The Great Southwest Trip 2017


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Sunday, September 17

Kelly and I had discussed our eleven days of camping beforehand. I had a list of places I had missed on the last two trips so I showed it to her and said, if there's anything you particularly want to do, we'll do it, just say so. But she liked my list, so we mostly went with that. Our first destination was Chiricahua National Monument, about two hours southeast of Tucson.

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This truckload of wooden stuff was in the Motel 6 parking lot when we were leaving.

Last year I had seen a train made up of engines, and here's another one in the same place, south of Highway 10 east of Tucson. It must be the route they use to take them from one place to another...

This was a rest stop at a place called Council Rocks; they were really striking, but it was hard to take pictures of them without fences, buildings, cars or the freeway in them.
We thought the hills ahead were the NM, but it was waaay beyond them. Soaptree Yucca. We saw this EVERYWHERE for the first week. Here's Kelly! The road and the beautiful sky.
And here we are, just before noon. The cool thing about Chiricahua NM (besides the history) is that it's kind of geographical crossroads- the Sierra Madre, the Rocky Mountains, the Sonoran desert and the Chihuahuan desert all meet here, so there is a ton of diversity in plants, rocks and animals. And it was BEAUTIFUL.

And even though it was the first campsite of our trip, Kelly and I declared this to be the BEST CAMPSITE EVER. Beautiful, spacious, actual fenced dividing the sites, flush toilets, nice people.

We talked to Bruce, the campground host. I mentioned that the campground looked pretty empty but that when I had scoped it out two months ago, half of the spaces were not available, so I got one then, figuring that it was filling up. He laughed and said, no, it's the end of monsoon season in the southwest, and for July, August and September the creek that runs through the campground floods half the campsites so they don't let people reserve them during those months...! There were other people in the campground, but half the available sites were empty.
We went to the Visitor's Center to see what there was to be seen and talk to rangers before we went hiking, and they had a display on the cavalry that was stationed here trying to contain the Apaches who used this place as a base for raiding parties. They had actual cavalry uniform jackets and caps you could put on, so of course we did. I was pleased to find out from Doug that I had matched the right cap with the jacket.
Chiricahua National Monument (aka the "Wonderland of Rocks", and how could I resist it with a name like that?) is pretty amazing. There are rock hoodoos everywhere, from smallish to damn big. After talking to the rangers, Kelly and I checked the map (on the right) and decided to drive up to Massai Point and hike the triangle formed by the Ed Riggs trail, the Hailstone trail, and the Echo Canyon trail, doing it in that order because the ranger said the Echo Canyon trail had a lot of stairs, and Kelly prefers to go up stairs rather than down. Turned out to be a good decision, because that way the most spectacular part was at the end!
First we did a half-mile loop called the Massai Nature Trail that had signs talking about the geology and biomes, which was cool. There was also a rock-walled lookout with GORGEOUS views. The road is on the side away from all the hoodoos, so when you go out on the trail, suddenly you see MILES of them. It was amazing.

Fragrant Snakeroot

Then we started down the Ed Riggs trail. There were a lot of clouds coming and going, so the light changed constantly, but it was hot and there was no rain. Beautiful weather.

Gumhead

some variety of fleabane

I think these are Mock Pennyroyals

Fragrant Snakeroot

The markings look like a Black Swallowtail, but without the tails...hmmmm

Yarrow's Spiny Lizard. These bad boys were everywhere, and so beautiful!
More fleabane. The red stuff is manzanita leafgall, a common parasite that (amazingly enough) doesn't harm the manzanita tree, it just looks icky. Ragleaf Bahia Some kind of Brickellbush, maybe a tassleflower?
You can tell I was in front at this point...I took a picture of the trail with the tall burned trees on each side...then Kelly took one of me looking at a flower... Wooly mullein

A clematis called Virgin's Bower

Yarrow's spiny lizard. And in the closeup you can see exactly where the 'spiny' part comes from...!
This is our friend the Soaptree Yucca. We kept discussing these and trying to figure out what they were, because the frilly blossoms look so different from the seed pods...these, of course, are the seed pods.

Soaptree yucca.

These are the leftover pods from the soaptree yucca seeds, and they literally looked as if they had been gilded...they shone like gold leaf in the sun.
We've turned onto the Echo Canyon trail, and it went by this stream and pool... and also by another Soaptree Yucca, this one blooming.
This is a 180 degree view from the trail we're hiking. Some kind of penstemon Aaaand...now the trail starts going uphill pretty steeply. A duck with a turban!
And this is why we didn't mind that the trail was going uphill...it went INTO the standing stones, and wound around between and through them! It was SO COOL!
We got back to the car and drove to the other viewpoint (this picture), then stopped at the pullouts on the way back to the campsite.
This sign was near the Organ Pipe pullout, and tells how the standing stones were formed. We went back and Kelly made us a delicious dinner, and there were interesting insects in the bathroom that night!