively quiet and equally beautiful creekside afternoon.
To get there, search for “Chavez Ranch Road.” It's practically in the heart of Sedona, just after a gated community; it hardly seems that any creek, let alone part of the robust Oak Creek, could be hiding there. But keep driving, and suddenly the road turns to dirt, the houses turn into sprawling ranches, and the city is far behind. There are many hikes in the area, including Carrol Canyon and the popular Red Rock Crossing. For the easiest access to the creek drive to the end of Chavez Road. Keep left at the paved “Y,” drive down a steep hill and past the tiny observatory until the dirt parking lot at the end of the road. Sedans will have to park a little early because the last hundred-yard stretch is down a very steep, rocky hill.
From there, it's a 1.5-mile hike dead-ending into a flat, rocky shelf functioning as a 'beach' for the creek. The path is fairly wide and sandy but travels under a few huge, dead trees and along rocky reservoirs. Large coolers can be difficult to haul, but umbrellas, towels, and other accessories are easy accommodations. Sedona runs about 10 degrees warmer than Flagstaff, but isn't as hot as Fossil Creek, making it a good choice for a cooler monsoon afternoon.
Stop any place along the creek or go to the end for a convenient picnic spot. The water is deep and the creek is wide at the end, perfect for swimming or minor cliff diving. Set up camp, then explore. A few tiny dirt trails lead to the top of the nearby cliffs, or ford the river and look around the opposite bank. Spend some time heading up or down river. The 'rapids' are fun to slide through and overhanging trees cast gorgeous shade over the whole scene.
On weekends, expect to see a few other people, but nowhere near the volume of Fossil Creek or Slide Rock. Many people bring their dogs and children, alongside beer-drinking college students relaxing in the cold water. The rocky shelf is usually in full sunlight, so remember to bring sunscreen, or just set up camp in the shade of the trees all around.
Stay for the sunset – the water turns clear and still, and as the air cools, the afternoon glow casts an ethereal glow on the water. It gives the 'golden hour' a totally new meaning. As an added bonus, people tend to leave before the sun sets, making for a lovely, quiet stroll back to the car if you stay long enough.