Updated: Feb 17, 2021
I am ashamed to admit that before this adventure of travel nursing got started, national monuments were completely off my radar. I'm not sure why other than that my home state of Ohio doesn't have many in comparison to the western U.S.- which is crawling with them. But the second we started researching where to go for our free weekend and images of Chiricahua's hoodoos popped up- I was completely sold. And, spoiler alert, this place did not disappoint.
Here's the pronunciation because we had no idea prior to visiting:
A Bit Of History
There are actually 129 national monuments in the United States! Chiricahua was established as one in 1924. Prior to this, in the early 1400s, this mountain range was home to Chiricahua Apaches, who called this area "standing up rocks." This landscape is also called "Sky Island" due to being an isolated mountain range rising 9,763 feet above the surrounding grasslands. These unique hoodoo structures were formed via an eruption of the Turkey Creek Volcano over 25 million years ago. As ash melted together, layers of rock came to life known as rhyolite. As weather and erosion took their toll on the area, balanced rocks and other peculiar shapes were left behind. Each hoodoo rock formation is unlike the next and while many of them have names, visitors and hikers are encouraged to use their imaginations to come up with names of their own.
Because of the landscape's differing elevation and exposure to sun/precipitation, this ecosystem is home to a large variety of plantlife and bird species. The northern slopes of the monument tend to be cooler while the southern areas are much more exposed to sunlight. While I'm not big on this aspect of hiking, I can attest to noticing the differing pine and cacti across the park as we explored- at times causing us to nearly forget that the hoodoos we came for were even there at all. It really was quite a diverse adventure!
Location & Lodging
Address: E Bonita Canyon Rd, Willcox, AZ 85643
Seeming to appear out of thin air, Chiricahua is 35 miles southeast of the Arizona town of Wilcox. This town is the closest place to the park to purchase firewood, ice, and food- so prepare accordingly prior to arrival!
Entering the monument is free of charge, but camping at the 26 site Bonita Canyon Campground does come with a $20/night fee (we tented so I'm not sure if an RV is more, but the limit on length of campers is 29 feet). Bonita Campground is open year round. The campground does not have showers or hookups but does provide tables, grills, and flush toilets.
Reservations can be made here: https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/250901
Ah, my favorite part of my blog posts- talking about hiking! I've mentioned before and I'll mention it again, AllTrails is a really great resource when coming up with trails to fit your visit prior to arrival. It's how I heard about Chiricahua to begin with! Users can type in the name of their location, park, or trail and read corresponding information and reviews about their intended hikes or others nearby. There are also categories users can set including elevation gain, mileage, popularity, and difficulty level to find the trails most fit for their skill level. Each listed trail also has pictures uploaded by previous hikers, which is usually the determining factor for me if a "hard" hike is worth the effort.
In this case, we quickly honed in on what's known as "The Big Loop" or Echo Canyon and Sarah Deming Canyon Loop. This loop takes hikers up and down the canyon and near a lot of the main attractions of the monument- which is great for one day visitors like ourselves.
The Big Loop
Length: 8-10.1 miles (1.1 mile added for Heart of Rocks Loop and 1 mile for Inspiration Point)
Elevation Gain: 1,745 feet
Trail Type: Loop
Difficulty Level: Hard
The trailhead begins at Echo Canyon parking lot. The first few miles were an easy decline and happened rather quickly due to us being in complete awe of the rock formations all around us. These hoodoos are everywhere and truly made it seem like we had crossed over into a landscape that belonged more on Mars or something.
Echo Grotto and Echo Canyon are the first advertised areas on the trail. There was a strong wind ripping through Echo Canyon while we hiked, somehow making this section of the trail even more impressive.
The declining trail continued until reaching the sign for Sarah Deming Canyon. This section of the trail will lead you through canyon paths covered by trees so much so that the hoodoos aren't visible for a time. In all honesty, this section of the trail is the most strenuous. In 1.6 miles, inclining hikers will ascend nearly 1,000 feet in elevation. In combination with the incline and heat, we were drenched in sweat.
You'll know you've reached the end of the biggest incline of the trail when reaching the sign for Heart of Rocks Loop. After the tiring climb, I was hesitant to add this 1.1 mile loop to our trail, but it's so worth it. Throughout this section, hikers have the opportunity to walk near and view some of the most famous rock formations in the entire park such as Pinnacle Rock.
After this section, hikers will walk along Big Balanced Rock Trail- a 1 mile path along "Big Loop Trail." This rock formation has a 25 feet tall, 22 feet in diameter and1,000 ton weighted rock balanced on another.
I'm sad to say we opted out of adding the extra 0.5 mile trek to and from Inspiration Point. By that point in the day, our legs were really beginning to feel the affects of our nearly 9 mile hike. We finished the day with just under 30,000 steps and our hammocks were calling our names. It was an awesome journey though, definitely one I'd recommend to any visitors up for a challenge!
Chiricahua at Sunrise
Another recommendation I HAVE to include is visiting Massai Point at sunrise.
I'm not a morning person to begin with, but especially not after a big day of hiking. For whatever reason, I woke up wide awake the next morning. I convinced Colton to hop in the Jeep with me and head to the most eastern point of the park to see what kind of pictures I could get as the sun greeted the hoodoos.
We started our drive up the canyon around 6:40 am and arrived at Massai Point close to 7. This is a fantastic vantage point over the canyon to visit even during the day, the drive alone is stunning.
Somehow, we were the only people there to watch the sunrise, which made the moment even more magical. The hoodoos seem to come alive as the golden rays blanketed over them. There was a gusting wind too, which made me feel like Pocahontas, lol!
I'll let my favorite picture from the sunrise do the rest of the convincing.
Sunrise at Massai Point, 10/18/2020
Well, that's it for our time at Chiricahua! It really is a place so unique you have to see to believe. I'm so happy we had a free weekend to journey there! Thanks for reading!