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Chiricahua Camping
Chiricahua National Monument
June 5-7, 1998
by Jeannie Van Lew
Land of Standing Rocks.

We began the trek down to Chiricahua National Monument in a caravan with Angela Lien and Chuck Parsons. We arrived at Bonita campground group site and were immediately met by Fred and Lucille, the campground hosts. They informed us of the rules and regulations of the campground, specifically of the group site. After unpacking, we took the 1/2-mile hike to the Visitor Center. After we learned about the trails from one of the NPS volunteers, we decided to get our hiking boots on and take in Echo Canyon.

We began at Massai Point and took the north part of the loop through Echo Canyon, returning back up the Hailstone Trail. In Echo Canyon we had our first glimpse of the grandeur of the spires and pinnacles of the Chiricahuas. We walked though a couple of the grottos caused when erosion weakened the pedestals and caused them to collapse. Taking us 2 1/2 hours, with time for MANY pictures and rock climbing, we returned to camp around 7 p.m. finding others from the club had arrived in our absence. While some put up tents, we began to make dinner – my camp chili was still a frozen block!

As more people arrived, we exceeded the 5-vehicle limit for the group site and had to decide whose cars were to be ferried down to the Faraway Ranch parking lot. We lit a campfire and George brought out his guitar and played a wonderful medley of songs. Tom, with Mike’s help, coerced everyone to gather around the fire and sing “Happy Birthday” to me. Everyone tried to ferret out of me the number of times I have circled the sun, but I left it for them to guess! Everyone was finally at camp around 10 p.m. Most of us retired to our tents under a 3/4 moon and clear skies anticipating the next days hike.

People began to arise around 5 am, and fixed quick breakfasts. Don, however, made a gourmet breakfast of eggs, fried potatoes and sausage. The aroma filled the campsite making our oatmeal and pop tarts seem not quite as appealing. The shuttle we were counting on to take us up to the trailhead would only take 11 people. Doing quick mental math we figured that the shuttle could not accommodate all 25 of us, so we decided to shuttle ourselves. By 8:45 everyone had assembled at the trailhead for the customary group shot. Afterwards, Rudy led us over to the Massai Point Visitor Center where he pointed out the famous rock formation “Cochise Head.” We also saw a relief map of the trail we were about to hike.

Let’s explore!

I took the lead until we reached the sharp turn to “Heart of Rocks” Trail. Tom and I waited to direct everyone to make the correct turn, and thus ended up bringing up the rear – almost. Chuck and Mike, who fortunately had a radio, seemed to stay behind using up many rolls of film. We were also in radio contact with Tim Reasoner who would inform those of us lagging behind of the correct turns to make, along with their location. Awed by the rock formations along the trail, such as “The mushroom” and the “Big Balanced Rock”, we stopped often to take pictures.

Finally reaching the “Heart of Rocks Loop” we entered another world. A surreal world of rocks and spires that each seemed to take a shape of it’s own. We saw the famous formations of: “Pinnacle Balanced Rock”, “Duck on a Rock”, “Punch and Judy” and the “Kissing Rock”. We also saw a camel's head, ET, and a group of gophers standing on their hind legs. All too soon we reached the end of the loop and stopped for lunch. The group ahead of us grew tired of waiting for us, so they went ahead. Mike and Chuck caught up to us after taking the detour hike to Inspirations Point. They did not seem too inspired by me, but maybe I wasn’t really paying attention.

After lunch our little group of Sylvia, Tom and I continued on down the Sarah Demming Trail. The vegetation went from cactus and scrub to that of pine and sycamore. The trail was down hill the rest of the way back to the Visitor Center. Just before we met up with the Rhyolite Canyon trail, Tim radioed that he and the large group with him had reached the Visitor Center and were heading to the campground. They went and retrieved the shuttle vehicles waiting for us at Massai Point.

The last stretch of the hike down the Rhyolite Canyon was mostly exposed. The sun was warm now and we were feeling the heat and effects of hiking down hill. Sylvia and I agreed that we wished we had a cool stream to soak our feet in like at Havasupai. We finally reached the Visitor Center where I bought one more roll of film. When we arrived at the campsite, we found Anatoli trying to teach Kelly, Mike, Michelle and Derek a Russian card game called “Idiot”. People were coming and going. We found out that some had even driven into Wilcox to replenish supplies.

Punch and Judy
Big Balanced Rock

Soon the smells of dinner filled the air; steaks, sausages, my own foil dinner of hamburger, potatoes and onion and finally my Dutch oven peach cobbler. Everyone was curious as to what I was doing, I think some were even skeptical. However, the cake mix rose nicely and I was able to give everyone at least a small taste of the cobbler.

After dinner many from the group headed up to take pictures of the sunset. Others attended the Forest Rangers presentation on Hummingbirds at the amphitheater. Still others, like Tom, Sylvia and I just sat by the fire, enjoying the sounds of the birds and squirrels, the sunset through the trees and propping up our feet! After dark, George graced us again with his guitar playing, while the sound of laughter was heard in the background of people playing the card game “BS” (a game taught by my kids at Havasupai two weeks before). We turned in early, missing the visit of a striped skunk looking for water at our faucet.

After breakfast the next morning, everyone packed and made their plans for returning home. Tom, Mike, Chuck, Angie, Sylvia and I explored the Faraway Ranch and paid our admission for the guided tour of the house. Tom and Nancy Schaugnesy joined us. I am always amazed at the tenacity of our pioneer forefathers and foremothers! After the tour we made lunch on the back of our truck and then went our separate ways. Sylvia was heading to Tucson to visit friends, Mike wanted to take the Bisbee, Tombstone, Benson loop home. Angie and Chuck followed us until just before Tucson where they soon passed us. We were all stopped just before Picacho Peak by an overturned truck on the freeway, which caused backups and delays mostly due to rubbernecking.

I have wanted to visit the Chiricahuas for many years now. I was not disappointed! I have found that belonging to the Hiking Club is a good catalyst to get me to plan hikes and travel to places I have often read about but never visited.

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updated January 11, 2018