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Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona
Hike in the land of outstanding rocks
July 29, 2004

In the remote southeast corner of the Grand Canyon state - in a state teeming with geological wonders - nature has sculpted yet another truly spectacular landscape. Early settlers to the region referred to it as a wonderland of rocks. To the Chiricahua Apache, for which this land was named after, it was the land of standing up rocks. President Coolidge declared over 12,000 acres of this special world as a national monument.

Through a land of balancing rocks, jagged spires, and columnar pinnacles, 17 miles of trail weave in and out of this mystical world. From a high point, the Chiricahua country presents itself as a tempting labyrinth-a place to purposely get lost in. Apache warriors disappeared here while being pursued by the Calvary. However, you won’t have any problems negotiating the canyons. Thanks to the CCC an incredible trail network was developed blending engineering prowess with aesthetic appreciation.

Take a hike on the Echo Canyon Loop for an easy 3.5 mile introduction to the monument. Venture further into the Heart of the Rocks and spend hours exploring. Overlooks provide stunning views beyond the weathered rocks to lofty peaks in the surrounding Coronado National Forest. This is high country, with elevations ranging from 5,000 to 8,000 feet. Spring arrives here later than in Tucson, 120 mile to the west. But when it does- a profusion of blossoming wildflowers will greet you along the trail.

"It is believed too that el tigre may still be holding on here. Jaguar sightings in the locale are on the increase..."

The ecological diversity in Chiricahua is as stunning and amazing as the rock formations. This is where the Chihuahua and the Sonora deserts intersect-where the Rockies meet the Sierra Madre. For many species, Chiricahua marks the extreme limits to their range. Alligator juniper and Arizona cypress cling to the windswept high country while Arizona sycamore graces the stream valleys.

Mexican spotted owls, elegant trogans, Apache fox squirrels, javelinas, coatimundi, and hog-nosed skunks all call Chiricahua home. So do hepatic tanagers, black-chinned hummingbirds and painted redstarts. It is believed too that el tigre may still be holding on here. Jaguar sightings in the locale are on the increase.

One thing that you’re guaranteed not to sight here, however, is crowds. Last year only 55,000 intrepid souls took to the monument-making hiking in Chiricahua’s canyons a grand alternative to Arizona’s other grand canyons.

For more info visit: www.nps.gov/chir.

Michael Fagin is an experienced outdoor writer and photographer and writes recreational content The Weather Network. He also runs West Coast Weather. Craig Romano is a staff writer for Northwest Runner and Sports Etc magazines. Articles have appeared in Backpacker, Canoe and Kayak, Northwest Travel, AMC Outdoors, Washington Trails, and many other publications.