Where: Winter break! Current stop: Southeast Arizona
It was barely light enough to see, and the dawn was still another 45 minutes away. Still, the mountains around me were starting to glow with the promise of the rising sun. The night shift was ending, with a pair of owls answering each other’s calls up and down the valley, and the day shift was coming on, with lots of canyon wrens starting their octave-wide songs. Gradually, the rocks started to show red, then pink, and suddenly, it was morning, with a bright blue sky. It’s scenes like this that make me love the Southeast corner of Arizona.
We’re revisiting a favorite boondock from a couple years ago, the Cochise Stronghold in the Coronado National Forest. There is a Forest Service campground at the end of the road, but it’s really only suitable for tents and van-sized motorhomes. No problem for us, because we prefer the free, dispersed camping at the mouth of the canyon, where’s there’s more room to spread out, and more sun for our solar panels. We love walking the dirt road that runs along the valley floor, and the rough jeep trails that branch off into the side canyons. In addition to the formal hiking trails into the mountains, there’s also all kinds of use trails that lead to the popular climbing areas. This is a place where we can happily stay for a week and not need to get into the car–all kinds of beauty are right here!
The canyon has a handful of private residences. How would you like to live here?
However, we chose this spot in order to visit a place that’s been on my bucket list since forever: Chiricahua National Monument. After a huge volcanic explosion 27 years ago, the rhyolite tuff slowly eroded into the most fantastical pinnacles and hoodoos. There’s 17 miles of trails through the park, and we decided on the Big Loop, at 9.5 miles, in order to see as much as possible. It was a great choice, even if we were completed bushed at the end of it. (That’s what you get when you try to do a big hike after having been sick for the prior three weeks!) We started so early that we didn’t see anyone else for the first three hours, and we felt like we had the park to ourselves. This would be a wonderful multi-day stop, so as to hike every trail.
Big Balanced Rock seemed impossible:
The Grottoes of Echo Canyon:
Back in Cochise, we decided to tackle a trail to Rockfellow Dome, a prominent feature high up in the mountains, and a well-known climbing spot. The area closes seasonally to protect nesting raptors, and the last time we were here was during that time. I’d heard that the hike was really rough, but we decided to go as high as were dared, to see the views. Well, we got really really close, but about 1000 feet from the top, the trail turned into a wicked slab of rock on a steep angle, with a long drop below. We decided we were happy with our accomplishments, and enjoyed looking at the mountains 50 miles north.
The goal was the saddle–the dip in the middle:
This was the easy part of the trail:
Good enough views:
Til next time!