Thursday, April 9, 2009

Day 5: Fay Canyon Hike

Distance: 2.4 miles round trip
Elevation: 4,500 to 4,800 ft
Elevation Gain: 300 ft

Red rock walls of Fay Canyon

Once again I awoke early to get in a hike before my parents awoke. This day I chose Fay Canyon because my new guidebook said it was very pretty and was quite short. It took me 15 minutes to drive to the trailhead from our vacation rental, so I did not have a lot of extra time to spend.

Beginning of the trail. It was wide, flat, and sandy.

The canyon is indeed very scenic, and the early morning sun glinting off the upper rocks in pleasing sepia tones filled me with peace. Early spring before the sun reaches the canyon floor may not be the best time to hike this trail despite the visual effects, however. It was cold and I found myself hustling along to stay warm, my gloved hands curled into claws in my jacket pocket.

Morning sunlight on the canyon walls seen from half-way up to the arch.

Unlike the Andante and Thunder Mountain Trails, which I took my dad on the day after this, this trail really is easy. The main trail is very sandy with minimal rocks. I could have taken my mother on this trail without difficulty.

The arch viewed from the main trail

The red rock walls that progressively narrow as one heads deeper into the canyon dominate the senses. I remember chatting with a forest service ranger at one of the cliff dwellings and she said that the best hikes in Sedona are usually the easiest. Fay Canyon certainly fits that description.

For the more adventurous and sure-footed soul, Fay Canyon has an added attraction of a natural rock arch up the right hand side of the canyon. The trail to this arch, at 0.6 miles in, is marked with a cute arch cairn, so it is very difficult to miss. The trail to the arch is a scramble, however, that several times required both of my hands. It is highly eroded, very rocky, and bordered by hungry Prickly Pear Cactus. A slip here would result in more than a bruised behind!

Rock ledge near the arch, which is straight ahead.

The climb to the arch is well worth the effort, however. The views of the canyon are spectacular and at this hour in the morning, I had the entire place to myself. Two songbirds were cajoling amongst the rocks making quite a racket and the air was perfectly still. I would have loved to have lingered but my time was short.

Cross canyon walls silhouetted through the arch

The trip back down the trail was very steep and slippery. I had to crab my way down in several spots. Fortunately, there was no there to see such an ignomious decent.

Towards the end of the canyon, the trail narrows and a canopy of scrub oaks obscures the views. The trail itself does not go to the geographic end of the canyon. Instead it stops at a large rock fall near a very obvious rock thumb. While it looked completely possible to scramble over this fall and continue on, I had a breakfast date I could not miss and so turned around.

Trail narrows towards the end

It took me 1.5 hours to head up the canyon but only 0.5 hours to get back, so if you don’t scramble up to the arch, the hike can be very short indeed.

Rock thumb marks the end of the official trail

After the hike I swung by the Enchantment Resort for a cup of great coffee. I found this resort so appealing; I made reservations for us for lunch the following day. It is located in an adjacent canyon with wonder views of the red rocks.

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