Coronado National Memorial

Leaving the Gila Cliff Dwellings took longer than expected (as usual) and I had no choice but to spent last night in Benson, AZ (at the same hotel as before) so I could make the best decision on how to use my last few days of time. Weather is perfect so all options were open. Not planning to come through this area again for a while and figured might as well go out of the way and hike at Coronado National Memorial in Hereford, Arizona.

I was here 4 days ago in the rain before bugging out across the state, however in this case the storms actually did have a silver lining: I found a flyer posted stating the shuttle service up to Montezuma Pass was resuming on this very day! After parking at the visitor center and talking with the super nice park ranger we hopped into the shuttle van and made the short drive up. Views from the pass alone are worth the trip even if you are not hiking.

Here’s a panoramic shot taken with my iPhone (best viewed on a large computer screen, click for full size). You can see how the access road zig-zags up Montezuma Canyon. Again, fantastic scenery looking down the valley. Photos also don’t do justice to how large the mountains are – Montezuma Peak on the left side rises to 7,500 feet. Aside from the slight haze in the far, far distance it feels like you can see to infinity up here.

The trail begins by heading south from the parking lot and onto the rocky spine of the next finger over. This runs down Joe’s Canyon on the aptly named Joe’s Canyon Trail all the way back to the visitor center. Fun fact: this is the southernmost part of the famous Arizona National Scenic Trail as it terminates on the Mexico border. Also from this parking lot you can hike the side trail up to Coronado Peak (I missed it because I didn’t read maps close enough, gah!).

Speaking of the border, if you’ve never been this close before you will find some interesting things like huge camera/antenna arrays used by Homeland Security for border patrol. For a midwesterner like me these aren’t a normal thing to see and feels very dystopian.

Another surprise was this text message I received while just starting up the trail. Looks like my cell phone jumped to a tower in Mexico. Thankfully nowadays carrier plans cover stuff like this but back in the “old days” you would have had a mini-panic attack over possible surprise billing fees.

OK back to the hike…As mentioned earlier the trail follows the ridge top as it heads back down the canyon. The trail is overall very well maintained and not difficult to traverse. The landscape changes from being mostly open and low grasses on the ridge tops to more dense and lush vegetation as you travel downwards.

Another view that betters shows the trail going right across the top of this “finger”. Pretty easy section up top with minimal elevation changes.

Not many trail signs along the way but there is one of interest about 1/3 the way down at the intersection with Yaqui Ridge. Notice the mileage? If you take this spur trail it’s only 1 mile to the Mexican border. In retrospect I should have done this but I didn’t read maps close enough and figured I didn’t have enough time. Go here and see the border monument marker, don’t skip it like I did!

Shortly after the Yaqui Ridge split the trail starts dropping in elevation and you can see a marked increase in tree and brush cover. Colors change immediately from the dead-looking brown/yellow hues to healty & alive greens. Surprisingly not many cacti here but possibly too high in elevation.

At the very bottom of the canyon is a rather large unnamed creek that is flowing much more than I would expect to see in winter. Views from the trail are mostly obscured or impossible to reach but you’ll get to see this again at the end. Much more water in this area than some other parts of the state.

About 2/3 the way down the trail starts hugging the rocky cliffsides. Not as dangerous as it might look here but hopefully you don’t have a fear of heights. Can you spot the visitor center down below?

Here’s a zoomed in & cropped shot as far as my little lens can go. Just two small buildings and some service vehicles. Almost indistinguishable from above without that bright copper-colored roof.

The final stretch of trail is relatively tame and ultimately goes down through the canyon wash at the bottom (no photos from that part, it’s rather unremarkable).

Remember that creek or runoff channel? It continued down the entire canyon and at some points made cool little waterfalls. Completely unexpected but really a great finish to a great hike! There are more trails in this area and if you have the time please check them out. Don’t miss this place, it doesn’t get much publicity but it’s a great hidden gem!

Hiking Data

Here’s the hiking map. You can really see from the shaded relief how the trail runs across that ridge all the way back down. Notice also how the green sections are on the cooler northern faces only? Very interesting contrast in landscapes as the trail becomes the division between the two.

Total distance 3.2 miles one way with 1,400 feet in elevation change. Very happy for the shuttle service. My average speed was quite slow relative to being downhill but I was taking my time and just relaxing today so that is to be expected; normally would be above 2mph but hey I’m still a short guy so whatever. Hike your own hike!

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 11:54am. 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.

Lat = 31.350132 , Long = -110.2565308 -- Show at Google Maps

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