Chiricahua, AZ 2010
At the end of December of 2010, I found myself exploring Southern Arizona. There in the southeastern corner was the beautiful Chiricahua National Monument.
Chiricahua’s hallmark is the enormous collection of weirdly-shaped rock pinnacles that fill the higher regions of the park, the remnants of a huge volcanic eruption about 25 million years ago. This thick, white-hot ash spewed forth from the nearby Turkey Creek Caldera, cooled and hardened into rhyolitic tuff, laying down almost 610 m of highly siliceous, dark volcanic ash and pumice. The volcanic material eventually eroded into the natural rock formations of the present monument.
Winter here at Chiricahua was relatively temperate, with the low 60s and about 30 cm of snow on the ground, (pictured above and below).
Pictured above, the Chiricahua Mountains were part of a traditional homeland of the Chiricahua Band of the Apache Indian nation. The Chiricahuans had numerous clashes with settlers and travelers during the 19th century, many resulting from the “white man’s” violation of previously negotiated treaties governing land use. The Apache leaders Cochise and Geronimo were members of the Chiricahua Band who were famed, and feared, in their day. Territory of the monument was used as a safe-haven by the Chiricahuans until the cessation of hostilities.
Swedish immigrants Neil and Emma Erickson settled in Bonita Canyon, in the lower reaches of the monument, in the 1880s, and operated the “Faraway Ranch” on what is now monument property.
Hiking the big loop (an assemblage of several shorter trails) can be a day-long adventure, and it gave me access to the Heart of Rocks: a garden of naturally sculpted statues and shapes.
My journey through the monument’s wooded canyons, sheer-walled corridors, and mind-blowing formations thrilled the child within me.
Heart of Rocks Loop (strenuous) connected me with Big Balanced Rock (pictured below), Mushroom Rock, and a playground of fanciful formations.
The rock pinnacles were particularly beautiful when dressed in snow. Chiricahua National Monument hiking may not be ideal under snowy conditions but the snow kept people away so I almost had the trail to myself.
There was about three inches of snow by the time I got to Balanced Rock – with no sign of letting up – and a cold wind so I turned around there. It was a very beautiful hike with a moderate amount of elevation gain.