Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Elk-Hunting and Monsoon Season in Flintstone Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on September 14, 2009

Elk-Hunting and Monsoon Seasons in Flintstone Canyon

Flintstone Canyon, 3BIV
10.5 miles
Coconino National Forest, tributary of West Fork of Oak Creek

The monsoons were late to the party, but they have showed up. Flash flooding, lightning, and towering clouds that were almost non-existent in July and August have made an appearance in September. Last weekend Laura and I cancelled our canyoneering plans because of the inclement weather. A week later the forecast though slightly better still left plenty to consider. We decided to continue with our plans to descend Flintstone Canyon into the West Fork of Oak Creek despite the 30 percent chance of thunderstorms in the late afternoon and early evening for the area. The nearby town of Sedona had violently flash flooded just a few days earlier sweeping away vehicles like matchbox cars. I insisted on as early a start as possible to finish before the potential deluge.

As John locked up his truck at the head of the canyon, Laura, Ron and myself walked into the forest shortly after sunrise. We heard John shout, “Hold up a second guys.” As we turned around we saw a camouflaged clad man approach John from his nearby camp along the forest service road. “It is elk hunting season,” said the hunter. “There are hunters in there, you might get shot with an arrow or scare away the elk and they might not come back.” They briefly exchanged words and then John caught up to us and the hunter returned to his camp. As we continued into the forest John said the man was neither pleasant nor appeared pleased with the direction of our travels. I guess they didn’t realize that elk-hunting season does not mean that hunters have exclusive rights to a national forest. I commented that if we scared away all the elk they could take consolation by shooting up the tires of John’s truck. To myself I wished John’s truck the best of luck as we quickly and quietly descended into the safety of the canyon to avoid any errant arrows.

Once in the drainage we made our way down the canyon choked with both living and dead vegetation as the walls slowly got higher and narrower. Logs became bridges and ladders for down climbs. At times the entire floor was covered in a carpet of dry twisted wood. John commented it was like the scene from Star Wars when Luke, Princess Leia and Han Solo were in the trash compactor of the Death Star. Those dead trees in the bottom of the canyon are the ancestors of an abundance of living trees growing right out of the rim high above us. After a first section of narrows the canyon briefly opened up and then dramatically dropped into a dark abyss. A tree served as our anchor for this spectacular rappel. No doubt this tree will one day die, violently fall and come to rest in the bottom of these narrows. The next generation will rise in its place.

We passed by ferns growing straight out of sandstone walls its roots clinging to soil hidden in the tiniest of cracks, wild grapes that were prettier than they tasted and moss covered walls that put a green hue into the narrow channel of open air. The canyon was relaxing and exciting, pleasant and challenging.

The monsoons barely showed up on this day. Nothing but some late afternoon grey pluming clouds, thunder in the distance and a light sprinkle in the final miles of the West Fork before reaching pavement.



3 Responses

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  1. Steve Schwartz said, on September 15, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    You guys are getting lazy. It’s been almost 2 weeks before you posted this new adventure. I’m glad no one mistook you for an elk!

  2. […] day of technical canyoneering as a number of technical canyons drain into it (Barney Spring & Flintstone). The creek meanders through boulders and red rock. Along the way it carves narrow channels, sharp […]

  3. […] favorite canyons, this is a worst case scenario. Illusions, Insomnia, Immaculate, Barney Spring, Flintstone, Casner Cabin, Crack Addict in addition to the West Fork and Sterling Canyons that they feed into, […]

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