[Source: Bruce Colbert, Prescott Daily Courier]
With the intensity of an Olympic swimmer, little 6-year-old “Mya” adjusted her swimming goggles, stepped to the rock ledge, and catapulted herself into the air landing about 15 feet below in a cool pool of Oak Creek.
“Yeeeah,” she shouted after popping her head out of the water.
Welcome to a typical summer day at Slide Rock State Park, located about five miles north of Sedona.
“We’ve got people coming from all over the world,” said Ellen Bilbrey, Arizona State Parks Chief Public Information Officer.
Elaine and Graham Norris traveled from England to do some touring, and found themselves this past week marveling at the red rock spires surrounding Slide Rock Park.
“We were talking to someone and said we wanted to go see Sedona, and he said, ‘You’ve got to go to Slide Rock, it’s fantastic,'” Graham said in a clipped British accent. “So here we are and he was right.”
However, out of the more than 1,000 visitors per day on weekends (about half that on weekdays) most are local Arizonans who know all about the park and its famous creek. Oak Creek is fed by a spring about seven miles upstream, and with runoff from the surrounding mountains.
But the pastoral park is not just about the creek.
“There are hiking trails that people can continue on into the Coconino National Forest. There’s rock climbing, picnicking, volleyball, shaded ramadas, fishing, bird watching, photography, a gift shop, and you can have weddings here for an incredibly low price,” Bilbrey said. “It’s like a theme park, except it’s a natural theme park.”
Made to order for nature lovers, the park also caters to history buffs.
In 1907, Frank L. Pendley settled in Oak Creek Canyon, planted vegetables and apple and pear orchards on 43 acres of creek side land, and in 1910 took ownership through the Homestead Act.
Pendley’s son, Tom, continued managing the property until 1982 when the family decided to sell it. Gov. Bruce Babbit heard about the sale, bought the property through the Arizona Parklands Foundation, and state officials opened Slide Rock State Park in 1987.
Many of Pendley’s apple trees still produce fruit; his house and cabins still stand; some of his farm equipment still works; the apple sorter still sorts; and his hand-built irrigation system still irrigates.
“We’ve got 13 different species of apples and get phenomenal apples in the fall,” Bilbrey said. “During the fall Apple Festival, if we’ve got a crop, you can pick your own heritage apples.”
Although the park is open year-round, Bilbrey said that for some people, winter is the time to go.
“If you are a photographer, the fall and winter are absolutely gorgeous,” Bilbrey said. “And there are hardly any people then.”
If you go to the park for a summer swim, Bilbrey cautions parents that there are no lifeguards on duty, but park rangers patrol the slide area on a regular basis.
“All the rangers are first responders, and I’ve never heard of a drowning in at least 15 years,” she added.
It costs $20 per vehicle to visit the park. Park hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Labor Day weekend, and then rangers shorten the hours. To get to the park from Prescott, which is about 70 miles north, drive Highway 89A north, or I-17 north and exit at SR 179 to Sedona.