Chiricahua National Monument
Location: Willcox, AZ
Smashed Penny Machine: No
If you are looking for a secluded quiet national park, you need to head to Chiricahua. This is the first park that I would describe as in the middle of nowhere. The park is a 45 minute drive from Willcox, AZ and the interstate. There are no services between the park and town. You are going to be lucky if you can get cell service. This park is off the beaten path and completely worth the detour.
The park is full of Rhyolite rock pinnacles. It looks more like Bryce Canyon or Zion verses any other park in Arizona. The park has ample hiking, horseback riding trails, camping and a historic ranch you can tour. We arrived at the park shortly after opening and saw several deer. We had originally planned to hike the easy Massai Point Nature Trail (.5 miles) at the top of the mountain. After speaking with the rangers, we decided to do the moderate Echo Canyon Loop (3.3 milies).
I’ll talk about the positives of the trail. There are amazing views along this hike. You start the hike about midway up the mountain and you can see for miles the Rhyolite formations. The hike takes you through some neat rock formations including the Echo Grottoes. The kids had a ball calling down into the canyon and hearing it echo back at them. The trail also loops through the hotter and drier side of the park where you’ll see lots of yucca and agave plants. We saw tons of lizards out sunning themselves on a warm morning. We had the entire trail basically to ourselves. We had one more serious backpacker pass us early in the trail and then we passed one other couple hiking the other direction. Other than those three people it was us and the wilderness.
The flip side of this trail. I don’t know who the park service is kidding this is not a moderate trail or maybe moderate means something else in this very remote park. This trail was every bit as difficult as our hike into and back out of the Grand Canyon a few days before. The path down Echo Canyon Trail is steep and you are scrambling over large rocks (two of us with toddlers on our backs). There is not much shade on the way down so pack lots of water. Once you enter in the canyon valley there is no air movement so even though there was shade it was if anything hotter. Then to get back to the trailhead you have hike back up the side of the mountain. This hike took us nearly three hours to complete and we were all exhausted by the time we reached the top (I had to buy souvenirs to coax the older two up the mountain with me).
After surviving the hike, we returned to the visitor’s center so the girls could complete their Jr Ranger program and for me to buy the promised stuffed animals. The entire time we were in the park we only saw maybe ten other visitors.
Overall: Despite the difficulty of the hike, I did enjoy Chiricahua. The land was beautiful. The park was peaceful which was a much-needed break after the business of a few of the other parks. I would like to go back some day when the kids are a little older and explore this park in more depth. If I could go back and redo our trip I would have scheduled an entire day in this park and been much more prepared for the level of hiking offered.