Might be a few days behind schedule but I finally made it to Chiricahua National Monument for actual hiking & exploration. To start the afternoon I slowed down a bit and just cruised through the park getting a lay of the land & soaking in the amazing scenery. Eventually I booked a campsite and then drove the park road into the heart of the mountains to hike the short Sugarloaf Mountain Trail before sunset.
The trail itself is quite easy and has some interesting features like this tunnel carved into the volcanic rock by the CCC in the 1930’s. I also found some small patches of snow. Remember that day I bugged out from the storms rolling in? Yeah, snowstorm.
As the trail wraps around you are treated with amazing views of the mountains, canyons, pinnacles, and forest below. I’m not even up to higher elevation and you can see everything infinitely until the horizon.
In the immediate surrounding cayons are Chiricahua’s signature features: thousands of volcanic pinnacles rising up from the ground like an army of statues. If you stop moving and look closely enough it almost seems like they are moving along with you…can that be right? This is one wild and rugged place. Feels like a mysterious alien planet.
Another gratuitous panorama across the vista. Weather today is pleasant with a crisp winter breeze reminding me it’s still December and to keep moving for warmth.
About 2/3 the way around the mountain base the trail starts climbing vertically though it’s not a difficult slope. On the contrary it’s quite friendly and gentle other than having to step across a few stones here and there.
Atop the mountain is a fire lookout tower. Not pictured here is the inside of the shack which contains scientific equipment, a cool old hand-pump water spout, and some other miscellaneous gear used by park rangers.
The fire tower itself is recognized on the National Historic Lookout Register as having significant impact in sighting & fighting wildfires and to help promote protection of the site. This particular tower was built in 1935 by the CCC.
From the tower heading southwest is one last short and ragged trail leading to the best spot for unobstructed 360-degree panoramic views. Two signs along the way describe how wildfires are spotted and how the Turkey Creek Caldera volcano (extinct now) shaped this area 27 million years ago.
The most impressive view is looking to the south toward Chiricahua Peak, the highest point in the Chiricahua Mountains at around 9,800 feet. By comparison Sugarloaf Mountain where I was standing is at 7,310 feet. Snow covers the distant peaks which are ~10 miles away as the crow flies.
Turning back south-southeast you can see better detail of the volcanic pinnacles as they cover the landscape. Imagine standing here 27 million years ago while the caldera was erupting and shooting magma from over 10 miles away to shape the geology. What an amazing show that would be!
Back to the east the landscape changes yet again with another large prominence (I think that is Maverick Peak) and then it drops off to lower heights. The blacktop park road winding across the ridge looks more like a sidewalk from these heights. Ultimately that road dead ends at Massai Point which I’ll be visting in the next post.
Down below into Echo Canyon there is a noticeable creek or runoff that sparkles from the low sun angle. I’ll be seeing more of that tomorrow so stay tuned for the upcoming posts!
The light was fading quickly and it was time to head back. Views are the same but in reverse, however now during “golden hour” everything looks new and different all over again. I doubt you can find a bad time of day for this trail but highly suggest doing just a bit before sunset or even at sunset on a day like today with wispy clouds.
You can begin to see what I mean by this photo below. Nearly the same as shown earlier in this page but notice how the color has shifted to a very warm yellow/orange hue. Those rocks were brownish/red before, no?
Another angle from the same spot but looking back down the canyon and valleys below. I could have stood here for hours and not been bored.
As the light fades, shadows start to take hold and shift colors more blue and it looks different yet again. Sunset was coming and tonight it would be spectacular.
One last look before darkness begins to set in. This is a fantastic short hike and doesn’t seem to get nearly as much traffic as others in the park. 100% recommend you check this trail out!
Here’s the hiking trail which is pretty self explanatory as it bends around the mountain and then turns west and climbs up to the peak. It really isn’t a bad climb and elevation gain is mostly gradual save for the last part (but even that isn’t bad).
Distance is listed on park literature as 0.9 miles one way and my logging came out to 1.9 miles so pretty darn close. Notice the blue line of elevation change on the graph – it nearly matches the shape of the mountain. Definitely can do the hike faster if you aren’t lollygagging and playing with cameras like I did…but where’s the fun in that?
Lat = 32.0161781 , Long = -109.3213806 -- Show at Google Maps
Author’s Note: Due to many reasons – none of them very good – I’m posting this from the future in May 2022. Actual visit date/time December 12, 2019 5:04pm. I’ll backdate it later so as to maintain chronological order. I’ve got an overwhelming backlog of photos to process which is probably why I procrastinate. Hope you enjoy them all the same.