Spring in the Chiracuahuas
We spent three wonderful days in the amazing Chiracauhua mountains of southeast Arizona. Chiracauhua National Monument,http://www.nps.gov/chir/index.htm, is a treasure trove of geological wonders. Created by a volcanic eruptions 11 million years ago, the rhyolite formations have eroded into a wonderland of massive pillars tinted by lovely chartreuse colored lichen.
Hiking amongst the rock formations provides an ever-changing panorama of interesting shapes and vistas. Many of the hoodoos have eroded into each other creating bizarre formations. The weathered and twisted piñon pine, cedar and juniper trees add an other-worldly dimension to the landscape.
Trails are well marked, winding their way through the columns. Most are easily hiked in half a day but you can combine trails into 9-12 mile hikes and make a full day of it. A free shuttle from the visitor center and campground takes you to the trail heads of Echo Canyon and Massai Point at 6,870 feet, where most trails begin. From there, take your pick, and end up eventually descending by the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail to the visitor center. Along this trail, we watched a young or small female black bear forage on the opposite side of the valley.
Spectacular, panoramic views lay in all directions from Massai Point but those to the east and to the west descend far out into the surrounding valleys toward distant mountains.
This being the land of Cochise, the Apache leader whose burial site is hidden within the chaos of enormous boulders in Cochise’s Stronghold across the valley to the west, it is very odd, and fitting that a mountain to the north takes on an uncanny likeness. Cochise’s Head appears as if sculpted into the craggy profile of the dead warrior. A 75-100 foot tall ponderosa pine is even poised perfectly as his eyelash. It is a strange and obvious resemblance.
Another trail to Natural Bridge takes us to a different area of the park. The five mile round trip rises through a forest of juniper, cedar and pine to a high plateau with views to the desert before dropping into Picket Park, a lovely forest of tall, widely spaced pines along a meandering, seasonal creek. At trail’s end lies Natural Bridge, a thirty feet span carved among the rocks above the small valley. This being early April, wildflowers were just beginning to blossom. Another few weeks and a little rain should bring about a spectacular display.
Bonita Canyon Campground is a lovely, peaceful spot nestled within a large grove of Oaks and Alligator Juniper. A seasonal creek runs through and trails lead to old Faraway Ranch, settled by a Swedish couple in the 1880’s, as well as to the impressive Organ Pipe Formation.
I was surprised at the availability of campsites. Spring is their high season. The campground filled up every night but with even an mid-afternoon arrival, a site could’ve been found.
This was our third trip to the Chiracauhuas. Each trip brings something new. The entire surrounding area has much to offer and much to explore. We will return.