At approximately 4,500 feet, Sedona sits in the middle of a transition zone between the mountains to the north, and the deserts to the south. Many of the plants and shrubs are of desert origin and this is the highest altitude that you will find them. Other plantlife descended down from the Colorado Plateau.
In general, the brush is called P.J. Woodland, and is comprised mostly of Pinon Pines and Juniper trees. Mixed in among these trees are cacti and succulents, like Yucca and Agave. This area also supports a lot of Smooth-bark Cypress. Along the creeks and washes you will find Cottonwoods and ghostly Sycamores. Further up Oak Creek Canyon are Gamble’s Oak that have washed downstream, off the plateau.
The differences in altitude, terrain, and soil all work together to form several very unique ecosystems that exist side by side in this area. Desert grasslands of Soaproot Yucca and Prickly Pear Cactus provide shelter for snakes and roadrunners. The cool shadows along Oak Creek are the perfect habitats for Great Blue Herons, Ringtails, and Canyon Tree Frogs.
From dry canyon washes lined with thick stands of Sycamores to south-facing slopes of Manzanita and Scrub Oak, the landscape is always changing. At first glance it seems a sturdy environment, but Sedona’s low-rainfall climate is actually quite fragile. Much of the soil is held in place by a thin cryptobiotic crust, once this crust is broken erosion begins —another reason why it is so important to stay on the trails.
The highest recorded temperature in Sedona is 112 degrees, with 20 to 25 days per year over 100 degrees. The area gets almost 82% of its days in sunshine. The wettest months are July and August during the monsoon, with the rest falling as rain and snow during the winter months—in total about 14 inches of annual precipitation.
The monsoon is caused when moisture from the Sea of Cortez works its way north. Daytime heating warms the rocks, which in turn power the thunderstorms. Thunder Mountain received its name from the Native Americans because it gets hit by lightning strikes up to 4,000 times a year—90% of the strikes are during the monsoon from mid-July until September.
Flooding occurs when snow on the Mogollon Rim melts under warmer rain and flows down Oak Creek Canyon. The 15.5 miles of Oak Creek eventually flow another 17 miles past the Highway 179 junction and along the way tributaries add to the flow of water. Since 1993 Oak Creek has overflowed three times, the most recent in 2004 made national news.
There is also flooding and flash floods along the washes in early July when the monsoon begins. During this time the ground has baked up hard during the hot season and won’t absorb any of the moisture the first rains bring.