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Leisurely Canyon Walk
CHIRICAHUA NATIONAL MONUMENT
Chiricahua National Monument is on the north side of the Chiricahua Mountains in the Southeast corner of Arizona. About as far southeast as you can go in Arizona without being in New Mexico or Mexico. This is almost a fairy tale land of Rock spires, pinnacles, balanced rocks, and hoodoos where the laws of gravity don’t seem to apply. Although the park road traverses the park, to fully enjoy this park requires getting out of the car and hiking some of the 17 miles of trails. All the trails in the park are in excellent condition and well signed.
This 12000-acre park was established on April 18, 1924, to preserve the park's natural wonders of weathered volcanic tuff. In 1934 during the great depression, the CCC built the park buildings, many of which still exist today. The many park trails throughout the park today were also constructed by the CCC. Before the monument's 1880s existence, the area was settled by ranchers and, prior to that, the Apaches. The monument has displays on the history, plants, and animals of this unique environment.
Geology-wise; when the Pacific Plate was being subducted under the west coast of the North American plate, Arizona was under compression, causing the Mesozoic and Paleozoic rocks to be folded and faulted and older layers were overriding younger. Once the pacific plate spreading ridge reached the North American plate, subduction ceased, and Arizona was now under extension or stretching forces creating an alternating system of mountains and valleys (Horst and Grabens). Early on in the extensional period of Arizona, large pools of molten rock formed under areas of Arizona, and this is where Chiricahua Mountains come in. In an eruption 1000 times greater than the Mount Saint Helen eruption, this magma erupted violently and formed what is known as the Turkey Creek Caldera, a crater 12 miles across. This crater is located in the Chiricahua Mountains in Turkey Creek and west of the Chiricahua ridgeline. The resulting explosion covered the monument with ash over 2000 feet thick, forming the Rhyolitic Tuff that now caps the park. Time and weathering formed the many bazaar rock formations now seen in the park.
If you don’t mind the 2-hour drive from Tucson, Chiricahua Monument is a great place to visit and hike the scenic packed trails. This is relatively remote, so usually not crowded. The four or five times I have been there less than 50 visitors, and at least two of the times less than four cars in the park, and one of them was a park ranger (During the COVID thing).
UPPER RHYOLITE CANYON TRAIL
The Upper Rhyolite Canyon Trail has no accessible trailhead except via other trails. Access is gained via the Lower Rhyolite, and Sarah Deming trails from the West and Echo Canyon and the Hailstone Trail from the East. This trail is a continuation of the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail and follows the canyon further upstream. I am not sure why they even split the two trails in this manner, other than that the split was at the Sarah Deming Trail junction. From the Sarah Deming Trail junction 120 feet above Rhyolite Creek, the trail heads gradually downhill until it crosses the creek bed about 0.7 miles later. Like the lower Rhyolite Trail, this is reasonably forested and offers protection from the sun. The trail heads uphill from the creek bed about 120 feet to the junction with the Hailstone and Echo Canyon Trail, where the Upper Rhyolite Trail ends. At this point, you are at the base of the Rhyolite cliffs, and this is where it gets fascinating if you continue on the Echo or Hailstone Trails. The Upper Rhyolite Trail is one leg of greater loop hikes that all start from the eastern end of the park road.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.