Day 9: Hike in Chiricahua National Monument - Southeast Arizona 2016 - CycleBlaze

April 4, 2016

Day 9: Hike in Chiricahua National Monument

I got away from the B&B later than planned, at 9:10 after much breakfast conversation with two ladies who will also hike today. The panniers were mostly empty because today is a day trip.

Dos Cabezas (two heads) mountains to the north.
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The first 10 miles on AZ 181 is gently rolling with an uphill trend, going north. Dos Cabezas mountains straight ahead. Chiricahua mountains to the right.

Chiricahua mountains to the east, looking into the morning sun.
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Then AZ 181 turns east and climbs more steeply into Chiricahua National Monument. I could finally see the mouth of the canyon.

Approaching the canyon mouth in Chiricahua National Monument. Nice to see oak trees again.
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At the park entrance was a sign saying the road is closed for construction beyond the visitor center. My original plan was to bike to the end of the park road at Massai point, a huge climb to 6870 feet (2082 m) elevation. Then hike down into the hoodoos on the Echo canyon trail. That plan is now impossible.

I stopped at the Visitor Center and the helpful ranger woman explained that I can still get to the hoodoos by hiking up the canyon from the Visitor Center. Instead of biking to Massai point I will hike to Massai point starting at the Visitor Center, 5400 feet (1636 m) elevation.

If you want to camp there is a shady campground 1/4 mile past the visitor center.

Near the beginning of the Lower Rhyolite Canyon trail.
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First was 1.5 easy miles on the Lower Rhyolite Canyon trail on the shady north facing slope with a view of the sunny south facing slope. It climbs upstream in the canyon staying far above the bottom until it suddenly descends to cross the dry creek.

Looking back at the sunny north side of the canyon. Nice to see pine trees again.
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The gray rocky material is Rhyolite, hardened ash deposits from Turkey Creek volcano which erupted multiple times 27 million years ago. Over time the Rhyolite has eroded into cliffs and pinnacles.

Looking ahead, still much more climbing.
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The steep grades begin after crossing the creek, with many switchbacks to climb out of Rhyolite canyon up to the base of the Rhyolite pinnacles.

The trail finally gets close to hoodoos after crossing the creek. I find the gray Rhyolite to be difficult to photograph.
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Then a shady descent into Echo Canyon which has the most hoodoos.

Last view looking out of Rhyolite canyon before descending into Echo canyon.
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Near the bottom of the Echo canyon trail a mountain lion casually walked across the trail 150 feet (50m) ahead of me. It never looked my direction. My first time to see a mountain lion. The trail has few hikers now that the park road is closed. The absence of hikers is probably why the mountain lion was out and about. The last hiker I saw was 1.5 miles from the trailhead. I didn't encounter any hikers in the hoodoo areas.

Wandering between hoodoos on the Echo Canyon trail.
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The Echo Canyon trail is mostly uphill. Much of the time it threads between hoodoos. A truly enchanting hike.

Chiricahua Apaches call this the "land of standing up rocks".
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Like stacks of pancakes. Layers from multiple eruptions of Turkey Creek volcano.
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Once after stopping to take a photo I went the wrong direction on the trail. I hiked the wrong way for at least 10 minutes before realizing it. I didn't have the time or energy to spare for things like that.

Standing Up Rocks.
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When threading near the top of hoodoos the trail had frequent 50 foot drop offs. No railing, of course. Must watch where I'm going and not gawk too much.

Trail near the top of the hoodoos.
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The Echo Canyon trail connects to the park road at the Echo Canyon trailhead where I had intended to start my hike. From there I continued uphill on the Massai Point connector trail.

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The Chiricahua mountains are a great example of a southwestern "Sky Island". An isolated mountain range surrounded by a sea of grass and desert. Sky Islands attract plant and animal species from very far away.

Looking down on the hoodoos from near Massai point.
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The park service brochure explains that four ecosystems meet in the Chiricahua mountains. Rocky mountain species come from the north. Chihuahuan desert species come from the east. Sierra Madrean species come from the south in Mexico. And Sonoran desert species come from the west.

The other two B&B guests, ladies much older than me, hiked from the visitor center to Inspiration Point (upper left).
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Overlook on the Massai Nature Trail. 6800 feet elevation, highest point of the hike. This would be an awesome view in morning sun.
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I never made it up to the road at Massai point. I stayed on the nature trail which is maybe 50 feet below the road. It was late and I was tired and didn't want to go that extra bit, especially when the best view was looking into the late afternoon sun.

Starting the descent on the Ed Riggs trail.
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The first half of my descent was on the Ed Riggs and Hailstone trails. Mostly on south facing slopes that have little shade. Fortunately it was so late that the sun wasn't very potent. Temperature in the 70's.

Different hoodoos on this trail, on a sunny west facing slope.
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Lightning rod.
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The final 2.6 miles was backtracking on the Upper and Lower Rhyolite Canyon trails. Mostly downhill with one notable climb after crossing the creek. The views were great but I didn't have time to stop often for photos.

Now backtracking on the Lower Rhyolite Canyon trail.
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Last look back at Rhyolite canyon.
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I finally got back to the trailhead at 5:15 PM. The hike turned out to be 10 miles (16 km) with 2000 feet (606 m) of climbing. I was exhausted and my right foot was sore.

Back on the bike I had a quick stop at the historic farm site near the Visitor Center. I didn't hike the nature trail.

Farm historic site near the park entrance.
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Then out of the canyon, back on AZ 181. First west and steep downhill for 3 miles. Then south and imperceptibly downhill for the last 10 miles. Once again the views were awesome but I took few photo stops because I was in a race against the sunset. I saw a 2 foot tall jackrabbit.

Final rays of sun on the Chiricahua mountains.
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I arrived at the Bed and Breakfast a few minutes after sunset, 6:50 PM, just as the color peaked in the western sky. Just in time for 7 PM dinner.

Western sky 30 seconds after I arrived at the B&B.
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Last night the Dream Catcher B&B had only 3 guests. Tonight there are 8 guests. Dinner was more lively tonight but I went to bed right after dinner. This was a very strenuous day.

I've been wanting to see Chiricahua National Monument for a long time, preferably on a bike tour. The problem is that it's in a very inconvenient location. I'm thrilled to finally see the hoodoos and see a mountain lion for the first time.

Tonight I learned how much the meals cost. My two night stay with two gourmet breakfasts and two gourmet dinners will cost $268. That's a big number but it's a better value than the Copper Queen hotel which cost more and included no meals.

As a solo traveler I usually avoid Bed and Breakfasts because they tend to be so couples-oriented. But this was the only option and it turned out great. Perhaps my next tour should have more B&B's and fewer chain motels.

Distance: 31.8 mi. (51 km)
Climbing: 936 ft. (284 m)
Average Speed: 10.7 mph (71.1 km/h)
Hiking: 10 mi. (16 km)

Today's ride: 32 miles (51 km)
Total: 305 miles (491 km)

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