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Friday, November 16, 2018

Chiricahua National Monument Rocks!

November 16, 2018
Hi Blog!

We hadn't heard much about Chiricahua National Monument before arriving in Willcox, Arizona. We knew there were some hiking trails in the area, but were not sure what we would find. 

Located approximately 36 miles southeast of Willcox, Arizona, the monument preserves the remains of an immense volcanic eruption that shook the region about 27 million years ago. The thick, white-hot ash spewed forth from the nearby Turkey Creek Caldera, cooled and hardened into rhyolitic tuff, laying down almost 2,000 ft of highly siliceous, dark volcanic ash and pumice. The volcanic material eventually eroded into the natural rock formations of the present monument.

Sugarloaf Mountain
By far the most noticeable natural features in the park are the rhyolite rock pinnacles for which the monument was created to protect. Rising sometimes hundreds of feet into the air, many of these pinnacles are balancing on a small base, seemingly ready to topple over at any time. The Civilian Conservation Corps, during their occupation here in the 1930s, named many of the rock formations that can be seen today. This rock didn't have a name, so we named him.

Guardian of the Trail
Rising 9,763 feet, the Chiricahua sky island is an isolated mountain range rising above the surrounding grassland sea. The Chiricahua called these pinnacles "standing up rocks."

Sea of Standing Up Rocks
We started our adventure with a drive up Bonita Canyon Drive. This scenic drive winds eight miles to Massai Point, climbing through oak, cypress and pine forests. The drive ends at Massai Point overlooking Rhyolite Canyon. The expansive views along the mountain drive reminded us of Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park, but without all the traffic!

By following a series of trails, we set our sights on Heart of Rocks Loop. Along the way, we passed a few pinnacles.

We stopped to have lunch in the shadow of this balanced rock. We thought it was THE big balanced rock, but we later passed the actual Big Balanced Rock.

Not the Big Balanced Rock
As we approached the Big Balanced Rock, we took a video to let you see some of what we saw. Click the link to see a 360 Degree View from the heights near Big Balanced Rock.

Below are just some of the cool hoodoos we encountered.

Happy Family


Sock Puppet

Punch and Judy

Duck on Rock

Kissing Rock

Balanced Rock

Mushroom Rock
As we worked our way back to the trailhead, we stopped to admire the amazing stonework done by the CCC back in the 1930s.

CCC Trail Construction
After we finished our hike, we drove back down the Bonita Canyon Drive. We just happened to catch this little coatimundi crossing the road. To our surprise, it stopped to take a look at us as we drove by.

The coatimundi wasn't the only curious creature in the park. This little doe gave us the once over.

white tail deer
And that, my "dears," is the story of our adventure. Tomorrow we head for Quartzsite, Arizona. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Hiking the Cochise Stronghold

Outcrops of eroded, rounded boulders feature in many places across the Southwest, in such diverse locations as Joshua Tree National Park and Pinnacles National Park in California, Granite Mountain in north Arizona, and Hueco Tanks in Texas. Another, not so well known location is Cochise Stronghold, part of the Coronado National Forest in southeast Arizona, part of the Dragoon Mountains of Arizona, which are a relatively small range, extending north-south for 20 miles, south of Interstate 10, between Tucson to the west and Willcox to the east.

Most of the hills are traditional in appearance, with wooded, rounded peaks and ridges but at the Stronghold, over an area approximately 2 by 3 miles, the underlying brownish granite is largely exposed, and weathered to form a varied array of domes, fines, pinnacles and boulder piles.

The many narrow ravines, sheer cliffs and other hard-to-reach places made this an ideal refuge for the Chiricahua Apache Indians and their famed chief Cochise, who dwelt here for several years in the 1860s following the battle of Apache Pass. Cochise is buried here in an unmarked location that was known only to his immediate family and friends, and is now thought to be lost.

The Cochise Stronghold Trail winds through this area, giving the hiker an appreciation of the local geology and history.  We decided to learn about all of that and drove over to the trailhead.  Here we are at the entrance to Cochise Stronghold:

Everywhere we looked, the granite, tuff and sandstone rocks formed a dramatic environment:

Fall has arrived in Arizona, as this sycamore tree whispered to Kathy:

Juniper and manzanita dotted the hillsides:

Here, David paused to relax with one of his stony friends:

While we anticipated rattlesnakes, and other hikers warned us about javelinas, the only wildlife we spotted other than birds were these cute lizards, which ranged from 3 to 6 inches long:

The rock formations were varied and compelling:

A mile into our hike, we discovered the Cochise Spring, which was full of clear, cold water:

Kathy discovered this huge Century Plant, which dwarfed most of the trees and bushes in the area:

Ridges of sculpted rock surrounded us as our track swung north:

Here is another view of the ridges that surrounded us:

And yet another view:

Two miles up the trail, we encountered Half Moon Tank, a reservoir filled with still, dark water.  The watering hole was built by the Green brothers on June 15, 1952 and still holds water.

Not to be outdone by the giant Century Plant Kathy discovered earlier, this huge Sotol lords it over the trail:

Ultimately, we reached an overlook boasting a commanding view to the northeast, toward the valley we drove through from Willcox and, far across, the Chiracahua National Monument.  Kathy paused while eating her lunch to admire the view:

It's impossible to convey the scale of this landscape with mere photographs.  To help you get a better idea what we enjoyed, here is a 360 degree view near the Stronghold Divide.

After finishing our lunch, we returned back down the trail, encountering once again the Halfmoon Tank, giving us a gorgeous view of a peak beyond:

Along the trail are other beautiful sights, including this young, healthy yucca --

-- and this blooming cholla:

As we neared our original trailhead, the sun was sinking into the sky, pushing shadows up the cliffs.  As we admired the lengthening shade, we noticed the moon perched above this peak --

-- and thought it was time to get off the trail and head back to our campground before dark and the cold night settled around us.  Time to do some chores and rest up for tomorrow's adventure.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Rockhounding at Rockhound State Park

November 12, 2018
Hi Blog!

After spending the morning hiking around City of Rocks State Park, we decided to head over to Rockhound State Park for an afternoon of -- you guessed it -- rock hounding. All national parks and most state parks practice the "leave no trace" principle. They ask that you take only photos and leave only footprints. However, Rockhound State Park actually promotes collecting. Here's Dusty posing next to the Rockhound rock sign.

Our first stop was the Visitor's Center where we talked to the park ranger about collecting rocks.

There were several display tables with samples of the minerals in the area, including thunder eggs, quartz crystals, geodes, jasper, perlite, obsidian and many others. Here is a sample of the samples.

With hammers in hand, we set off on the trail in search of hidden treasure.

The park is located on the side of the Little Florida Mountains, a range of low mountains, three miles long, situated south of Deming, New Mexico. While rocks can be found all over the hillside, the highest concentrations are in the washes and ravines. Dave surveys the best route up the side of the mountain.

When you rock hound, you spend a lot of time looking down. Sometimes you have to remind yourself to look up and take in the view. High above the campground, this little fishhook barrel cactus is just starting to bloom.

With so many rocks, it's hard to choose. Kathy found one she wanted to keep, but David balked at carrying it back to camp.

Some of the best places to find rocks were under the cactus plants. The casual rock hound isn't willing to risk getting stuck. No pain, no gain!

As the afternoon wore on, the clouds began to roll in. The temperatures dropped into the 40s. Time to head back to camp and go over what we found.

We laid out our booty on the kitchen table. It may take a couple days to sort through them all and decided which ones make the cut.

In the meantime, we got to enjoy a New Mexico sunset.

Next stop, Wilcox, Arizona, where we hope it's a lot warmer than here!

Hiking the Hydra Trail at City of Rocks State Park

Wow!  City of Rocks State Park is as dramatic as we thought it would be!  Only one square mile in size (that's not a typo), it packs a big punch. The rocks were formed from tuff (solidified volcanic ash) laid down millions of years ago.  The soil around the tuff eroded, leaving large formations, which split due to heat and ice.  In turn, the sections of rock that had split were further separated from each other and rounded by erosion.  The result:  a City of Rocks!

We wandered through the main cluster of rocks yesterday when we arrived, but planned to hike the park's major Hydra Trail today.  Because we also wanted to shoot down and go rockhounding in Rockhound State Park south of Deming (see the next blog entry), we decided to start our hike with coffee before breakfast in order to finish it before noon.

The sun was low, as was the temperature, when we started:

Aside from the main "city" of rocks, there are groupings of rocks scattered around the park.  Our first objective was a smaller grouping we call "The Village" nearby, which is near the highest point in the park that serves as an observation site:

From the observation point, we could see the main formation of City of Rocks, including the campground, which is comprised of sites scattered through the rocks:

Some beautiful sotol graced the heights of the observation point:

After we wolfed down the breakfast we packed with us, Kathy posed with some desert friends at the observation point:

It's hard to understand the landscape around City of Rocks without seeing this panoramic view from the observation site high above the City of Rocks.

The Hydra Trail is over 3 miles long.  With our climb to the observation point, the total hike would be almost 4.75 miles.  Hiking back down from the observation point, we saw a rock that cast an almost human shadow on a neighboring rock.  It made us think of Native American beliefs that such rocks are their ancestors, and we wondered what ancient soul is expressing him/herself in that shadow:

Hiking further around the City of Rocks, we reached the side trail up to the top of nearby Table Mountain.  We would have liked to have time to climb to the top and wander around the table, but we had a full agenda for today, so we took a pass on it.  Next time.

The Hydra Trail passed far above the north end of the City of Rocks.  It looked diminutive from this perspective:

The Chihuahuan Desert is sparser and has a more wide-open feel than some deserts.  Cactus are fewer and further between.  We spotted this prickly pear cactus which, sadly, looked as if it may be fading:

A few large washes cut through the northern reaches of City of Rocks State Park.  This is probably the largest, and it was impressive:

As we circled around to the west side of City of Rocks, we got a view of Cook's Peak beyond the main grouping of rocks.

Toward the end of our hike, we returned to the main grouping of boulders, and David bounded up to great his old buddies:

Perhaps one of the iconic rocks, this "forefinger" makes a statement, with a classic windmill and Table Mountain in the background:

We finished our hike and rested before heading out to Rockhound State Park.  When we got back to our campsite here in City of Rocks, we took a quick shower, but as we returned to our RV, Kathy spotted sunset gracing the City of Rocks, a harbinger of good fortune on our travel across the Southwest as we head toward California for Thanksgiving: