At Chiricahua there are a series of trails that when combined will take you from Massai Point or Echo Canyon down to the Visitor Center 6.3 miles and 1,380 feet below. In addition, there are two spur trails of a mile each, making the trek 8.3 miles long (actually 8.5 including the half-mile trail from the Visitor Center back to the campground). And, this is why I returned to Chiricahua. When I was there in March, the thought of making such a long hike (it seemed long to me at the time) was daunting. That, and the fact that much of the trail was downhill didn't sink in until after I had left!
First, a shuttle bus takes you to the starting point, bright and early at 8:30 in the morning. It's about a 20 minute ride to Echo Canyon where I started out. From there it is a short walk to the Ed Riggs Trail, which connects to the Mushroom Rock Trail, which connects to the Big Balanced Rock Trail, which connects to the Sarah Deming Trail, which connects to the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail, which (finally) takes you to the Visitor Center. (Ah, the genealogy of a hike!) At the intersection of Mushroom Rock and Big Balanced Rock is the spur trail to Inspiration Point. Then midway along Big Balanced Rock Trail is the Heart of Rocks Loop.
Of course, there are some people that start this hike from the Visitor Center and go UP to Massai Point. However, I wasn't one of those people, besides why go up when you can just as readily go down? (Since there are so many images in this post, they have been made smaller. Please click on an image to view a larger version.)
The Ed Riggs Trail, which is only .7 miles long, quickly drops you into the canyon while the Mushroom Rock Trail gains 610 feet in elevation in 1.2 miles. It's a bit like a roller coaster, albeit a very slow moving one! Like most of the trails at Chiricahua, these were rocky. Very rocky.
The trail to Inspiration Point is mostly level, which was a welcome change after the ascension of Mushroom Rock Trail. Inspiration Point offers stunning views of the valley, providing a slightly different perspective than what is seen from Massai Point.
A sign posted beside the path says that Big Balanced Rock is 22 feet in diameter, 25 feet in height, and weighs 1,000 tons. (Wow. That's two million pounds! Wonder how they weighed it?)
The trail guide says “The Heart of Rocks Loop has many of the most unusual rock formations to be found at Chiricahua.” It also says to “Start the loop to the left and hike clockwise for the best views and easiest walking. Lots of rock steps make this a challenging loop, but it's worth the effort.” Challenging? I'd have to say that the Heart of Rocks Loop is the most difficult, challenging, strenuous one-mile trail I've hiked. And other campers at Chiricahua that I've talked with who have done it, agree with that assessment. It is tough. But, oh, was it fun!
A short distance after returning to the Big Balanced Rock Trail you connect to the Sarah Deming Trail, which is 1.6 miles of rocks. Big rocks. Little rocks. In-between rocks. The Sarah Deming Trail rocks!
It seems like forever, but you will eventually arrive at the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail, which takes you (where else?) through the lower portion of the Rhyolite Canyon. There is also an Upper Rhyolite Canyon Trail that would take you up into the canyon to connect to two other trails, which would take you back up to Massai Point. But I was going down, thank goodness!
When you get within a mile or so of the Visitor Center, the trail is (literally) a walk in the woods. And oh so refreshing after hiking all day in the sun!
As you can see from these photos, the terrain is quite varied. You get up close and personal with some of the stone formations. It was a most interesting day. My feet hurt. My legs were sore. My curiosity was satisfied. I was pleased that I had returned to Chiricahua. But most of all, I was very happy when I made it back to my campsite!