AZ – Cave Creek Canyon, Silver Peak

I found a great viewpoint dispersed campsite where I had hopes of a great sunset and/or sunrise. Sadly neither happened but I could at least dream of being on top of Silver Peak.

Gusty winds during the night and continuing into the morning had me thinking about other hiking options.

I delayed my decision by hiking the Vista Point Trail.

Evening light was much more spectacular.

My journal notes, “I guess this will be a NO celebration St Patrick’s Day. Gusty winds will limit hiking today. Forget Silver Peak.” Mother Nature had other plans and turned off the wind.

I wonder if these horses are used for trail rides?

You can’t see Silver Peak on the early approach trail. You wrap around the right side of the formation named “The Fingers.”

Soon the grasses will be green but until then the bright pops of color from verbena was a welcome sight.

Beware of the evil ill-placed agave.

After bleeding like a stuck pig, I was happy to find this little water source so I could wash my wound and all the blood. Plus it hurt so that cold water was a nice pain reliever.

After working your way around The Fingers you finally see your objective.

Loved seeing lichen on nearby rocks.

Cool seed pods.

As I gained elevation I found some Alpine Pennycress Wild Candytuft (?) of the mustard family.

It was cool to find it in different stages of bloom.

This a great trail to view the many mountain ranges and get a feel of being on a Sky Island.

At about 4 miles, the real fun begins.

These 51 steps help you gain elevation quickly.

Some had such a tall tread I had to use my hands for assistance.

The foundation of the old lookout marks the end of the official trail. The green ammunition box contains a peak log.

I flipped through the log looking for mine and Joan’s entry when we visited in December 2017 (link). Well I guess the snow explains our missing signatures.

We also missed the survey marker.

The valley floor was covered in yellows of Bladderpod Mustard and oranges of poppies.

If I hadn’t been distracted by COVID-19 worries, I would have continued on to Silver Peak proper.

Silver Peak is the first ridge in this photo.

With cell signal I spent significant time at the top and on the way down consulting with friends and family about the COVID-19 situation. They all encouraged me to stay and hike as it was safer in the wilderness than at home. My stress was beginning to outweigh the joy I usually feel. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was hearing about school closures, empty store shelves, and in general a mix of panic and fear. Having asthma, I’m in one of the groups advised to take extra precautions. The nearby Forest Service Campgrounds were still open, but rules and guidelines were changing quickly. What to do?

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 17, 2020

Hike Details:Tips:

  • At the Visitor Center ask for trail guides and the dispersed camping handout.
  • The nearest gas is in Animas, New Mexico
  • The nearest laundry is near Rodeo, New Mexico. I used Rusty’s RV Park and it was clean, inexpensive with the bonus of a place to hang out with WiFi.
  • The nearest shower I found was at The Chiricahua Desert Museum between Portal, Arizona and Rodeo, New Mexico.
  • There are small grocery stores and cafes in both Portal and nearby at Sky Islands.
  • The library and Visitor Center leave on their WiFi during business hours, both accessible from outside.
  • Potable water, garbage and restrooms are available at the nearby campgrounds.
  • Best digital trail maps I found are the Gaia layer on the Gaia app. The others I tried haven’t been updated since the 2011 fire.
  • The time on your phone will flip back and forth between New Mexico and Arizona time, making it very confusing.

Resources:

Links:

I participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases linked in this post. It doesn’t affect your price but it helps support this site.

AZ – Cave Creek Canyon, South Fork and Burro Trails

Surprise! My morning started with a stop at the Visitor Center for a little WiFi and a few more trail tips. Within a few minutes of arrival the volunteer received an email shutting down the Visitor Center. My anxiety of being out and about increased. What to do?

Since I was in a remote location and 2,000 miles from home, I decided to hike.

Joan and I hiked this trail in December 2017 (link). I was looking forward to an early spring experience. This area is known as a birder’s paradise. While I was really hoping for a sighting of an Elegant Trogon, I was told they won’t be migrating this direction for a few more weeks. I’d heard there would be a few wet feet crossings so I started in sandals.

Although none of the crossings were deeper than mid-calf nor very swift, I was glad I knew how to pick and choose crossing locations as some were much riskier than others.

With a 30F degree morning, I was glad I waited a bit for those wet feet crossings although the water wasn’t nearly as cold as expected.

The 2014 Hurricane Odile caused major flooding and damage to this trail. You need to pay attention to cairns and trail crossing clues to stay on track. I met a hiker coming the opposite direction who gave me a heads up on one tricky crossing after a long wandering trying to find the trail.

After 8-12 wet feet crossings, it was time to leave my sandals behind and start the climb up the Burro Trail.

After climbing for a while I found this beautiful orange rock escarpment, making an excellent viewpoint and turnaround spot.

Recent rains provided nice potholes for the wildlife.

When hiking in the Chiricahuas, I recommend using the Gaia layer on the Gaia app. It’s the only one that shows current trails. A bonus are the binoculars indicating viewpoints.

This would be a geologist’s Disneyland.

I found a few early blooms including this Hartweg’s Groundsel (?), a member of the aster family.

Alpine Pennycress Wild Candytuft (?), mustard family.

Extra Credit:

You know you’re in the Chiricahua Mountains when you see coatimundi. The previous night on my way to camp I saw this one grubbing away (photo taken through window).

This one wasn’t nearly as cooperative as the ones Joan and I saw at Cave Creek Ranch (photo taken through window).

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 16, 2020

Hike Details:Tips:

  • At the Visitor Center ask for trail guides and the dispersed camping handout.
  • The nearest gas is in Animas, New Mexico
  • The nearest laundry is near Rodeo, New Mexico. I used Rusty’s RV Park and it was clean, inexpensive with the bonus of a place to hang out with WiFi.
  • The nearest shower I found was at The Chiricahua Desert Museum between Portal, Arizona and Rodeo, New Mexico.
  • There are small grocery stores and cafes in both Portal and nearby at Sky Islands.
  • The library and Visitor Center leave on their WiFi during business hours, both accessible from outside.
  • Potable water, garbage and restrooms are available at the nearby campgrounds.
  • Best digital trail maps I found are the Gaia layer on the Gaia app. The others I tried haven’t been updated since the 2011 fire.
  • The time on your phone will flip back and forth between New Mexico and Arizona time, making it very confusing.

Resources:

Links:

I participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases linked in this post. It doesn’t affect your price but it helps support this site.

AZ – Cave Creek Canyon, Winn Falls and the Basin Trail

Portal is the nearest town to the Cave Creek Canyon area of the Chiricahua Mountains.  With a population of around 800, there are few options to resupply and as of this writing no gas stations. After spending a couple days at the Chiricahua National Monument, I returned to Willcox to resupply and fill my gas tank before finding my way to the other side of the mountain range. There is no easy or fast way to this remote area especially if it’s recently rained, like it had during my visit. This was still early in the COVID-19 scare. I spent time researching and worrying about what to do.

I enjoyed the drive stopping frequently to take photos of the large swaths of yellow, which I believe is Gordon’s bladderpod, a member of a mustard family. An Arizona friend told me these are Bladderpod Mustard.

The white flowers looked very similar although much less prolific. My Arizona friend said these are White Bladderpod.

As I followed signs and google directions to Portal, I wasn’t very happy when I arrived at this obstacle.

I turned around and tried several other roads unsuccessfully. I met a couple of local gals walking who assured me it was fine to drive through. Holding my breath I did!

I stopped at the visitor center and was welcomed with colorful verbena.

The Visitor Center is not only staffed by amazing volunteers, it also offers speedy WiFi and a Verizon booster during office hours. I was happy to find I had a few days of good weather hiking in my future. I purchased the area map, was provided with trail guides, and did some quick research.

COVID-19 fear was low key in the area, although we were all aware and following CDC guidelines. I had plenty of hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes, and was using both judicially.

I drove to the Herb Martyr Campground Trailhead, enjoying views of Winn Falls enroute. I learned the key for best photos is very early in the morning, around 7-8am due to sun angle and deep canyon walls. I was lucky to find them flowing at this capacity after the rains and snow melt.

The volunteers recommended the Basin Trail as a good option for an afternoon hike. The Horseshoe 2 fire burned over 200,000 acres in 2011. Most of the trails have had to be rebuilt. It’s been an ongoing process with much being in wilderness areas thus mechanized equipment prohibited. Many burned trees are left standing waiting for nature to knock them down. It’s a good reminder of the slow recovery expected at my local park, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area with 97% burned in the 2018 Carr Fire.

I quickly arrived at the Ash Spring area. This chicken coop is all that remains of the homestead built in the 1940’s by Frank Pack, a local miner.

If I’d read my handouts I would have learned that the spring water feeds two pools that have been established to benefit the threatened Chiricahua leopard frog. A few days later I hiked back to the area where I watched as frogs leaped into the ponds but were too shy to let me see or photograph them. I waited and waited and waited for them to reappear but nope not on this day.

The previous blooms on the century plants were like decorations along the trail. Soon this dry grass would be green, but spring had not quite sprung on this mid-March day at 5-6,000 feet. The trails were in great condition, although the short-cut trail to the spring was tougher to find.

The trail offers more views of Winn Falls. But as you can see at 1:30pm the lighting was not the best.

I drove back up the next morning but at 8:30am, but the waterfall was already darkened by a shadow.

Later I hiked the Greenhouse Trail to the Basin Trail in the morning trying to get better views. I found I needed to stay on the Greenhouse Trail which would take me to a high view point. That was on my list for a future hike which sadly didn’t happen this trip.

This is about the best I got on this trip. Winn Falls, I’ll be back!

On this day I hiked the very rocky Greenhouse Trail 4×4 road which reconnects to the Basin Trail.

I was told it would take me to a ridge for 360 views. Sadly the high point was on the shoulder of this hillside. On the left is Silver Peak which I’d hike later in the week; on the right is Mount Sceloporus.

Tip: I found the Gaia layer on the Gaia App was the only one showing the current trails.

There was so much water flowing. Definitely not what you think of when you imagine the dry deserts of Arizona. However, this is one of the sky islands.

“Sky Islands” are isolated mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico. Some of the mountains rise more than 6,000 feet above the surrounding desert floor making the lowlands and high peaks drastically different. Plants and animals living in the mountains could never survive in the surrounding deserts. Thus by analogy, the mountains are “islands” surrounded by deserts that are “seas”. Source: USFS website

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 15 and 19, 2020

Hike Details:Tips:

  • At the Visitor Center ask for trail guides and the dispersed camping handout.
  • The nearest gas is in Animas, New Mexico
  • The nearest laundry is near Rodeo, New Mexico. I used Rusty’s RV Park and it was clean, inexpensive with the bonus of a place to hang out with WiFi.
  • The nearest shower I found was at The Chiricahua Desert Museum between Portal, Arizona and Rodeo, New Mexico.
  • There are small grocery stores and cafes in both Portal and nearby at Sky Islands.
  • The library and Visitor Center leave on their WiFi during business hours, both accessible from outside.
  • Potable water, garbage and restrooms are available at the nearby campgrounds.
  • Best digital trail maps I found are the Gaia layer on the Gaia app. The others I tried haven’t been updated since the 2011 fire.
  • The time on your phone will flip back and forth between New Mexico and Arizona time, making it very confusing.

Resources:

Links:

I participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases linked in this post. It doesn’t affect your price but it helps support this site.

AZ – Chiricahua National Monument . . . Rockin’ the Rhyolite

I’d originally planned to take the free shuttle to Echo Canyon and hike down through the various trails. As I thought about it overnight I realized I needed the exercise, so why not hike a loop?

The Lower Rhyolite Trail begins at the Visitor Center. By skipping the shuttle, I skipped the crowds and the later start. In exchange I enjoyed bird chatter and creek song.

When it was time to leave the creek it was a gentle ascent.

At the first junction I took the Sarah Deming Trail. As you can see, the trails are well signed making it difficult to get lost.

Soon enough I had my first views of the standing rocks or rhyolite.

I couldn’t resist taking the Heart of Rocks Loop where if you’re lucky you might find Punch and Judy. Who are they anyway? According to Wikipedia, “Punch and Judy is a traditional puppet show featuring Mr. Punch and his wife Judy. The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically Mr. Punch and one other character who usually falls victim to Punch’s slap stick.”

The views of rhyolite are neverending. What is rhyolite? According to Geology.com, “Rhyolite is an extrusive igneous rock with a very high silica content. It is usually pink or gray in color with grains so small that they are difficult to observe without a hand lens. Rhyolite is made up of quartz, plagioclase, and sanidine, with minor amounts of hornblende and biotite.”

At the next junction I decided to take the Mushroom Rock Trail rather than go up to Massai Point to connect to the Echo Canyon Trail, since Joan and I previously hiked those.

I was excited to find my first flowers, Bigelow’s bristlehead.

The right light is needed to bring out the colors in the rocks, otherwise they are just kind of bland monochromatic.

I completed the lollipop loop by taking the Upper Rhyolite Trail to reconnect to the Lower Rhyolite Trail.

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 14, 2020

Hike Details:Tips:

  • The nearest dispersed camping is on Pinery Road (FS Road 42). Although there were several others camped nearby, it was a very disruptive night with lots of Border Patrol traffic.
  • Ask for the Hiking Guide at the Visitor Center.
  • If you plan to hike more of the Chiricahua Mountains/Wilderness aka Cave Creek Canyon, I recommend getting the Green Trails Map (link) of the area.
  • Nearest resupply town is Willcox. At the time of this writing there was a Safeway. There was also a TA Travel Center for shower and laundry.

Resources:

Links:

I participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases linked in this post. It doesn’t affect your price but it helps support this site.

AZ – Chiricahua National Monument, Sugarloaf Mountain Lookout

In December 2017, my backpacking bestie Joan and I spent time in the Chiricahau Mountains including a couple of days at the Chiricahau National Monument. Ever since I’ve had a return on my list so I could fully explore the area in less snowy conditions.

Massai Point Nature Trail

I arrived mid day so after a stop at the Visitor Center, where I  made a shuttle reservation for the next day, I drove to Massai Point to stretch my legs while learning about the geology on the nature trail.

The Chiricahua Apache called this the Land of Standing Up Rocks. These spires are the result of volcanic activity.

Sugarloaf Mountain Lookout

Joan and I hiked nearly every trail in the park but not this one. So how I could I resist? Plus at less than 2 miles round trip it was a perfect for this afternoon where I was short on time. This is the view of the lookout from Massai Point.

Not far from the trailhead you hike through this cool rock tunnel.

It was a little early for wildflowers but the manzanita was starting to bloom.

It was a moody day threatening rain. I only saw two others while hiking this trail.

First views of the lookout.

The lookout was locked up on the day I visited. I noticed a broken window and a missing pane which I reported to the Visitor Center.

I found the survey marker.

There was interpretative signage including this one about Turkey Creek Caldera. I’d like to visit that area on a future visit.

The 360-degree views were outstanding. I forgot to update my Peak Finder App so couldn’t quickly identify the mountains.

Cochise Head is very recognizable.

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 13, 2020

Hike Details:Tips:

  • The nearest dispersed camping is on Pinery Road (FS Road 42). Although there were several others camped nearby, it was a very disruptive night with lots of Border Patrol traffic.
  • Ask for the Hiking Guide at the Visitor Center.
  • If you plan to hike more of the Chiricahua Mountains/Wilderness aka Cave Creek Canyon, I recommend getting the Green Trails Map (link) of the area.
  • Nearest resupply town is Willcox. At the time of this writing there was a Safeway. There was also a TA Travel Center for shower and laundry.

Resources:

Links:

I participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases linked in this post. It doesn’t affect your price but it helps support this site.

AZ – Montezuma and Tonto National Monuments plus a Wildflower Corridor

The weather forecast was for rain, rain and more rain. So after my hike at Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park the previous day, I planned on a driving day.

With a break in the storm, it was time to stretch my legs. Once upon a time I lived in Arizona for about five years and visited this National Monument. I had little recollection.

It’s a short stroll for this view. To see the other parts of the park, Montezuma Well and Tuzigoot, involve long drives for which I wasn’t interested this day.

After a night of rain and another day driving through the rain I stopped at Tonto National Monument.

While the trail is short, it’s steep and made for a good workout. I ended up hiking it three times after spending too many hours driving through the rain the past couple days.

The flowers were beginning to color the hillsides.

Loved how this Blue Dick was holding onto this giant droplet.

This penstemon also was dripping from the recent rains.

Desert Marigold

Nature’s garden. What a nice blend of poppies, lupine and owl clover.

I spent a while watching the wren on the lower cactus gather grasses and fly up to continue building the nest.

Guess what, it was another day of driving through the rain. I found myself stopping frequently as I drove along 70 between Globe and Safford to enjoy blooms between showers. Hello penstemon!

Rainy day poppies and lupine.

Haven’t identified this one yet.

Blue Dicks taking center stage.

Owl Clover is one of my favorites.

I finally found some of the elusive pink poppies but with the rain and cool temperatures, they were closed up tight.

This tiny rainbow gave me hopes of better tomorrows, something we all need a lot of right now during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 10-12, 2020

Resources:

Links:

AZ – Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park

This was another pin on my map of places to hike if my travels were in close proximity. So having traveled 66 to Kingman I wasn’t far from Yarnell.

This park opened in 2016 in honor of the 19 Hotshots killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire.

The trail is split into two sections. The Hotshots Trail is 2.5 miles, the Journey Trail is 1 mile.

Along the trail are individual memorial plaques with a photo and story. It’s hard not the grieve for these young men and their families.

There is also interpretative signage about wildland fires and firefighting.

The benches give you time to reflect.

At the top there is what they call the Observation Deck with more information about the fire as well as a view down to the Fatality Site and the town of Yarnell. It’s a miracle the town survived.

There is also a Tribute Wall with lots of memorabilia.

I found a couple stickers that originated near my home base.

The circle is the Fatality Site where the Hotshots made their last stand. Encircling the site are 19 gabions, one for each Hotshot, united by chains representing their eternal bond. Inside 19 steel markers show the position where each Hotshot was found.

Can you imagine being the sole survivor?

This is a very busy place. I was there on a weekday and yet I met at least 5 hotshots/firefighters and crossed paths with probably near 100 hikers. I was grateful for my early start so I could mourn as I walked this sobering path in silence. Once it got busier, normal group hiking chitter chatter detracted from the ambience.

Of course there was beauty to be found along the way including first of the season Claret Cups.

Verbena

Adventure Date(s):

  • March 9, 2020

Hike Details:Tips:

Resources:

Links:

I participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases linked in this post. It doesn’t affect your price but it helps support this site.