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A Snowy Hike In Beautiful Chiricahua National Monument

A Snowy Hike in Beautiful Chiricahua National Monument

In southeastern Arizona, about a two hour drive away from Tucson you’ll find the beautiful and somewhat isolated Chiricahua National Monument. Called a sky island – with mountains that rise to a height of 9,763 feet (2,978 m) above the surrounding plains, the area makes a great destination for hikers and birders.

Chiracahua National Monument

We were there in mid-December during a snow storm. So much for getting away from the cold of Calgary! However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The rock pinnacles are particularly beautiful when dressed in snow. And the snow keeps people away so we almost had the trails to ourselves. The only people we met were from out of the country aside from a couple of guys from Chicago who were on a trip and following in the footsteps of author Cormac McCarthy and two girls from California on a spiritual outing (one of whom warned me that parts of California would fall into the ocean tomorrow. You’ve been warned.)

According to the literature from the monument, the Chiricahua Apache named the pinnacles “standing up rocks.” The grey rock – called rhyolite was formed 27 million years ago after the eruption of the Turkey Creek Volcano. Weathering over the millennia has resulted in a fantastic assortment of rock shapes and spires. The pinnacles are best viewed by hiking though the Bonita Canyon Drive is reportedly very beautiful as well.

Even the drive to Chiricahua National Monument is beautiful

Even the drive to Chiricahua National Monument is beautiful

We did have to change our hiking plans because of a road closure. We couldn’t drive past the Visitor Centre because of snow so The Big Loop – a 9.5 mile trail that starts at Echo Canyon and takes in the best of the wilderness scenery was not in the cards. Instead we started at the Visitor Center, hiked up the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail to the Sarah Deming Trail and from there to Balanced Rock. There was about four inches of snow by the time we got to Balanced Rock – with no sign of letting up – and a cold wind so we turned around here.

Here’s a look at just how pretty the hikes are in Chiricahua National Monument.

Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail in Chiricahua National Monument

There’s not much snow when we start the hike

Our first really good view of the rock pinnacles

Our first really good view of the rock pinnacles

Plants dressed in snow - Chiricahua National Monument

Plants dressed in snow

The vegetation is equally interesting with 1,200 species of plants in Chiricahua National Monument

The vegetation is equally interesting with 1,200 species of plants

Chiricahua National Monument - Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail

Within 20 minutes we’re into a full snow on the trail

Chiricahua National Monument

Interesting weathering

Trees up higher start to bend and snap under the weight of snow

Trees up higher start to bend and snap under the weight of snow

Chiricahua National Monument

One of the balanced rocks we saw

More crazy rock formations - Chiricahua National Mounument

More crazy rock formations

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock

Looking down in the valley towards the Sarah Deming Trail

Looking down in the valley towards the Sarah Deming Trail

Chiricahua National Monument

Use your imagination when you look at these rocks

Chiricahua National Monument

People look small beside some of the rock outcrops

Chiricahua National Monument

It’s a silent world in the snow

Chiricahua National Monument

I’m thankful John brought an extra hat along

Good news if you decide to visit Chiricahua National Monument – entrance is free and it’s open year round for both day and overnight visitors. It’s an overlooked part of Arizona but one definitely worth visiting. We stayed at the lovely Cochise Stronghold Retreat – about an hour’s drive away – in an area that also deserves some time as well.

Other posts related to Arizona hiking you might enjoy:

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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