The Dragoon Mountains in southeast arizona are a great mid-altitude range, and are pretty easy to get to. The Cochise Stronghold Trail is one of my favorites in this area. It's a nice combo of distance, difficulty (the elevation gain is only about 1100 feet - but you climb up the divide each way so double it up), and uniquely awesome scenery. It reminds me of Joshua Tree in some ways. Apparently it's where Cochise often held up, and somewhere up in the mountains is where he's buried.
Take off from the campground on the east side of the divide - there is also a western approach but it's 4-WD. There is a signed takeoff for the Cochise Trail. It actually begins from a short nature trail. Start by crossing a bridge and immediately coming to a fork (the nature trail is a loop). Take quick left and follow for a couple minutes to a sign pointing you off to the left again. Again follow for just a couple minutes and a horse trail joins from your left and together (as the sign says) you take a right. Now you are off...
Immediately the scenery is awesome and all around, huge boulder-laced mountains. You start to slowly climb along a wash for about a half-mile before coming to a hiker's gate. Pass through and continue your ascent, which is very pleasant. Just short of a mile you come to a kind of clearing, with some the floor of some sort of really old structure still left in the ground. Hang a right here (there appears to be a more faint trail to your left) and follow up the wash for a while longer. The flora here is cool, with manzanita/juniper/small pines growing alongside yucca/agave and prickly pear. Also there is a huge amount of beargrass lining the way. Eventually the trail swings right and heads out of the wash (which is never that far away as you'll see). As you climb up more the trail takes on more of a cross country feel and becomes more rocky. The trail is pretty easy to follow, anytime you lose it just look for well placed cairns and remember that you are always heading west. At about 2 miles you come to Half-Moon Tank on your right, where some ducks gave me a salutory honk. The trail climbs up a bit more then opens up and becomes absolutely awesome. Boulder-laced mountains fall away into the distance, many with massive bald domes of rock. This part of the walk is incredible. At about 3 miles you come to the Stronghold Divide. You can turn around or head down to the other access point on the west side.
I recommed hiking down because the views down the western canyon are superior and the western side actually does have a bit of a different feel to it. It is steeper though. The hike down is straightforward as it switchbacks down the canyon. The views to your right are always tremendous. After about 1.75 miles you ultimately end back at ground level at the western trailhead - which looks to be pretty remote.
Turn around and start your climb all over. The way back is tougher as you regain all the elevation in a little more than half the distance, but it's not that bad. The views are straight ahead the whole way and that's pretty good incentive.
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In the 1860's, the charismatic Chiricahua Apache leader, Cochise, adopted the rugged canyons that cross the midsection of the Dragoon Mountains as a refuge for himself and his people. The place came to be known as Cochise Stronghold. One feature of this natural fortress was that the two rocky canyons, one from each side of the mountain range, nearly meet high in the Dragoons. With their outlandish rock formations and thick oak-juniper vegetation they offer a concealed escape route in either direction. No one knows how many times Cochise and his people used these two canyons and the trail that connects them to move across these mountains. Today, Forest visitors travel this route as a portal back into this area's colorful past, as well as an access route to its scenic present. The trail extends between the Cochise Stronghold Campground on the east and a 4-wheel drive road (FR 688) into West Stronghold Canyon on the west side of the Dragoons. If you choose, you can travel all the way to Council Rocks at the mouth of West Stronghold. A trip along this trail will give you some idea why Cochise considered it a stronghold.
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