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.
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.
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.
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.
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