Sunday, March 15, 2015

Hiking in the Chiricahua National Monument

In a little over an hour and a half we drove from  our home in Vail to the Visitor Centre at Chiricahua National Park.

There were 15 of us who came today for this adventure... and what an adventure it was! We all looked so bright and ready for a fabulous hike!

The Chiricahua Apache called this area the "Standing Up Rocks."

As we drove from the Visitor Centre to the Echo Canyon Parking lot, it was a most glorious feeling to  see these gigantic rocks towering high above the valley floor. I wanted to stop and take a photo of this... but with three cars of hikers following me, I resisted the urge.  Credit for this photo and the next one of the Organ Pipe formation here is to "the oasis of my soul. com."

I was overwhelmed by the massive magnitude of these giants, standing proudly here... and we were about to be hiking in and around these unusual monuments.  O that we might of had such blue skies for our day here.  But we will most certainly return.

From the Echo Canyon Parking Lot it was all downhill for the first bit... and soon we were hiking next to some stacks of stone. It was like a humungous stack of pancakes topped with a blob of whipped cream.

A lot of the prominent rocks were named. When we saw one named 'Old Maid' some of the women commented, "You can tell that men were in charge of the naming."

If the trees here were 30 feet tall, this rock could easily be 60 to 70 feet high.

We did not see a lot of birds or wildlife... but it was great to find this colourful male Spotted Towhee.

I was impressed by the quality of the path and the rock retaining walls that were built in several places.

Here along a stream bed they not only built a rock retaining wall, but placed large stone in the creek bed and built some nice rock steps.

Soon we found a team of workers who were building another rock wall.

I stopped to compliment them on their hard work and impressive quality. It takes a lot of time to square up these rocks with only a hammer and chisel. I know as I have built a many rock walls.

Mushroom Rock is another amazing huge balancing rock.

I don't believe that every rock has a name...

We noticed that a forest fire had burned it's way thru the park... so I Googled it up and found that in May and June 2011 about 223,000 acres were burned in these Chiricahua Mountains.

Credit to NPS Photo -D. Shultz

They name their forest fires in these parts... like hurricanes get named.  This fire was called, "Horseshoe Two Fire."

The whole park did not get burned... just the south-east corner.

Now almost four years after the fire, the evidence of the tragedy is still very evident. On the distant hills we saw snow this morning. Look at the horizon about three-quarters to the right.

This is a blow up of the previous photo. We were at around 7000 feet elevation on the trail when I took this picture... so the snow level may be around 8000 feet on the distant hills. All these hills were hit with the forest fire.

It was sad to see how large and small trees alike were killed by the fire. But it was nice to see the sun come out and burn off some of the overcast sky. The first hour of our hike was without any blue in the sky.

In the distance we could see another balancing rock. Shirley helps to put the scale of this rock in perspective.

It was glorious to feel the warmth of the sun and see a little blue sky.

It was only 11:00 AM and I was feeling the need for a snack... I was running out of energy.

We were hiking along the top of a ridge among some giant columns....

and then around a bend in the trail we got a vista to the north towards Wilcox.

What a majestic view of the Chiricahua's... and the vast grasslands we drove thru to get here.

I was getting hungry, so really welcomed a chance to stop and have a drink and a few nuts.

Rocks with a hat.

Moss and lichen are common on most all the rocks in this park.

Along the Big Balanced Rock Trail we walked amongst these giant rock columns.

At every turn in the trail there were more huge stacks of layered rocks.

The scale of these tall columns was incredible... they remind one of the spires on a cathedral.

Not to be confused with all the other balanced rocks, this one is call the "Big Balanced Rock." The sign tells us that it weighs 1,000 tons, is 25 feet high and has a diameter of 22 feet!

Within the view of the Balanced Rock was a perfect place to stop for lunch... it was at the intersection of the trail to Heart of Rocks loop.

There were lots of flat rocks to sit on and rest for a while.

Several of our group took this stop for a photo opportunity.

Right after lunch we headed off on the Heart of Rocks Trail... a one mile loop with some of the most famous celebrity rocks in this park.

Another serious photographer was setting up his camera on a tripod to capture this balancing rock.

Larry stopped to check out this unusual twisted alligator juniper tree bark. It was most unusual.

At every turn in the trail there was another amazing sight.

Shirley and Olivia pose attempting to push a huge rock over.  Good luck with that!

I caught Larry standing on a rock ledge, getting a better viewpoint to take a photo.

The trail had a lot of ups and downs... but to be able to walk around these famous rocks was a most memorable experience.

Toy posed in front of Thor's Hammer.

 The Camel's Head... not Toy's.  The one in the background.

I had trouble finding the Old Maid.  I saw several rocks that could fill the title.

There were some tight places where the trail took us between the tall rocks...

No doubt by the end of this hike we all could feel some tired muscles.

Some of us started to see things in some of these unusual rocks. This looked to me like a calf and a dog laying together on top.

Toy took a Sampson pose... but was not able to even budge these massive rocks.

It definitely looked like an alien creature looming in the rock to the left.

Mike paused to rest on this precarious ledge and enjoy the spectacular view.  The trees are lush here and were not affected by the forest fire.

Sometimes the rocks had some red... but certainly not as much redness as you see in the Bryce Canyon rocks.

This is the famous Punch and Judy rocks.

Toy took my camera to capture me and Shirley doing the "Punch and Judy"pose.

It is pretty easy to see the Duck on the Rock.

I named this one "Grumpy Lady with a Large Hat."

Here are the Kissing Rocks.

Suk was a little shy about posing for this picture with the Kissing Rocks.

On this hike we saw more then a few "Kissing Rocks."

There was so much kissing on this hike Suk suggested that this hike should be rated PG 21.

The spring flowers are not as early here with the high elevation... but this looked like some Desert Indian Paintbrush just starting to bloom.

Along with kissing rocks, balancing rocks are also very plentiful in this park.

We came to a junction in the trail and were all shocked at the distance uphill to where our cars were parked. So we decided to split up. It was only 1.5 miles and all downhill to the Visitor Centre. So Toy offered to take the 2.8 mile hike uphill to the Echo Canyon Parking Lot to get a car... so the rest of our group could continue on the gentle downhill path to the Visitor Centre.

Chuck, Bobbie and I also volunteered to go with him... and we really booted it. We got to the parking lot in about an hour and twenty minutes. The rest of the group got to the Visitor Centre in less than an hour.

Unlike most of the hike, in these last 2.8 miles I only stopped twice to take a few photos... but when we went thru the narrow passage above, which I think was called Wall Street, I had to take a picture. It was really awesome cool with flat parallel walls soaring high up on both sides. And we went thru this kind of event twice.

Jane and Shirley compared their Fit Bit mileage and they had just over 10.25 miles walked when they got back to the Visitor Centre.  The four of us that went for the cars estimated we did between 11.5 to 12 miles today.

There are 17 miles of hiking trails in this park... so we did about two-thirds of them on Thursday.

No doubt we all got a pretty good feel of what this park had to offer. It is a totally awesome hike with endless thrills and opportunities to take yet another photo. I would have no difficulty coming back to this place again.

"Unless we are willing to encourage our children to reconnect with and appreciate the natural world, we can't expect them to help protect and care for it." -David Suzuki


  1. Morning Love, didn't you notice that the Old Maid rock looked much more like a Grumpy Old Man rock. That was the consensus among the women! :)

  2. pretty spectacular stuff.. wow! i can see why you might unfurl 71 pix here. was there any mention of any of these structures falling over? did you see any of those?

    1. There was an occasional rock that had fallen off it's base... and a few high up that fell over and got lodged immediately between the rocks next to it, The thought passed thru my head that I would not want to hiking here during a serious earthquake.