Great day hike to the top of the Chiricahuas! Nice intro to the range for me too since I had not previously been anywhere near this part of the state before.
The Chiricahuas are unlike other sky islands in that they really are a mountain range
, rather than just a single primary peak. Lots of peaks, ridges, and valleys and a very well developed trail system. I was afraid that the Horseshoe fires had destroyed this entire island, but was pleased to find quite a bit of beautiful forest, some old growth pines, and areas of healthy regrowth. The fire scarred areas can be jarring to see, but there's also some beauty to be found from them too. The variety makes it interesting.
Things I learned:
Turkeys can fly! We saw rafter after rafter of these enormous birds. Thanks to a little canine encouragement, I was impressed to see how easy a 40-lb chunk of thanksgiving feast can get off the ground. I wouldn't use the word "graceful" but nonetheless, they would easily qualify as air force pilots in a third world country.
Mormon Canyon #352
We headed up this canyon trail and it is a real gem. The climb is relentless, steep, and features no breaks, but the terrain is shaded, cool, and serene. Water flowing in the creek for the first half made for pleasant conditions for the pups. Only the very top section had burned, but the trail was well maintained, and the burn opened up some great views.
The north cut toward Crest near Cima Park
At the top of Mormon Canyon and the junction with Mormon Ridge 269 we opted to head for the Crest trail via a trail on the north side of Chiricahua Peak. This is a terrible idea. This trail has been abandoned. Fire damage, erosion, deadfall, and new growth has taken over, and this trail should not be attempted. I've seen varying sources name this trail as the continuation of either Mormon Canyon or Mormon Ridge. Either way, don't bother with this one.
Crest Trail #270
I eventually hit the Crest Trail well south of Cima Park after making a direct ascent for the ridge. The ridge has been badly burned, but the Crest trail has been well maintained and is a relative highway.
Anita Spring Trail
I wanted to check out Anita Park and Anita Spring, and didn't see any sign of a route to get there anymore. I eventually circled the rocky outcropping at Anita Park off trail and headed toward the spring I had marked on my GPS. Despite the burn, the spring looked and tasted fantastic. Good flow and a great source of water. From the spring, it was easy to follow the tread of the old trail back up to the Crest. The sign is missing but there's a post which I somehow missed on the way by earlier.
Chiricahua Peak Trail
The Crest trail traverses the east side of Chiricahua Peak and didn't look particularly well-traveled. I headed up the peak trail to meet up with the others who had gotten ahead of me while I had been exploring Anita. The peak trail is in fine shape and easy to follow despite the burn.
Chiricahua Peak Southeast Descent
Maps showed a trail descending the southeast slope of Chiricahua Peak, but after a quick search, the group came up empty, and didn't want to repeat the experience above Mormon Canyon, so they all headed back the way they came, while I decided to look for the trail. After not too long, I found an old cut to follow, and this side of the peak didn't burn so travel is easy even if there had not been a trail. I followed the easy track until I joined the obvious junction with the Crest Trail that traverses the east side of the peak. It looked much better traveled on this end.
Route Scout was telling me I was close to Headquarters Spring. I opted not to make the trip since it dropped farther down the hill than I was willing to go. Shortly thereafter I arrived at a sign for Ojo Agua Fria #361, which I also skipped. Now in wide open, sandy burn area, I looked for the trail that cut back to the west, and didn't see an obvious cut. But just a few steps later I reached the well-marked junction with Crest Trail 270D to Chiricahua Saddle ... where I was headed.
Crest Trail #270D
This stretch of the crest trail that traverses the southern side of Chiricahua Peak was some of the nicest high-elevation trail of the trip. The eastern end traverses a gravelly burned slope before entering unburned forest and traversing some great rocky landscape and unbelievable trail construction through a boulder slope. It drops easily to Chiricahua Saddle, where I headed north a hundred yards to meet up with the others who had just arrived from the other side of the peak to get here. It's a short stretch through some burn with a couple of deadfall obstacles descending to the north and the junction of Mormon Canyon and Ridge trails where we had been earlier in the morning.
Mormon Ridge Trail #269
Claire, 9L and I decided to take the ridge trail, while the others took the canyon back down. The trail is impressively built, and generally easy to travel. I would not want to ascend this way, and in fact, having now done it once, I would probably stick with the canyon trail on the way down as well. It descends just below a south facing ridge, so the flora is small and desert-like, despite the elevation. It is exposed to sun and warmed up nicely despite the strong winds we had endured all day. The area from just above the wilderness boundary to the bottom had received recent maintenance. There were a couple of sections that were so well maintained, I wondered if they had brought the "trail machine" out there!
Turkey Creek back to camp
The Ridge trail reaches Turkey Creek road about half a mile below where the Canyon trail begins, so to complete the loop you have to do a short road walk. I hopped along the creek instead, finding a couple of cascades, a neat section of narrows with a dam, as well as a natural waterfall. I then found the old road cut on the opposite side of the creek as the current alignment and followed that in a pleasant forest setting adjacent to the creek. There were signs of an old homestead too. I continued upstream to the waterfall just below our camp where I got to brush up on my Spanish before settling into a chair with an ice cold beer and newfound socks!
This was an extremely enjoyable day hike and—except for that short stretch of trail that doesn't exist anymore and can be easily avoided—is an ideal trip for anybody staying in the Turkey Creek area. Thanks to 9L for planning this one!