Foraying for winter oysters in Oak Creek Canyon tomorrow (18 Jan 2015)

Brian Marshall, who found oyster mushrooms in Flagstaff last month, sends us another interesting report from Oak Creek Canyon today:

After spending a fantastic day of mountain biking in Sedona I spotted A TON of perfect looking Oysters on dead standing deciduous trees in Oak Creek Canyon. The stretch of riparian habitat from uptown Sedona to about Slide Rock had too many to count, EASILY spotted from the highway while driving. I was a passenger and alas, could not stop to pick any. My non-mushroom hunting friends already kind of glaze over when I go full mushroom geek on them, I didn’t feel like pushing my luck. Many were high up in the trees but no doubt a person would do well to check it out.


Well all righty then, Brian! We WILL check it out! Hope you can make it too. Winter mushrooms are a pretty rare treat, even in Arizona, and the way you describe it, I can’t resist a trip.

(Horace Sheffield)

(Horace Sheffield)

I was already planning to take a hike tomorrow (Sunday 18 January 2015), so it looks like we’ll be walking up Oak Creek amongst the cottonwoods (Populus fremontii). We plan to leave the Valley promptly around lunchtime, arriving in Sedona at 2:30 or so, and pick oyster mushrooms until dark, returning the same evening. We have a couple of extra seats in the truck if any of our local readers wish to come along. Contact me if you’re interested.

Below are a few resources for planning purposes if you’re going to make your own trip out there.  I think Oak Creek Canyon is sure to be ground zero for this flush.  

First, the rainfall map from for the last week. At the tip of the red arrow is Sedona, and at the tip of the purple arrow is the Oak Creek Canyon overlook above the switchbacks, with Oak Creek Canyon between them. They appear to have gotten 1-2 inches of rain in the last week according to the radar.  

Central Arizona rainfall 01-10-15 thru 01-17-15

Central Arizona rainfall 10 Jan-17 Jan 2015 (

This correlates pretty well with the RAWS rain gauge above Slide Rock, which reports 2.1 inches of rain measured on the ground in the last week. Below Slide Rock, in the Grasshopper Point area, there are a lot of cottonwood groves that survived the Slide Fire last summer, and this would seem to be the same area Brian was describing above. Above Slide Rock, there may be some burned deadwood harboring oyster mushrooms as well, and this area got even more rainfall over the last week than they did farther down-canyon. However, it may be too early after the burn for oysters to get established and fruit this season. The big fruiting of oyster mushrooms on burned wood around Alpine last July came 3 years after the Wallow fire. Maybe in a couple of years this area will really produce.  Moreover, it will be colder in the higher elevations at the head of the canyon, so the best hunting is likely to be below Slide Rock state park.  (One thing’s for sure, they don’t want anyone picking mushrooms in the park itself!) 

The Verde Valley proper got a lot less rain. Even Sedona itself got only 0.6 inches, enough to make things happen, but it’s going to be better hunting above Sedona than below it. It’s likely that fruiting will continue for at least another four or five days after this recent rainfall and subsequent warm weather.

The map above also shows some orange arrows that denote good precipitation at (from left to right) the east side of the San Francisco Peaks, the middle of the FR300 Rim Road along the Mogollon Rim above Payson, and the Greens Peak/San Juan Fire area of the White Mountains.  However, it is probably too cold for good mushroom fruiting at these elevations (7000 feet+), unlike the 4500-5500 foot elevation in the middle to lower parts of Oak Creek Canyon. Sounds promising for morel season in the spring, though!

One other area folks might be interested in is the green arc of rainfall corresponding to the Mazatzal Mountains between Phoenix and Payson, shown by a pink arrow on the map above. Riparian zones harbor cottonwood trees along the Lower Verde River watershed on the west side of this mountain range and the Rye Creek drainage on the east side. These would be good places to look for those who can’t make it all the way to Sedona in the coming days.

You’ll want to stay away from private land, unless you have permission, as well as state parks, national parks and monuments, and Indian reservations. The best way to do this is to use the Arizona State Land Department GIS parcel viewer. If you choose “Imagery” map type from the menu at the top right of the viewer window (shown with red arrow), and adjust the slider at top left so the parcel shading is translucent (blue arrow), you can see exactly where the land boundaries fall, and correlate them with the areas of creek bottom that harbor trees.  In the example map below, the green-shaded areas are National Forest, which is where you should target your efforts (green arrow). Pink is Slide Rock State Park (with pink arrow), and private land is unshaded (purple arrow). To measure distances, areas, or latitude/longitude, use the measurement tool (yellow arrow).

Note that conveniently, the current aerial photos of Oak Creek were acquired in the early fall, and the cottonwood trees are starting to turn gold. This is where you should be looking this time of year, and also in the early spring for yellow natural morels.

Oak Creek Parcel Map (Arizona Land Department)

Oak Creek Parcel Map (Arizona Land Department)

If you want a USGS topographical map to guide you along Oak Creek below Slide Rock State Park, you need to get the Munds Park quadrangle and the Wilson Mountain quadrangle, both in the 7.5 minute series from 2014.

One last important detail– there is now a fee-for-use area along Oak Creek where you are required to purchase a permit called the Red Rock Pass. It is modestly priced, at only $5.00 per day or $15.00 per week, and is available at many locations in the Sedona area. As the map below demonstrates, the entire area we are going to target this week is within the boundaries of this pass program. Don’t forget to buy it and display it in your vehicle if you park in Oak Creek Canyon, or you could face a much more expensive citation from the Forest Service.

Red Rock Pass Program Area (USFS)

Red Rock Pass Program Area (USFS)

Good luck to anyone going out this week, and thanks again to Brian Marshall for generously sharing his discovery. Hope to see you out in the canyon tomorrow afternoon! Look for my brown Toyota Tacoma crew-cab pickup truck with an Arizona Mushroom Club decal parked along Highway 89.


About Christopher May

Chris is a radiologist in private practice in Scottsdale. He is married to Barbara May, with two grown children, Megan and Nick.
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2 Responses to Foraying for winter oysters in Oak Creek Canyon tomorrow (18 Jan 2015)

  1. Danna says:

    Love your site and info! Have enjoyed mushroom hunting around Flagstaff for several years now. Want to expand out to other types so sure hope to get in on some morel hunting too. Thanks for adding to my excitement with hopes for finding bunches this spring.

    • Christopher May says:

      So happy you find it useful, Danna. Keep an eye on this site, and come over to our groop page if you have Facebook. The conversation is a lot livelier there.

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