When it rains enough in Arizona to make the national news, newscasters from Eastern states make a common mistake. They say that Arizona isn't used to rain and flooding. But our state has been shaped by those two things for millions of years, we're the poster child for erosion features. The biggest erosion feature in the world is in our state: the Grand Canyon.
But let's look at a smaller erosion feature: Oak Creek Canyon. I like the little canyons best. They seem to welcome you home. Canyons have long been the homes of native people in Arizona, places where they were able to use micro-climates at different levels to grow crops all year long. These folks were flood-savvy, unlike modern populations who build permanent dwellings in flood plains and fire zones -- they understood that when it rains in Arizona, water doesn't soak into the ground, it rushes along creeks, arroyos, washes, canyons, and any other features that will carry running water. Bone dry most of the year, washes can turn into raging rivers in a thunderstorm.
Now the trail is easy, much more civilized, a series of switchbacks that ease you down to the water. These days, the line of pilgrims is probably just as long in the summertime, possibly even longer than it used to be, since Slide Rock is Arizona’s version of the beach, a place where young people can ogle each other and parents can sit on the red rocks and watch their little ones wear the seats off their shorts sliding along the wet, red sandstone with the creek.
January is a better time to visit if you just want to hike and enjoy the scenery (if it hasn't been raining and the place isn't flooded). Since swimming isn’t anything anyone wants to do this time of year, there’s no crowd. Often you’re alone for long periods, while other explorers pick their way up or down the creek, each pursuing his or her own interests. We noticed that most of the other visitors were couples, like us.
My memories of the place are strong.
I knew if we headed roughly East, on the South side of the creek, we would have better footing. Sandstone terraces extend, in layers, down to the water, and you can walk pretty easily along them. In the summer, those terraces are full of beach towels and families. The water levels are higher.
In the winter, the flow of water is more sparse, so you can walk more easily. You can walk all the way up to the basalt boulders that stop most people from proceeding further.
By this time, the folks who crossed to the North side are realizing they can’t go any further unless they want to get into the water. Mostly, they don’t. In the summer, it’s worth your trouble to take inner tubes and work your way from pool to pool, though the rapids have disappeared (another reason why most of the families stay farther down the creek). I remember one year when my mom and my brother John took us all the way up to a pool at the far East end. No one else had bothered to labor that far up the creek, so we had it to ourselves. It seemed to me that we had left Earth entirely, we were on another world.
Ernie and I weren’t able to venture that far this time -- we had no intention of entering the water with inner tubes. Maybe some time we’ll try it in May or September, in the middle of the week, while school is in session. I’ll have to get a waterproof bag for my camera . . .
I dream about Slide Rock. I have all my life. The dreams aren’t ordinary dreams, and in them, Slide Rock seems to stretch for miles, maybe all the way to Heaven.
It seems to be a place you earn, a place that can help you realize what’s really worth pursuing. This visit was a turning point in our lives: leaving an old job, starting college again, aiming at new careers, new ventures. Maybe we've earned this dream.
We finished our honeymoon trip on Friday with a visit to Red Rocks State Park. If you live in Arizona or will be passing through before June, visit this park while you can. It's one of the parks they intend to close this year.
If enough people visit, we could change their minds . . .