The jaw-dropping red rock country in Arizona has no shortage of open space. Red Rock State Park south of Sedona — a tourist town with equal number fudge shops and psychic readers — offers trails usually less traveled than the popular national forest trails closer to town.
Oak Creek — the heart of Slide Rock State Park a few miles upstream — flows through Red Rock State Park, vividly demonstrating the impact just a little bit of water can have in the high desert.
The creation of Red Rock State Park started with Bruce Babbitt, then governor of Arizona, who was run off the property while hiking with friends along Oak Creek. The governor’s run-in in 1980 started the ball rolling to protect public access to one of the state’s special places.
Through a series of land buys and swaps, the old Smoke Trail Ranch passed into state ownership on Nov. 7, 1986, and Red Rock State Park opened on Oct. 19, 1991.
Things to do
The mission of the park focuses on habitat preservation, which means there's no splashing in Oak Creek as you can do upstream at Sliding Rock State Park.
There are five miles of connected trails winding through the park. The Eagle’s Nest Trail, named after a Walt Disney short filmed in the area, climbs about 300 feet to the highest point in the park and provides long-distance views of distant red rock formations. The hike is almost two miles roundtrip.
The Coyote Ridge, Apache Fire and Yavapai Ridge trails connect with longer routes outside the park in the surrounding national forest.
Most mornings a naturalist leads a guided nature walk lasting 90 minutes to two hours, offering lessons on the plants, wildlife, geology, history and archeology of the area.
Why you’ll want to come back
The red rock country takes on a special aura beneath a full moon. For much of the year, guide hikes take small groups out to enjoy the sunset and moonrise, returning by the glow of a full moon (seen at right). The hikes cover about two miles.
Flora and fauna
Oak Creek allows a variety of trees and plants to flourish in Red Rock State Park including Fremont cottonwood, sycamore, velvet ash and Arizona alder. Away from the river, you’ll find velvet mesquite and juniper.
The creek is home to the Sonoran mud turtle and river otter. The creek is a source of drinking water for mule deer, javelina, coyotes and even mountain lions.
Birds found in the park include roadrunners, great blue herons, Anna’s hummingbirds, rufous hummingbirds, flycatchers, ravens and various woodpeckers.
By the numbers:
- Website: Arizona State Parks
- Park size: 286 acres
- 2010 visitation: 59,097
- Funky fact: The renowned Arizona Highways magazine is donating $5 for each $24 subscription to the state park of your choice to boost the cash-starved Arizona state park system.
Inset photo of full moon at Airport Mesa: iandeth/Flickr