Apache Indians called the area that is now Chiricahua National Monument “the land of standing up rocks.” Much later, European settlers called it “a wonderland of rocks.” We simply called it awesome.
In this remote area of Southeastern Arizona, columns of volcanic rock seemingly grow hundreds of feet in height, in fields that stretch as far as the eye can see. Upon seeing it for the first time, Shannon and I both thought of Colorado’s Garden of the Gods, only dressed in green. But the comparison is somewhat tenuous. Where Garden of the Gods is finely manicured, petite and photogenic, Chiricahua is rough, ruggedly handsome and massive.
With the nearest town, Wilcox, AZ, 38 miles north, visiting the park requires motorized transportation. For those with limited time, a scenic driving trail provides a bird’s eye view of these natural wonders, culminating in the fabulous Massai Point seen above. But we found the best way to experience the park is on foot, walking amongst the giants.
Hiking options range from a flat quarter mile stroll to a 9.5 mile hike over elevation changes of as much as 1,000 feet. We charted an intermediate route and tackled the 3.3 mile Echo Canyon loop. The first mile or so descends into the heart of the rocks, where the spectacular Grotoes, Wall Street, and Balanced Rock formations await.
Among the towering pillars, we also found small caves to explore.
Further into the canyon, pine trees and wilderness replace the rock playground. Even with the devastation of last year’s wildfires still evident on our trek, some wildlife remained to wish us well on our passage.