22 February 2013

The Chiricahua Mountains, which sit about 150 miles to the east of Tucson, are famous for their amazing rock formations. Why it took me so long to get there, I do not know. I know one thing for certain - I wish it had been before the big fire of 2011. The so called "Horseshoe 2 Fire", which was started by human activity, eventually burned 80,000 acres. That's over 120 square miles.
So suffice it to say we would find the Chiricahua Mountains a lot less green than before the fire. Bummer...

Location of the Chiricahua Mountains

This visit to the Chiricahua Mountains was initiated by Oracle Allison, who has spent a fair amount of time in the area. She was taking a little break from work and staying for several weeks just outside of Portal, AZ. Portal is on the east side of the Chiricahua Mountains about 40 miles north of the Mexican border and about 50 miles to Douglas, AZ.

Allison invited us to visit while she was staying in the Portal area. Glad for this opportunity, we decided on some dates to head over that way.
As luck would have it, the day before our departure to Portal a winter storm moved in and blanketed the area with significant snow fall. Measurable snow fell in Tucson and the nearby Santa Ritas had heavy snows. We knew what this meant for the Chiricahuas - more of the same!

Click on the photos below for a larger image.

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The morning we departed for Portal the Chiricahuas looked pretty snowy from the rest stop on 1-10. Betsy and I both wondered what would be in store for us.

We arrived at Allison's mid-morning as planned and then hashed out the plans for the day.

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Here is a view of the Chiricahuas from where Allison was staying. Not bad...

Allison had originally planned to take us on a drive up Pinery Canyon on the Scenic Drive Forest Service Route #42. We were really looking forward this and here is why:

This drive offers access to the forested floor of Pinery Canyon and the high slopes of the Chiricahuas. It provides magnificent views to the west of the basin-and-range region of southeastern Arizona.
The sky islands of the Dos Cabezas, Swisshelms and Dragoons form a rugged horizon, hemming in the seas of grass of the Sulphur Springs Valley. The rocky ridgeline of fabled Cochise Stronghold bisects the Dragoons and stands out as one of the view’s most prominent features.

Source: USFS

But it was not to be. The recent snow had closed the road and there was no way to know when it would be reopened. But Allison had a plan. We would drive over and through the tiny settlement of Portal and take a hike up the South Fork of Cave Creek and then up the South Fork Trail to the Wild Burro Trail, all of which are in the Cave Creek Canyon.

Cave Creek Canyon and the town of Portal   Click for larger image

The views up to Cave Creek Canyon were gorgeous.

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Not bad for "through the windshield" shots.

South Fork Road is unpaved and has little traffic this time of the year. So we parked along the side of the road and started our hike up the canyon.

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The road followed the creek and we saw some giant Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica) along the road.
I was not very familiar with the tree and up to this point had only seen a few small specimens in Madera Canyon. This one is quite a beauty!

Cupressus arizonica, the Arizona cypress, is a species of cypress native to the southwest of North America, Arizona, southwest New Mexico, southern California, the Chisos Mountains of west Texas, and in Mexico in Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas and northern Baja California.

In the wild, the species is often found in small, scattered populations, not necessarily in large forests. An example occurrence is within the Sierra Juárez and San Pedro Mártir pine-oak forests of Mexico, where it is found along with Canyon Live Oak and California Fan Palm.

Source: WikiPedia

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Down low the snow was thin and spotty. And fortunately there was bit of sun and no wind.

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Eventually we left the road and started hiking up the canyon on the South Fork Trail. The trail winds through a beautiful riparian woodland with lots of nice oaks, sycamore, cypress, ash and walnut. The Horseshoe 2 Fire had swept through this area as well. But fortunately it did only minimal damage to some of the smaller trees and the lower branches of the bigger trees.

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Two beauties! On the left is another nice Arizona Cypress and on the right is an Apache Pine (Pinus engelmannii).

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With Allison in the lead, we headed up the Wild Burro Trail. The higher we got the more snow we encountered. But it never got more than 3-5" deep.

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Betsy make good use of her trekking poles on this and many other hikes.

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What a great spot for lunch!

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This was our turn around point. From here we made our way back to the car and headed back to Allison's for some supper and relaxin'. (Note the dead tree on the left. This was one of thousands we saw.)

 

22 February 2013

Friday morning broke clear and cool and it looked like a promising day for another hike in the Chiricahuas.
Since the most direct route to the west side of the Chiricahuas was not an option, we went the round about route to get to the main entrance and HQ for the Monument where we would start our hike.

We had not made it more than a few miles up the road when Allison saw flashing lights in the rear view mirror. Since she had not been speeding we did not know what to expect. I cannot remember if it was local mounties or the Border Patrol who stopped us. They wanted to know where we were going and Allison said. "The Monument" to which he responded: "Which Monument". Considering the Chiricahua NM is the only Monument in the area we thought this an odd question. Anyway, he said we had been speeding and there were new signs posted with a lower limit. But he did not even issue a warning so we wondered why he actually pulled us over. Odd. He musta been bored.

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We arrived at the Monument entrance to sunny and breezy weather. Here at the mouth of the canyon it was mostly flat, grassy meadow dotted with oaks and junipers. The scenery would change radically in just a few moments.

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How do you pronounce it?

Our hiking plan from the git go was to take a route through Echo Canyon and the Heart of Rocks area. If you read the description below you will see why we (and hundred of thousands of others) chose this route.

The best scenery in Chiricahua National Monument, with the most extensive outcrops of the eroded volcanic pinnacles for which the area is famous, is beyond the end of the scenic drive, near the crest of this section of the Chiricahua Mountains. Two trail heads and a network of paths allow for a variety of one-way or loop hikes of which the shortest is the 3.3 mile circuit along Echo Canyon, while another popular destination (Heart of Rocks) is reached by a one-way trip of 3.6 miles. But the best option, for an all day hike, is known as the Big Loop, a 9.5 mile trip to all parts of the formations.

This comprises eight separate trails, passing right through several spectacular groups of pinnacles, and also encountering shady canyons, a stream with residual pools, and an open plateau where the views encompass many square miles of the surrounding mountains. The total elevation gain along the loop is 1,800 feet, and typical hiking times are between 4 and 6 hours. Like all of the Chiricahua Mountains, plant life is plentiful and varied, with cacti, yucca and other desert plants growing on exposed, south facing slopes, and numerous wild flowers and moisture-loving plants in the sheltered oak and pine woodland along the canyon floors.

Source: © John Crossley

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The Apaches called this place 'The Land of Standing-Up Rocks'. It is easy to see why.

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It was starting to get interesting!

"The rock formations at Chiricahua National Monument were carved by ice and water from layers of rhyolite, which was originally ash blown out during the Turkey Creek Volcano eruption 27 million years ago." ~NPS

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This roadway is the route to Massai Point at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, elevation 7310'.

Echo Canyon Area   Click for larger image

This was taken at Massai Point where we had planned to start our hike. But all the trails were snow and ice covered and we decided to look for an alternate hike further down the mountain. This turned out to be a good idea as we found out later someone had sunk up to her hips in snow while hiking in Echo Canyon.

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Here lies Cochise. See his reclining head?

Cochise (or "Cheis") was one of the most famous Apache leaders (along with Geronimo and Mangas Coloradas) to resist intrusions by Americans during the 19th century. He was described as a large man (for the time), with a muscular frame, classical features, and long black hair which he wore in traditional Apache style. He was about 1.78 m (5'10") tall and weighed about 175 lbs. In his own language, his name "Cheis" meant "having the quality or strength of oak."

Cochise

Cochise and the Chokonen-Chiricahua lived in the area that is now the northern Mexican region of Sonora, New Mexico, and Arizona, which they had moved into sometime before the coming of the Europeans.[4] As Spain and later Mexico attempted to gain dominion over their lands, the various Chiricahua groups became increasingly resistant. Cycles of warfare developed, which the Apaches mostly won.

Following various skirmishes, Cochise and his men were gradually driven into the Dragoon Mountains but were nevertheless able to use the mountains for cover and as a base from which to continue attacks against the white settlements. Cochise managed to evade capture and continued his raids against white settlements and travelers until 1872. A treaty was finally negotiated by General Oliver O. Howard with the help of Tom Jeffords, who was Cochise's only white friend.

After making peace, Cochise retired to his new reservation, with his friend Jeffords as agent, where he died of natural causes (probably abdominal cancer) in 1874. He was buried in the rocks above one of his favorite camps in Arizona's Dragoon Mountains, now called Cochise Stronghold. Only his people and Tom Jeffords knew the exact location of his resting place, and they took the secret to their graves.

Source: WikiPedia

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Somewhere out there lies Cochise...

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Click to read the sign.

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Life is hard up here on the mountain top as this gnarled and stunted Alligator Juniper will attest.

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Kept alive by just a thin strip of bark, this old man lives on...

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After heading back down to the visitors' center, we looked over the map and decided on the Rhyolite trail as our alternate hike. It was still snowy, but not waist deep!

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The yucca and agave were blanketed in snow.

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Someday we will be hiking up there.

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Onward and upward!

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I love hiking with women. Especially when I have them all to myself!

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My trusty Chacos. They are seeing more snow than I planned for.

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I think this is a nice Chihuahua pine (Pinus leiophylla). It grows mainly in Mexico but there are scattered populations in south east Arizona.

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More of the "Standing-Up Rocks".

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It is hard to tell, but this rock face was covered with ice and there was water flowing behind it.

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A hard fought for piece of trail - cut out of solid rock.

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We passed this interesting Alligator Juniper on the way up. On the way back down I remembered to get a shot.

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Back down in the valley it was a bit warmer so we hiked a little more.

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Unfortunately the fire had swept through here as well and the evidence was still standing.

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Note the new sprouts at the base. They got fired, but they will live on for many more years.

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A close up of old juniper wood.

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These juniper berries looked good enough to eat!

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Coyote scat? Probably...

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The last shot of the day. Thanks, Allison! We had a great time. Let's do it again next year...

 

 

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