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.

Arizona Map of the Parks, (public domain)

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.

A look across the valley from the visitor’s center at Chiricahua National 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).

Chiricahua Mountains during December of 2010

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.

Echo Canyon within the Chiricahua National Monument during Winter

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.

A look at some of the Pinnacles in Chiricahua NM

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.

Chiricahua National Monument

My journey through the monument’s wooded canyons, sheer-walled corridors, and mind-blowing formations thrilled the child within me.

Winter time in the Chiricahua National Monument

Heart of Rocks Loop (strenuous) connected me with Big Balanced Rock (pictured below), Mushroom Rock, and a playground of fanciful formations.

“Big Balanced Rock” within the Chiricahua National Monument in December of 2010

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. 

Chiricahua National Monument in the Winter time.

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.

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