6871 N. Highway 89A
Sedona, AZ 86336
My visit: July 7, 2016
I first saw Slide Rock State Park from the road while driving on Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive.
This gorgeous, winding road is about 15 miles long and runs between Sedona and Flagstaff. Even a slight glance then showed this state park was a very popular spot with lots of people lining the red rock banks. I made it a point then that I wanted to visit it while I was in the area (the park is about 7 miles north of Sedona).
I later saw it listed as one of the top 10 Things to See and Do in Sedona: “Oak Creek’s slippery bottom offers a gentle gradient into the red sandstone pool at the bottom. The scenery is so spectacular, many movies have been shot there. Fodor’s Travel Guide calls Slide Rock a “historical little gem” and the eighth best State Park in the Union out of 8,000. On hot summer days, the lineups can be fearsome so don’t even think about trying the midday rush hour.”
July 7, 2016: I went with a few friends, thinking a weekday and after the 4th holiday weekend might be a good time. While I’m sure it was less crowded than a holiday weekend, the line of cars on the road was starting to get pretty long even though we arrived around 10 a.m. As the day progressed and we could see the lines getting longer, we were glad we got there when we did.
Here’s the start of the line of the main attraction. It was fun to watch the delight of the kids and adults alike, but since we were warned at the entrance about the extremely high bacteria levels in the water, I couldn’t bring myself to get in any more than ankle deep. I worried about the kids bound to be inhaling some of that water as they slid down the rocks. At times during peak summer season they’ve even had to close the park completely. See more info about that sad and complicated issue below.
There are also spots where you can just jump in and I caught this lady doing just that, holding her nose just like I’d have to.
Here’s a couple of minutes of splashing sights and sounds of lots of people have loads of fun!
Meet Hank Vincent, Assistant Park Manager. I was happy to have the chance to talk with him and I always recommend talking to the rangers at a park whenever possible. They usually have first-hand knowledge and tips you may not get on your own and is a great way to learn more about the park. Hank began working at the park as a ranger in 2006 and has been the Assistant Park Manager since November and I asked him what was his favorite part of the park. Since it is most well known for the unique water slide, I was a little surprised when he quickly said the apple orchards were most definitely his favorite feature. I hadn’t seen those yet, so I was really in for a special treat. Although they’re a little hard to see in this picture, this tree and the grove in the background are full of Double Starking Red Delicious apples, although still small and green at this point.
I was stoked that he took me into the Apple Packing Shed that was built in 1932 and is still used to this day. In appreciation of his Texas roots, the original homesteader who arrived here in 1907, Frank Pendley, built it to be reminiscent of the Alamo. Being from Texas myself, I thought that was pretty cool.
Hank even turned the machine on and showed me how the apples were polished by the automatic brushes before they ride up the ramp to the scale belt. Workers stand alongside the belt and inspect then sort the apples by size before they are boxed and ready for sale. The building is not open on a regular basis to the public at this point, so I was happy for the chance to see this operation. Click below if you want to see and hear about a minute of it, too.
I thought this process was pretty smooth!
The Homestead museum room – can’t you just imagine Mrs. Pendley rocking and knitting here or sitting at the sewing machine fashioning her family’s clothing?
The appropriately named Heritage Tree (Arkansas Black variety) is the last remaining tree of the original orchard that was planted in 1912. What a wonderful and rare old fellow and incredible that he is still producing! Doesn’t he look great for being 104 years old?! The orchards were planted with several different varieties, but the Red Delicious did particularly well, so most of the remaining trees are this variety.
This is still a working commercial apple farm where you can buy packaged apples at the front gate or enter the park and pick them yourself for a better deal and as a way to support the park’s efforts. Depending on the crop, apples are available between the end of August and the first of October.
Fall Festival – I bet that’s a fun day then and a beautiful sight to behold also when the apple blossoms are framing the red rocks. Read more about the constant loving care required to keep this going at Apples and Rangers Unite.
The Pendley Homestead house was built in 1927. Frank used creative and innovative engineering skills to build an irrigation ditch that took two years and a lot of hard work to complete, but allowed him to keep his apple trees as well as peaches, cherries and walnut trees in his orchard watered and thriving. Part of his irrigation ditch is still in use today. He also raised vegetables, blackberries, poultry, swine, dairy and beef cattle, but the apple orchard was the primary cash crop.
This waterwheel was another innovation that started with his determination to have electricity at the homestead, so this wheel was constructed for use with the irrigation ditch water flow and began operating effectively in the 1920s. Modern electricity was not brought to the canyon until 1948.
On the path to the water, you’ll pass some of the other historical features, including some rustic cabins built in 1933 to accommodate the growing tourist trade when Oak Creek Canyon roads were improved.
The property was sold to the Arizona Parklands Foundation for $3.6 million in 1984 and the homestead became Slide Rock State Park in 1987.
I wondered how many people gloss over this part of the history of the park and rush on to the usual main attraction, the natural water slides.
To me, trees are always a main attraction, should never be passed by without giving some attention and appreciation – and these two were pretty special in my book!
And don’t miss Cliff Top Trail, a 3/8 mile loop with several overlooks to get a bird’s eye view of the crowds. I’m thankful Hank turned me on to this because I might have missed it. That’s a bridge along Oak Creek Canyon seen at the top right.
We had our picnic lunch away from the crowds in a bit of shade. Some teenagers came by later and some actually jumped from this spot! There was a deeper area than what shows here, but still freaked me out. We left then because we couldn’t watch that for long.
But it was a nice day and whether you’re a fan of water slides or want to get in the water or not, I’d say it’s worth a trip to this park for the other features, including just the natural beauty of the red rock and the fascinating history of this beautiful property.
More Info on Slide Rock State Park:
Park Map – Pick up a printed version at the entrance that gives overview and location of picnic areas, ramadas (covered picnic areas that can be reserved) trails, slide, restrooms, etc.
Facilities – Market and Gift Shop with snacks, water, useful supplies (sunscreen, film) and most importantly, ice cream!
Fees – 2016: $20 per car (up to 4 adults) Mon. – Thurs; $30 per car on weekends and holidays.
Park History – Learn more about the Pendley family, the original 1900s homesteaders, the innovative irrigation system he implemented that made an apple orchard possible to thrive here, and how this unique property came to be a state park.
Pendley Ecological History – Frank Pendley’s son, Tom, shares some memories of growing up here related to the orchard and the “engineering masterpiece” irrigation system.
Water Quality Issues: On the day I visited, the ranger at the gate informed us that due to the influx of visitors during the 4th of July holiday, the E. Coli bacteria levels in the water was extremely high.
My first thought was that it was heartbreaking that due to careless and plain grossness on the part of the visiting public that this warning was necessary. Come on people – there are modern restrooms and vault toilets around the park – have a little respect for Mother Nature!
But my further research showed it wasn’t as simple as that. I saw some studies that show that while the highest concentrations of bacteria are found during the months of June, July and August during the heaviest visitor use, the problem doesn’t disappear at other times, indicating that wildlife feces, development, storm water runoff and sediment also contribute to the problem since unacceptable levels are also found during winter months when people aren’t swimming. Even with stringent Coconino County controls on residential developments upstream, older septic systems that may leak and camping activities along the creek are hard to control.
Pets are not allowed at all within the park, but of course people and their pets hiking along the creek and campers in other areas upstream could contribute to the problem, as well as wild animals and pollution from commercial developments along the road. One study I read said a single diaper or one pile of human or dog waste can be a key source of pollution in the water, sometimes for as long as 3 months!
Water Quality Hotline (602-542-0202) – The website lists this number to call to get updated info, but then you just get a recording to call the park – and when I did that, I got a recording saying to leave a message. I think they need a better system for keeping this information available to the public on a timely basis.
Park Reopens After E. Coli Scare (2012 article)