As Henry David Thoreau once wrote:
In wilderness is the preservation of the world.
While visiting Red Rock Country, people may be more familiar with Oak Creek Canyon and may be completely unaware that a sister canyon, Sycamore Canyon, offers a true wilderness experience. Sycamore Canyon, like Oak Creek Canyon, also pleases visitors with striking red, orange, and cream colored sandstone cliffs and formations, with contrasting evergreen and bright green deciduous vegetation.
This vast, spectacular canyon is approximately 21 miles in length and at points 7 miles wide, and is located within three national forests – Coconino, Prescott, and Kaibab. It is the second largest canyon in Arizona, after Grand Canyon. The canyon was artistically carved by the creek of the same name, Sycamore Creek.
The creek and surrounding canyon make up the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area, established in 1984 by the United States Congress. Originally, this land was the first Primitive Area in the state of Arizona, designated for its uniqueness. The Sycamore Canyon Wilderness begins near the forested area outside the town of Williams at the southeastern edge of the Kaibab National Forest, just below the Mogollon Rim, and northwest of Sedona. On the east, it is bordered by the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness Area.
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area is managed by the Forest Service and has many trails, but since it is a wilderness area, no motorized vehicles or bikes are allowed. Travel is by foot or horseback only and those who enter will be rewarded with scenic solitude.
Parsons Trail is one of the easiest ways to access the Wilderness. It is the area’s most popular trail and is accessible from the road to Tuzigoot National Monument, in Clarkdale, AZ. The trail allows visitors to follow the along the creek, which provides a unique riparian, desert environment for wildlife and human visitors. About half way up Parsons trail, after crossing Sycamore Creek three times, there is a beautiful, deep spring-fed swimming hole with crystal clear water.
Sycamore Creek, is a major tributary to the Verde River. It begins in the meadows and forests of Garland Prairie on the Colorado Plateau, east of Williams and west of Flagstaff, Arizona. Its course is approximately 25 miles in length, not all of it captured in the Wilderness Area. For most of its length, Sycamore Creek flows only during snowmelt and major precipitation events. It is a perennial stream for the last couple of miles before its confluence with the Verde River just above Clarkdale, near the southern boundary of the Wilderness Area.
It provides riparian habitat, rich for plants, trees and wildlife to flourish. The water temperature is cold, refreshing on a hot summer day. While walking along the creek, one might see fish and amphibians. There are no public or private campgrounds along Sycamore Creek. It is imperative to bring sufficient supplies, especially water while traveling to this area.
Elevation changes in the canyon by approximately 3,000 feet, providing spectacular views and adventures throughout. While traversing the trails within Sycamore Canyon you can experience numerous plant communities. At higher elevations, tall ponderosa pine and fir forest give way to the pinyon pine, juniper, oaks, Arizona cypress blending into mesquite, manzanita, and a variety of cacti of the lower elevations. Along the dry and wet portions of the creek bed, one can find cottonwoods, and of course, sycamore trees. These plant communities are dependent on the surface waters of Sycamore Creek. Along the creek banks, wildflowers, ferns, and mosses can be found. One might also see reptiles.
While descending into the canyon to reach Sycamore Creek the red rocks with near vertical cliffs give way to angled slopes, pinnacles, buttes and arches. The hues range from cream in the Kaibab Limestone to the dark reds of the Schnebly Hill Sandstone, which is a major component of Red Rock Country in the Sedona area.
Viewing the abundant wildlife is a search in itself. The prints along the river banks or in the mud after a rain will help identify the creatures in the canyon. You might see tracks from mountain lions, mule deer, elk, javelina, black bear, coyote, rabbits, ring-tail cats (wide-eyed cousins of raccoons) or you might spot birds gliding through the air, soaring on the thermals. Either way, the nature experience coupled by the land formations is a memorable event. In this desert environment, the waters of Sycamore Creek and the canyon it helped form provide for a unique desert experience.
Be sure to bring your binoculars for viewing the wildlife and camera to record memorable events!