A nice hike and a blackened forestAfter Dennis and I climbed Miller Peak, we headed east to the Chiricahua mountains. Finding our way up a dirt road to Rustler Park in the dark, we settled in for the night at a day use area since the campground was closed for the season. The night brought heavy wind but when the wind stopped about 2 a.m., it woke me up because I wasn't use to the quiet. Our camp spot was at 8400 feet and the sheer altitude alone of that elevation made it a night to burrow deeply into a sleeping bag to stay warm.
The morning brought several hunters to the area and Dennis and I had a nice chat with a father and son who were headed the way we were going to hike. They were looking for whitetail deer and said that as long as we didn't try to look like a whitetail, we would be safe. Another hunter came along after the father and son duo had taken off and suggested that at least one of us wear some orange.
Breakfast was quick and simple and our GPS's indicated that the peak was about 5 air miles away from where we spent the night so I figured that we had at least a 6 or 7 mile hike ahead of us. We made our way through the campground, spooking a small whitetail deer off to the left of us as we went. Coming to a gate (not locked), we followed a road several miles up to Long Park, a place where it would have been nice to have camped at. The road is doable by a high clearance vehicle although a couple of rocky stretches would make a good case for some 6 ply tires. We met one of the hunters along the road as he was busy scoping out a hillside in the hopes of seeing the elusive whitetail that he sought after.
At Long Park, a great sign indicated that we had about 3 1/2 miles to go to reach our summit and from the sign, the trail dropped downhill for most of a mile to a junction with the Crest trail that you could also access from near the Rustler Park campground. It was at this junction, and just past a Wilderness boundary sign that I noticed that much of the forest had been burned.
The trail though was in good shape as surprisingly were the signs we saw along the way. A few easily negotiated trees were down across the trail as we headed on the west side of Flys Peak. As we made our way along the trail, I noted on the map that we were soon going to pass uphill of Booger Spring, one of those places that just due to the name you tend to take note of. We stopped for a quick snack near where a trail headed down to Booger Spring but we didn't invest the time to go investigate. As we made our way along the trail, we finally came to a spot where we had our first view of Chiricahua Peak, king of the Chiricahua Mountain range and county highpoint of Cochise county.
It was a quick hike to the junction where three trails came together and of course, we were only interested in the one leading up the hill to Chiricahua Peak, a mere half mile away and less than a couple hundred feet of elevation gain to attain the rounded summit. However, as we made our way up the trail, it became more and more obvious that this part of the mountain had been hit hard by the fire and when we finally found where the summit was, it was surrounded by charred and blackened trees. Interestingly enough, this summit prior to the fire would have had zero views since trees totally surrounded it. I'm always quick to compare that in the northwest where I live, a peak of 9700 plus feet would be relatively snow bound or a very rocky summit. In Arizona, trees are found very high on the mountains and are pretty dense (except when burned) even above ten thousand feet. Soon we were working our way through the burnt trees and lo and behold, the summit was nothing like one would expect for the highpoint of a mountain range.
The register was visible in its red can container and a benchmark was nearby. Dennis grabbed a nearby log and moved it close to the register and
created for himself a nice place to eat his lunch and enjoy the entries in the register. The benchmark was on a midsized rock that had a bolt placed through the rock to hold the rock into position. Others had reported that the rock was one you could actually move around but it looked like a recent visit from the USGS had corrected that. [img:246870:alignleft:thumb:]
Dennis and I spent close to an hour at the unusual summit area and soon found ourselves retreating back the way we came. I really enjoyed the hike and the area and I could imagine that with a normal rainfall, that this area would be a beautiful area to enjoy. The long lasting drought that has been affecting the southwest had left its mark and seeing all the burnt forests a bit depressing. Evidently this area has had its share of bears but for the last couple of years, very little bear sign has been seen due to the lack of water and probably berries and other food sources.
Miles hiked: 12-13 Elevation gain 1600 feet overall.
Cochise CountyNormally a trip report doesn't include Chamber of Commerce type of information but this area of Arizona is relatively unknown and is deserving of a bit more exposure. The Chiricahua mountains were well known to the Apache Indians and were appreciated by this group of people. The Chiricahua's were also a stronghold for the famous indian leader Geronimo. Too often in this modern society, we have a tendency to forget that this land was once both sacred and vital to the indian population and we view the land as a resource for our outdoor pleasures. Check out this link for a lot of good information about the area and the history of same.
Note the following (from above link)
The Chiricahua Wilderness, protects the highest summits of the range, including 9,796-foot Chiricahua Peak. A narrow mountain road crosses the range from near the entrance of the national monument on the west side to Portal on the east side; it's not recommended for trailers and is sometimes closed by snow in winter. Be sure to fill up with gas before coming out to the Chiricahuas, as there are no supplies here. Douglas Ranger Station (3081 N. Leslie Canyon Rd., Douglas, AZ 85607, 520/364-3468, www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado, 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.) has information on the Coronado National Forest lands.
A bit about the trail from Rustler Park:
"Hikers at Rustler Park have the advantage of starting from the highest trailhead in the Chiricahuas. Crest Trail #270 winds south over the gently undulating summit ridge to Chiricahua Peak (9,796 feet), the highest point in the range, in 10.5 miles roundtrip. Trees, however, block the view from the top! Centrella Point (9,320 ft.) has a spectacular vantage point overlooking Cave Creek Canyon and far beyond; follow the Crest Trail south to just inside the wilderness boundary, 2.5 miles one way, then turn left 1.9 miles one way on the Centrella Trail #334. Fly Peak (9,666 ft.) is an easy half-mile one-way jaunt from the wilderness boundary and has some views through the trees. Many other trails branch off the Crest Trail along ridges or down into canyons. Springs lie just off the Crest Trail but can dry up in drought years."
A link to the nearby national monument
Interested in Birds of the area? Check this link.
Want a good book about the area? Amazon has one HERE.