Chiracahua Mountains ~ Hoodoo You Think You Are?

Chiricahua Mountains…ancient homeland of the Apache, sky island, “Land of Standing-up Rock”?  The Chiracahuas are all this and so much more.

Chiracahua Mountain Range
Chiracahua Mountain Range

As I walked among the towering hoodoos I marveled at the fact that we spent 25 years of our lives in Phoenix and Sedona and had never traveled to the Chiracahuas, being the hikers we are.  Granted, it is not a short jaunt across town,  just 50 miles north of the Mexico border, but the mountains are so breathtaking and the history of the area so rich, I’m not sure why we waited.  Perhaps we just needed to be a little more seasoned to appreciate all that is here.

The Chiracahua Mountain range had its origins roughly 27 million years ago, when eruptions from the Turkey Creek volcano spewed ash over 1200 square miles.  This sky island, which is essentially an isolated mountain range rising above a grassland sea, developed over many millenia into the rock pinnacles that we see today.  They stand like guardians of the forest and send the clear message that you are now in Chiracaqua country.

The Chiracaqua Apache claim this land as their ancestral home, with evidence of their existence in these mountains dating back to the early 1400’s.  They named this range the “Land of the Standing-Up Rock” and lived peacefully here until the Europeans stepped in to declare this land theirs.  Led by Cochise and Geronimo, the Apache staunchly defended their ancestral homeland.  The last of the Apache finally gave up the fight in 1886, surrendered, and were later relocated by the government to Oklahoma and New Mexico, never to return to this sacred land. So much more could be said here but I will just add that I felt a sadness as I walked the trails, reflecting upon all the Native Indians have so unjustly lost .

There is such an interesting blend of local and exotic plant and animal species here that it is said to be one of the most biodiverse regions in North America, boasting over 1200 species of plants alone.  Plants and animals from four different ecosystems come together in this range.  Birders flock here for the diversity as well, seeing many species of birds that can normally only be seen in Mexico.  We visited for the hiking, to witness Mother Nature at her finest, rock formations precariously balanced in such a way that it appeared a strong wind could topple these giants.

Chiracaqua National Monument was established in 1924 to preserve and protect these 12,000 acres and in 1934 the Civilian Conservation Corps began to tackle the job of roads and trails.  Today there are ~20 miles of trails for your hiking pleasure and 86% of this sky island lives on as pristine wilderness.

To experience as much of the Chiracaquas as we could in one visit, we chose the Big Loop, a combining of many trails that resulted in a lovely 10-mile hike.  There are a few ways you can tackle this trail and, based on a tip provided to us by a Park Ranger at Fort Bowie the day before, we elected to take the shuttle from the visitor center to the Echo Canyon Trailhead (arrive prior to 8:30 am).  From there we followed this route:  Echo Canyon Trail> Hailstone Trail > Mushroom Rock Trail > Big Balanced Rock Trail > Heart of Rocks Loop (where most of the named formations stand) > Sarah Deming Trail > Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail. This and a little other meandering will get you a fabulous 10-mile hike, with the last three miles being downhill. 🙂

Heart of Rocks Loop:

Wandering among these geologic wonders that time and weather have painstakingly created, you just might feel the spirits of the ancient ancestors who walked this ground…truly a sacred experience.

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60 thoughts on “Chiracahua Mountains ~ Hoodoo You Think You Are?

  • I saw pictures of this park and so wanted to visit. But it never quite fit into the plans. Our next visit west in the spring of 2014, will be filled with all the places we missed. What amazing rock formations! Sounds like a perfect hike. Just remind me when you read we are headed there next year!!! Thanks for the journey to a new place!

  • How we wish we were with you, first because we miss you and, secondly, because this place looks so spectacular. Small world that is is, I was talking with a good friend from Charlotte today, when I told her we had just returned from southern AZ, she asked if we had visited the Chiracahua National Monument as they found it as beautiful as you have. Marilyn

    • Your ears and those of Stan must be burning as we have been talking about you so much. We miss you as well and would have loved to have you along for the hike. Even though it was a fairly lengthy trek, I wouldn’t call it anything above moderate, particularly the direction we hiked it. Love to you both.

  • I haven’t been to anywhere in Arizona since I was a kid. Remember seeing all those sights then. You’re making me want to go there again. Thanks for the pictures.

  • How fun….I really wanted to stop here after ML posted about it, but alas, weather and “other” had us returning to CO. It’s on my list for next year…. and I’m working on my endurance. We’ve been in the State Park hiking regularly working up to 10 miles. So far, 4 is enough, lol. Thanks for sharing and showing me it’s a “must”. 🙂

    • It definitely is a “must” and, given the direction we hiked it, I would call this a moderate hike. It was fabulous, especially the center of the hike when we got onto the “Heart of Rocks” loop. Keep hiking and I just might have to come pay you a visit this summer for a girls’ trek. 🙂

  • Love the pictures of the balancing rocks and that sounds like a fabulous hike. (By the way, we did the Highline trail in Sedona today that you recommended and loved it!) We thought about visiting the Chiracahuas earlier this month, but were afraid it was too far out there to get the cell signal we need for work stuff. I’d be curious to know where you are staying and how the cell service is?

    • Glad you did the Highline Trail. Weren’t the views fabulous? We did not find any RV parks to write home about in the Willcox area. Sadly, Willcox looks like a town that seems to be decaying. 😦 We stayed at the Ft. Willcox RV Park, which I didn’t mention because we were not too impressed. The cell signal was not very impressive either. Sorry that I’m not painting a nicer picture. I will say that the Chiracahuas were definitely worth the trip for us. 🙂

  • Such a beautiful place. Was there once, we didn’t spend nearly enough time there. Visited Fort Bowie and did a fairly long walk from there. Have wanted to go back. Hope Chris and I can add that to a SW trip when we decide to take a break from life up here in the NW

    • We visited Fort Bowie as well. It was interesting how you had to hike out 1.5 miles to get to the fort. Hope all is well with you and Chris.

  • Somehow we missed this entire section of NM in our travels. It looks like a good place to add to my list. Great images. Some of it almost looks like a combination of Zion, Bryce and Arches.

    • This little slice of AZ, located ~50 miles north of Mexico, does remind me of Utah as well. If you are ever down in this area, it definitely is something to see.

  • Not sure how we missed this place. We did a grand tour of AZ twice. Thanks so much for all the beautiful photos. It is very pain to see how the area got its name. I am so glad the COE got started. They have saved some of the most beautiful parts of the country for our enjoyment.

  • Spectacular! While we did not make it here this year – it is definitely on our list for next year.

  • We will be doing that exact hike in a few days!…and staying at Ft Willcox RV park too! Guess we’re following you around SE AZ! 🙂 We head there on Tuesday…

    • I think you are going to love the Chiracahuas. The Big Loop hike gives you most all trails in one. You probably already know that Willcox is nothing to get too excited about but it is the best location to stay, we think, if you are planning to see the Chiracahuas. Enjoy the hike and safe travels.! 🙂

  • Sacred indeed, LuAnn…
    We have in Oz a number of such sacred/spiritual locations. I have been to one location where the Aboriginal Elders (in spirit) asked me to undergo a traditional cleansing before entering the land… (Being a medium allowed me to see/hear and engage with them.) It is a deeply satisfying sense to perceive the stillness of such areas; there is definitely a sense of ‘awe’…
    When our dancing comp days are done, I’d like to think we’ll do as you and your husband do; enjoy the beauty to be found in nature; bush walking and hiking..!
    Another wonderful post…. 🙂

  • Hey LuAnn. Nice post and photos. It looks like a fun hike. There’s something about these austere, timeless landscapes that appeal to me. We spent some time in the badlands of N. Dakota and found hoodoos there as well. In fact, coincidentally, I put a post together a few days ago on our visit. The hoodoos there look very different (a result of the types of rock) and you may be interested. ~James

  • Okay, I’m going away now having become seriously jealous again (always in a loving way LuAnn lol), I miss hiking so much. Did a lot of that in Oregon, not so much over here. These photos are wonderful and speak of the land in a most excellent way, I can almost smell the fresh air there. You two are so lucky! You guys take care of yourselves and each other (know you will), with much affection, Penny xo

    • When you are on the move like us, hiking is probably the best form of exercise and gets us out into nature. This is a lovely part of Arizona.

  • I really enjoy travelling with you both through your wonderful posts and this one is visits a beautiful part of the USA. 😀 Ralph x

  • Once again you provide me with a nice photo for the laptop. Your last paragraph really captures the essence of the wonders the Earth has to offer. As always fascinating, intriguing and above all entertaingly informative.

  • What awful history! Geez, such a majestic land and they were deprived of it. The “never to return again” added salt to the wound. That blows! It’s comforting for us, we don’t have to go across borders to see it. Looks so beautiful, LuAnn. Nice that you rediscover something more from there.

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