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:

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AZ – Chiricahua Mountains, Silver Peak Trail

I first learned about Sky Islands when I hiked the Arizona Trail with my adventure buddy Joan aka Rambling Hemlock. It seems only fitting to explore another together. The Chiricahua  (cherry-cow-ah) Mountains are a range of inactive volcanoes in southeast Arizona, with the tallest peak at nearly 10,000′ and hiking trails starting around 5,000′. I wasn’t convinced this was an appropriate area for a winter vacation. I’d checked the weather forecast the week prior and it showed 10 days of bright sunny skies. As weather does though, a storm rolled in during our first night and we awoke to a little snow on the mountains and rain at the trailhead. Why take the day off when you can hike? 

We stopped at the Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Center, which is solely staffed by Friends of Cave Creek Canyon volunteers. The Silver Peak Trailhead is just a short distance up the road from the visitor center. 

Is that Silver Peak?

We came prepared for inclement conditions although we weren’t expecting it, and the locals said it’d been quite some time since they’d had significant precipitation.

Even in the rain, Joan takes time for plant identification. 

As we climbed, the rain turned to sleet turned to snow. 

There was a surprising amount of trees, including this Arizona Pine (I think). There have been multiple large fires in the Chiricahau Mountains with evidence throughout although not much on this trail. 

Snow hiking in our microspikes. 

It was heavy wet snow. 

The unusual mixing of snow and cactus. 

The Chircahuas are known for their rock formations. 

Stairs to the old Silver Peak fire lookout. 

On days like this, imagination is a good thing. 

The lookout building burned in 1992. Within a few minutes of arriving at the top, we got a peek at the many ridges beyond. According to the local hiking resource, “The view from this point is one of the most impressive of the area, from the Portal Peak to the east, Cave Creek Canyon to the southeast, the Cave Creek Basin and the Southwestern Research Station to the south, the Trans-Mountain Road (FR 42) climbing to Onion Saddle to the west, Paradise to the northwest, and San Simon and I-10 to the north.”

We got this moment of light. 

I was excited to get this tease of rock colors I’d come to see. 

On a day like this there was no lollygagging on the summit. As we descended we were granted views of the valley. 

This photo shows the transition from valley around 3,600′ to steep mountains with summits typically 9-10,000′. 

We were surprised to find the trail barren of fellow hikers on this date. It seems it would be a bit like the Pacific Northwest where everyone gets outside on the rare sunny days, here it would be on the rare rainy day.

Extra Credit:

Photos from Cave Creek Ranch where they spread food inviting visits from javelinas, deer, coatimundi and lots of birds. This area is known as a birders paradise. 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 12/17/17
  • Mileage (per ViewRanger): 9 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain/Loss (per ViewRanger): 4,400’/4,400′
  • Elevation Low/High (per ViewRanger): 4,900’/7,900′
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: none
    • Overgrowth: minimal
    • Signage: adequate
    • Terrain: good condition
  • Navigation Skills: minimal
  • Water availability: none
  • Camping availability: none
  • Solitude: we didn’t see anyone on this date
  • Bugs: none
  • Wildlife: none
  • Precip: rain, sleet and snow on this date
  • Temp: ?
  • LNT: no problems
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 3+ cherries (out of 5)

Tips:

  • Don’t confuse Cave Creek with Cave Creek Canyon when searching for lodging and trails.
  • The nearest lodging for the trails in the southeast corner of the Chiricahuas is Rodeo and Portal.
  • The hiker created web page linked below is the best resource for finding out about trail conditions.

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