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Big Loop - Chiricahua National Monument
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mini location map2016-03-18
25 by photographer avatarddgrunning
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Big Loop - Chiricahua National MonumentTucson, AZ
Tucson, AZ
Hiking avatar Mar 18 2016
ddgrunning
Hiking12.71 Miles 2,733 AEG
Hiking12.71 Miles   5 Hrs   57 Mns   2.44 mph
2,733 ft AEG      45 Mns Break
 
1st trip
First time in the Chiricahuas--what a cool place :) . We planned a spring-break outing around a tour of Kartchner Caverns. Original idea was to leave Phoenix on Friday, hike Picacho Peak on the way and spend the night at the campground at Kartchner Caverns and then get up the next morning for the cave tour. We made our reservations several weeks in advance; however, when I checked my confirmation the night before we left, I realized that somehow I had reserved a campsite for Mar. 1-2, rather than 18-19. :tt: No campsites at any established campgrounds were available at that time. So, the last-minute scramble was on.... Ultimately, we secured a reservation at the Best Western in Benson, AZ (I recommend it--beat expectations).

We left Phx early Friday and drove straight to Chiricahua Nat'l Monument. The no-fee entrance was nice. We read that the road to the top of the park was closed just past the campground, so we knew we would need to start our hike at the visitors center--which adds about 3 miles to the big loop hike. No big deal. We had planned to devote the afternoon to hiking anyway.

The parking area was full when we arrived, but we found a spot and after a quick lunch at the TH, we were off on the Lower Rhyolite Trail. I was amazed at the quality of the trail construction. The CCC sure did a great job on this one. If you are a trail architect connoisseur, this is your place. Enjoyed the pine/forest hiking and then headed up Upper Rhyolite and Echo Canyon. We loved the area I think is called "Wall Street," where we weaved in, around and through the narrow pathways through the towering natural skyscrapers. The Grottoes were fun on Echo Canyon as well.

Coming down Ed Riggs was another forest-walking treat, with views of the hoodoos on the opposite canyon wall. Then it was up the drainage along Mushroom Rock trail and out to the junction with Inspiration Point trail. My son and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see the point, though my wife and daughters were content to continue down towards the Heart of Rocks loop. So, the "boys" picked it up to a jog and took in the views at Inspiration Point, then hustled back to meet up with the "girls," which we did at the Big Balanced Rock.

The Heart of Rocks loop is a real highlight, which kept the camera busy. Then we closed the lollipop part of the big loop off by heading down the Sarah Deming trail, to more forest views. By this point the sun was beginning to get low on the horizon, shading us on the eastern exposure and casting warm light on the hoodoos opposite us on the west and north facing walls of the canyon. The views were beautiful, and the temperatures awesome.

By the time we were finishing off the return trip on Lower Rhyolite, the sun was setting and we arrived to an empty parking lot at the visitors center. I guess you could say we closed down the place.

On our way out, we stopped at the Faraway Ranch day use area, and took advantage of the picnic area and grills to light up some fire and charcoal to enjoy our "camping dinner." We had the place to ourselves. And, after dinner and some s'mores, we packed up and headed back to Benson, where a dip in the jacuzzi, followed by a warm shower were in order. Maybe, the whole campground falling through wasn't such a bad thing after all ....

Got up the next morning and enjoyed a fun tour through the Rotunda and Throne Rooms at Kartchner Caverns and then spent a couple of hours checking out Tombstone before calling it a day and returning to Phoenix.

Great trip!
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