• Michael O'Keeffe

Adventure: Saguaro + Chiricahua, Arizona

Updated: Feb 3

This winter has been particularly dreary in Seattle, in fact the last time there was an officially "sunny" day was on November 30. To cure the winter blues, Chyna and I planned a trip to southern Arizona to explore Saguaro National Park and Chiricahua National Monument. The weather on the trip was spectacular with bright sun everyday, mild temperatures, and a lush vibrant desert thanks to recent winter rains. In all, we were able to do 3 fun dayhikes on the trip with our boots on the trail within an hour of getting off the plane in Tucson.

Hugh Norris Trail, Saguaro National Park

When we arrived at the trailhead for the Hugh Norris Trail in Saguaro National Park's western Tucson Mountains district it was already after 4:00pm. Unfortunately, with sunset in less than 2 hours we weren't going to be able to complete the entire trail. Instead, we opted to hike to the first ridgeline about a mile down the trail. On the trail, it was hard not to stop every few steps to admire the lush desert "forest" of Saguaro cactus, cholla, yucca, and ocotillo set amongst the wonderful red volcanic rocks. At the ridge, the views were incredible! A wide open view to the west allowed for a spectacular desert sunset!

Chiricahua National Monument

Our next adventure took us two hours east of Tucson to the remote Chiricahua Mountains in far southeast Arizona. This "sky island" rises 6,000 feet above the dry grasslands of the Chihuahuan Desert which allows for an incredible diversity of flora and fauna to call the range home. Despite the wonderful ecology of the area, the Chiricahua's main attraction is the geology. In the range's north, deep canyons are lined with towering rock pinnacles known as hoodoos. The bizarre wilderness was known to the Apache as the "Land of the Standing-Up Rock" and was protected as a national monument in 1924. What make the hoodoos in Chiricahua unique is that they are made of rhyolite, a dark igenous rock, much different than the lightly colored sandstone hoodoos of other places such as Bryce Canyon in Utah.

There are several trails to choose from in the monument with many more outside the boundaries in the Forest Service's much larger Chiricahua Wilderness. Knowing we would make slow progress through the maze of rock and Apache pine, we ended up choosing a short section known as the Echo Canyon Trail. For a geology nerd like myself, this place is a paradise! We slowly meandered past the unique land of rhyolite hoodoos, precariously balanced boulders, and expansive views of the surrounding mountains. Peppered among the rock was a beautiful array of flora including yucca, agave, Apache pine, oak, prickly pear, and Arizona madrone. The air was still and silent as we watched sunset over the canyon below as another brilliant hike came to a close.

We then spent the night under a cool canopy of oak and pine at the Bonita Canyon Campground, the monument's only campground.

Romero Canyon, Pusch Ridge Wilderness

Our final hike of the trip took us back to Tucson for a local favorite within the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Romero Canyon. The trail which begins in Catalina State Park crossed into the Coronado National Forest's Pusch Ridge Wilderness about a mile into the hike. The trail climbs a stunning granite ridge covered in Sonoran flora classics such as Saguaro, prickly pear, yucca, and ocotillo. Above, impressively craggy granite peaks command the eastern view as a raging stream cascades through a narrow gorge below. Recent rains had turned the desert green and lush. We repeatedly mentioned that it felt like being some sort of desert fairy tale land. After 2.5 miles we reached a saddle with a view down into Montrose and Romero Canyons. With the sun setting we turned back here and enjoyed the view all over again as the sun set on another amazing hike in desert country!


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