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Coranodo and Chiracaua

Sorry for the delay in posting.  We’ve been very busy, and have been stick in a wireless dead zone for 24 hours.  We ate our next to last meal in the mess hall on Wednesday morning, and packed up for an overnight excursion to the Chiracaua National monument.  Before we headed about 2.5 hours east to the Chiracaua Mountains, we took the boys south almost to Mexico and up to the top of Coranado Peak.

The road up is a dirt road the goes through switchback after switchback, with a very steep dropoff to one side.  Drivers and passengers alike get nervous. We’ve toured this peak on each of the 4 trips to AZ because everyone enjoys it so much.

From the top you can see for 100 miles.  The most notable feature is the fence/wall that we’ve built to retard the drug and illegal alien activity in the area.  It is a plainly visible line that runs to the horizon.  When you drive to the top, you park and there is a short .4 mile hike to the peak.  The trail was much improved since our visit last year.

I skipped the Coronado peak side trip to head to Walmart to do some shopping for meals for the next couple of days.  Our plan was to camp in the Coronado National Forrest just outside the front gate to the Chiracaua National Monument.  After our drive east, we left Interstate 10 at Wilcox and headed southeast to the Chiracaua Mountains.  We passed about 5 cars on the 35 miles, and got to the point that when you push seek on the radio, only one station came up, over and over.  (and it was classical)

We turned off the road just before the entrance to the monument onto Pinery Canyon Rd and headed down washboard road though private lands and into the national forrest.  Mountains rose on both sides of the road, and a small creek ran along side us as well.  A wild fire had passed through the area in recent years and there were many charred and dead trees, but many of them showed signs of renewal, with shoots of greenery popping up from the base. 

I got nervous when we pulled up to the first of two camping spots that we scouted last year.  There was a 30 foot motor home parked in it.  We continued down the primitive dirt road and got to the second spot, which is actually the better of the two.  It was unoccupied, and we pulled the Suburbans in to set up camp.  The spot was very spacious, so we could keep the vehicles on one end, put the kitchen and fire pit in the center, and put all the tents on flat ground with few rocks on the other end.  Dennis and Terry opted for a secluded spot across the creek; guess they needed privacy. 

We had to start dinner very shortly after arriving.  I collected all the ingredients and got some help from a few adults, and within an hour we had a big pot of taco stew ready.  It proved very popular; no complaints and lots of seconds.  We had just 4 servings uneaten that got buried. 

The campsite was wonderful.  Nestled between mountains, under a canopy of big trees (thanks to the creek), beneath a cloudless sky full of stars, and later on under the light of a  nearly full moon.  We had a small campfire, with many of us keeping track of any embers that floated from the flames.  It was very dry and the wildfire threat level was high.  The men circle the fire talking amoungst ourselves, while the boys had their own circles, playing cards, chess, or just talkin’ boy talk.

We awoke the next day shortly after dawn and broke camp, packing our tents and personal gear.  For breakfast we had an Otis Spunkmeyer muffin, and a bowl of cereal made with powdered milk.  The powdered milk was an experiment to introduce the boys to something that they haven’t had before.  It was a success, because we drank 6 quarts of it, and no one complained.  We drank two 24 cup pots of coffee up too.  After breakfast we put together the assembly line for lunch to take along on our hike.  I put out tortillas, sunflower kernels, trail mix, slim jims, tuna pouches, peanut better an jelly individual packets, and Oreo packs.  Every one got a gallon zip lock bag and went down the line and took some of everything.  Everyone got the same thing and I encouraged them to trade if there is something that they didn’t care for.  Most everyone had something leftover, and we’ll eat it up today on the way home.

We drove back out and entered the monument.  The setup there is that you drive to the top at Massai Point, park your car, and hike down back to the visitor center.  We had an extra vehicle and a couple of adults who stayed back at the visitor center so that they could shuffle the cars back down from the top.  From the top we began our hikes.  We split into two groups; one to do a 4.5 mile hike, all downhill, and one to do a 7.3 mile hike which includes a 50 story climb out of the bottom of a canyon.

The scenery on our hike was beyond words, but I’ll try anyways.  There were thousands of columns of volcanic rock that had been eroded to the point that it looks like the rocks are piled on top of each other.  Some are spectacular, where a 1,000 ton rock will sit on top another, with a foot print just 18 inches around.  We walked up and down climbing amoung these formations.  Some notable formations were Duck on a rock, camels head, Thor’s hammer, and Punch and Judy.  They were so amazing.  You know how they were created, but it’s so fantastic that you just can’t believe that it happens naturally.

Parts of this area have also suffered the ravages of wildfire recently.  The ecosystem changed regulary as we hiked.  Sometimes we were in forest, sometimes grassy areas, sometime rocky dessert.  The climb out of the canyon was tough on the adults.  At least it was for me.  I am very proud to be the fat old guy that lead the long hike from beginning to end, finishing first.  Even as a youngster, I was the guy in the back.

After our climb up, things were mostly down hill.  Most of the way the trail was well maintained and free from loose rock.  There were erosion controls everywhere.  On our climb, we encountered a couple of park rangers who we doing trail maintenance.  The trail ran very close to a creek bed which had washed out some erosion control rocks and the trail was beginning to erode.  They had jack hammers with them to break up large rocks.  They had erected a block and tackle system to move said rocks into place along side the trail.  It looked like very hard work that I was glad to have them doing instead of me.

We stopped for lunch at a great spot that had a view across the valley of dozens of columns.  Everyone found a big rock to sit down (some lucked out and got shade from a scrub bush). We opened up our bags and let the trading begin.  I swapped my PB&J for tuna.  The sandwiches on tortilla shells worked out great.

We pressed on and walked down gently sloping trails that followed along the side of the hills.  At one point I heard a noise off to the side and behind me.  Turns out that it was a rattlesnake.  The kids were just talking about getting sunburn, so I thought the noise was an aerosol sun block, so I kept going.  The snake was about 3 feet off the trail, and he scooted down the hill when prodded with a walking stick.  I didn’t see it, but I was told that it was about 2 inches around and 4-5 ft long.

The balance of our hike was uneventful.  We finished up after 5:45 of hiking.  The guys on the shorter hike were waiting for us for some time.  We got the vehicles back from the top and headed home.

After a McDonalds stop for supper, and a stop to see the Thing, we headed back to the post.  “What is the thing?” you ask.  I can’t tell you.  You have to experience the thing for yourself.  We packed up the trailer and got ready to go.  And here we are, driving to Phoenix to come home.  Happy to be seeing our family, but sad to be leaving Southeast Arizona.  I’ll try to collect some pictures while at the airport to post.

Tim Brounscheidel


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