Derek von Briesen’s Pristine Peace in Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon, by Derek von Briesen

Oak Creek Canyon, by Derek von Briesen

Below, Arizona Highways contributor Derek von Briesen writes about the Slide Fire and what it means for one of the most frequently visited and photographed destinations in Arizona.

At 4 p.m., the Slide Fire started just upstream from Slide Rock State Park, near the Halfway Picnic Area. With strong southwest winds (a wind advisory had been in effect all day), red-flag humidity levels and an area filled with tinder-dry bark-beetle deadfall, it wasn’t surprising that in just more than three hours, the fire had grown to almost 500 acres.

Awareness spread through the community. Calls, social-media posts and emails began flooding in. We love Oak Creek Canyon, and emotions ran high as we realized how much of what we love was threatened.

In the direct line of fire are Garland’s Lodge and Junipine Resort; dozens of private homes; the treasured Forest Homes rentals; the newly purchased cabins of the Butterfly Garden Inn (formerly Don Hoel’s Cabins); and, today, Kachina Village, Forest Highlands and Flagstaff Pulliam Airport.

This is devastating news. The canyon remains closed until further notice. I can’t imagine things opening up for the busy Memorial Day weekend. And with closures for road repairs to the State Route 89A switchbacks scheduled to close the northern access from May 26 through July, this is going to hit Sedona’s business community really hard.

Most of the burned acreage likely will be highly visible up the steep walls of Oak Creek, with the damage at creek level likely the least. Nevertheless, like all of Oak Creek, this is a spectacularly beautiful stretch of creek, and one that likely will be marred for a long time.

Nature recovers, restores balance. But lovers of the peace and beauty found along this stretch —photographers, hikers, campers, swimmers and anglers — are going to be saddened and a little hardened by the realization that, with another “human-caused origin,” we’ve proverbially shot ourselves in the foot yet again.

As a photographer, in Oak Creek Canyon I found a pristine, wild world of natural beauty and peace. Its quiet, meditative moments inform all my photography, and my goal has always been to show people such places exist, to inspire them to see these places, to love these places and to subsequently protect and preserve these places.

To think that I may simply be chronicling a more beautiful past that will cease to exist is a sobering and devastatingly sad thought.

Thomas Friedman eloquently stated in today’s New York Times: “When we were growing up, ‘later’ meant that you could paint the same landscape, see the same animals, climb the same trees, fish the same rivers, visit the same Antarctica, enjoy the same weather or rescue the same endangered species that you did when you were a kid — but just later, whenever you got around to it. Not anymore. Later is now when you won’t be able to do any of them ever again. So whatever you’re planning to save, please save it now. Because later is when they’ll be gone. Later will be too late.”

Let’s hope, for all our benefits, it’s not too late yet.



Filed under Eco Issues

9 responses to “Derek von Briesen’s Pristine Peace in Oak Creek Canyon


    Prayers for Oak Creek Canyon/Sedona. That is a beautiful part of AZ and I have enjoyed visiting it several times on vacation with my brother. Thanks for the photos that will help preserve those memories.

  2. So sad to see such a wonderful natural landmark be destroyed by a reckless and/or criminal act by a visitor to the canyon.

  3. Derek, thanks so very much for so eloquently posting what I have been thinking. As Tom Friedman said that today ‘later’ is now when we will never be able to do them again. Having grown up in Grand Canyon Village and traveled through Oak Creek some 60 years ago, I can attest to this. The fire has spurred troubling thoughts in my mind and your fine writing has sorted and shown me that I’m not the only one who feels the pain of our present earth’s complexity. I will cherish photographs all the more.

  4. Esther Niner

    This is heartbreaking. Please, everyone…BE CAREFUL!

  5. Our state is in peril. How can people be so ignorant to do ANYTHING that could start a fire? I also love this area and am grieving it’s scarring…..

  6. Dora Bustos

    Your article was amazing and so are your pictures.

    Thank you
    Bless Arizona

  7. Great writing Derek! Good point since the world is changing so fast maybe the best way is to live fully in the moment.

  8. Kathleen Wasselle Croft

    Absolutely tragic…

  9. Stephen Lurie

    Let us look forward to a new beginning in this treasured place and, with that, new beauty.

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