Location: Oak Creek Canyon/Arizona/USA
Elevation: 7,200 ft.
Note: The majestic Oak Creek Canyon is as much an expedition as it is a unique hike, even by international standards. It’s an achievement just to commit to this adventure, which is located in a massive 16 mile crevasse beneath the dramatically elevated Ranges of Sedona and Flagstaff in the great State of Arizona/USA. This may be the most popular hike in all of Arizona, which is less extreme than the Grand Canyon, and more accessible, with beautiful Coconino forestry surrounding the rocky trails running along the surreal stony tributary of the Verde River. This is another photographic paradise, where the curvatures and contrasting colors of the Canyon create the feeling of a rocky oasis; a secret cavernous fortress; a brilliant natural hideaway which has protected the precious stream that has flowed here since the receding of the last ice age, some 21,000 years ago.
Route 89A runs dramatically into the base of the Canyon, twisting and turning along ledges that will require careful driving. Like the N71 that stretches across Killarney National Park in Ireland, or the A82 that cuts through the natural gateway to the Highlands in Scotland, 89A in Arizona has the potential to be one of the most dramatic drives of your life. Upon reaching the central base of the Canyon there is a toll with a small entry fee, along with an active parking lot. In this part of the world ‘climate conscious’ strategies should be practiced carefully in order to insure an engaging and healthy quest into the Canyon. Most importantly, for a hike in this region, is an early arrival, which insures the coolest possible temperature for your excursion, as well as the best odds for parking inside the reserve. If the parking Lot is full, which could well be the case by 8:30 a.m, most of the remaining gregarious trailblazers will attempt to park along the base of the 89A roadside ledge, which is certainly possible, but dangerous. Start early and increase your odds for a great and seamless experience.
The first vision of Oak Creek Canyon is of a domineering rock-tsunami of glowing golden stone that stretches for miles in each direction.
After crossing the main entry bridge, the Oak Creek trail branches off into several alternate options, each with varying ability levels. The initial trail follows the flow of the Verde River to the north, where dramatic caverns emerge like tunnels carved out of the rock-face, funneling a seemingly miraculous flow of water. On the right side of the initial trail is a rounded out rock cavern. This cavern is elevated with an entrance that is supported by stone-linings. These are similar to linings which can be found in New England and Ireland, although they are not a major feature throughout the trail here at Oak Creek. Additionally, there are several free standing boulders above the entrance way, and along the trail, which are often an indicator of something more than just natural “random rock” placement. The interior of this cave is perfectly smooth. There are no signs of it being chipped away at with some kind of pick-axe or prehistoric chisel. Even more mysteriously is a perfectly square 4 foot shaft angled straight towards the sky, specifically along the outer canyon wall. This is very similar to the square shafts found in almost all the stone chambers in New England, as well as the Great Pyramid at Giza. These shafts often point to the Sun at a specific point on the skyline, and more specifically, to the Winter or Summer solstices, which are moments that will flash dramatically through the shaft at that specific moment of the year. This also exists at New Grange in Ireland, the oldest megalithic temple in the world. How could a primitive native culture cut a perfectly square shaft through 4 feet of solid rock? While considering this question, observe the dramatic view from the cavern, which is truly a wonder. Moving on from this cave, the trail follows a stream into the deeper woods, and becomes an experience unlike any hike you’ve ever taken. The trail extends back and forth over the rolling stream, leading into the deeper glens of the gorgeous Cococino Forest. There are free sitting boulders at each significant portion of the trail, seemingly and mysteriously assisting the hike. At some points the boulders indicate a scenic place, and at other points they indicate an actual direction on the trail. It is hard to ignore the specific placement of these boulders, and what it might indicate. What culture is capable of moving boulders above caverns and along rivers, and to specific points on the trails? Continuing, this woodsy path quickly escalates into a humbling epiphany of enchanted woods. Oaks, Ash, Willows, Ponderosa Pines, and Cottonwoods burst broadly forth from the landscape, all surrounded by a red-rock coliseum of natural stone. Heading north along this beautifully forested route you will encounter a feature of colossal level granite shelves that lead dramatically up the chasm like a massive set of porticos. The color of these ‘shelves’ is so in tune with the surrounding forest that you might actually mistake these curvy and knotted red-rock exteriors for fallen wood, but it most certainly is not. It is a testament to the original look of this ancient trail, where once upon a Time, the first Time, the rock was barren and uncovered by the forest, revealing it’s incredible original story. Just use your imagination and picture these giant steps climbing up the canyon in an incredibly broad way!
This is a truly magical trail complete with brilliantly bright butterflies, dragonflies, fields of wildflowers, and gigantic trees. The rolling of the stream along the path creates a wind-tunnel that is invigorating, especially in such a dry climate. Feel free to jump in the water here, or perhaps picnic for the day. There are trailblazers of all ages climbing, hiking, and splashing through the woods. The protective feeling of the massive chasm of rock all around you creates a wonderful experience. The Native Americans considered this canyon absolutely sacred, and it is easy to see why. It’s a magical hideaway with miraculous qualities which could sustain a tribes existence with surprising sustenance, as well as profound beauty. Make the best preparations you can and explore this incredible place. Get a true taste of the southwestern American trail experience! And finally, welcome to the newest season of Stonestrider.com! There are some incredible and mysterious new surprises to be revealed here publically for the first time in the coming articles! Seek and find.
Note: In the presently modern condition the world finds itself in, filled with expanding urbanization in gentrifying cities across the globe, Killarney stands out as the ultimate Celtic haven, forever resisting through the sheer force of it’s natural beauty. Killarney is a dark Celtic fantasy, draped in jade, mingled with enchanted heights and mountain Gaps, where slanted stones literally hold coded messages of a Celtic era gone by. The view from the mountain peaks just south of Moll’s Gap is a hiker’s dream (top image), where you will need to gear-up in steel-tipped boots and a rain resistant windbreaker to truly enjoy the climb. Here the options are endless. Perhaps following a waterfall up a mountain sounds appealing. The angled stones of these long rivulets look to have been cut long ago, in order to influence the flow of the water. This is similar to many streams in New England and Scotland, where the landscapes appear to have been engineered in antiquity. Just one of hundreds of enchanting and mysterious features Killarney provides. The winding solitary dirt-roads far below have no names, but are known to be a portion of the majestic Ring of Kerry, where mountain biking is ideal. To the north is the crystalline Lake Brinn. Monumental slabs in the heights along the road headed to Moll”s Gap align to this lake, forever memorializing it as one of the best vantages in the world. These squared slabs of solid granite are a half mile above the road, and contain concentric rings that were carved into its face, representing a smooth contemplative perfection that is anything but primitive. These are priceless Celtic symbols. Moments in places where the concentric rings are crafted into the stones take on an almost Zen quality, the places photographers sacrifice to reach. When you find these rare sacred spots you share the beauty of the moment with those who marked it and gave it significance so long ago. You connect all the way to the beginning of Time. Further to the north more features of the landscape emerge, as well as more regulated hiking opportunities. Torc Waterfall is the largest Fall in Killarney. It’s a gorgeous cascade of falling water drifting down over massive boulders. A marked trail runs beside the fall, and up the beautifully forested mountain, for roughly two miles of elevated hiking. Above the Fall is a phenomenal view of Muckross and Leane Lakes, as well Ross Castle further to the north. The castle, built in the 15th century, is the centerpiece for several hiking trails that run to the west, through Ross Woods. There are several loops to choose from that run for miles through Celtic glades that are absolutely enchanting. Some of the rarer trees look to be 500 years in growth or more, seemingly from an entirely different era, and of a type I had never seen before. Every winding road and path in Killarney is a potential hiking experience. This is a place where looking over a map at night and planning the following days excursion to various Gaps, trails, and mountains is a true joy. For those who love epic drives, Killarney is a prize winner. By car you can arrive at several of the captivating vistas that Killarney is known for, such as Ladies View (pictured below), the Gap of Dunloe, or dozens of stops along the road to the Black Valley, at the southern edge of the Reserve. In so many of the still pockets of the park a deer may appear, as this delicate fawn did just west of the N71 road. (Bottom Image) Killarney is a venerable Celtic Valhalla for hikers, mountain bikers, cinematographers, dreamers, and naturalists, looking to tap into the best of what natures elements and energies have to offer. Killarney is not the sunny paradise of flighty escapist entertainments that so many western vacationers understandably seek out, but rather, it is an incredibly deep and often times dark Celtic dimension, full of rustic challenges and blue-grey breezes that end in otherworldly vantages. Just south of Killarney Town on the N71 road that runs through the park is a beautiful Standing Stone. It is yet another example of what megaliths often indicate, silently but strongly, that the area you are about to enter is a true wonderland.