Route Map 2018
Horeshoe II Fire
Hiking Trails
Civil Cons Corps
Rustler Park Restoration
HELPFUL LINKS - Click Arrows
Watershed  Restore
Horsehoe II Map
FROM VERDANT CATHEDRAL TO THORNY MOONSCAPE:
Post-fire return to the Chiricahuas


Hiking the Crest Trail in Chiricahua Wilderness was like walking the halls of a great cathedral: shuffling on needle-carpet among towering forest giants: old-growth Douglas fir, white fir, ponderosa pine, Engelman spruce.

But tonight-four decades after our first visits to this soaring ‘sky island’ in southeast Arizona-the cathedral seemed defiled.

- Anita Park, once a swatch of green carpet among big pines, now was a mangy mass of   yellow grass, black logs, snags and pencil-thin young willows shaking in a cold sundown wind.

- The 2011 Horseshoe II fire, third and largest in a string of wildfires torching the Chiricahuas, burned 223,000 acres including most of the 87,18-acre wilderness. It took most trees on the crest and slopes and, accelerated by rain events, transformed shady canyons into washed out boulder fields. 

- This was our third post-fire trip.  In 2013 we hiked from Turkey Creek on the west end and wandered dazed all day through moonscape, twice around and once over Chiricahua Peak, trying to get our bearings.

In 2015 we tried to repeat a 1990s hike from Rucker Canyon on the south end of the wilderness-but the marked route up a washed-out red rock canyon ended at a saddle with a large cairn and no more trail. Returning to Rucker, we hiked up Red Rock and Price canyons, clambering over black logs past young Arizona cypress and pine and mincing through flowery, thorny post fire desert ceanothus; stopping to bury garbage perhaps from fire crews, since we saw no signs of other backpackers. Hell-hot in April on the barren 9000-foot Crest Trail but passable thanks to volunteer work to clear brush and saw logs. New big logs were down-we crawled over or went around.

Tonight, we were on second of two trips from Turkey Creek. The first explored northwestern part of the wilderness on Turkey Pen and Rock Creek and over heavily burned Witch Ridge; now we planned to ascend the Crest via Pole Creek, loop into Cave Creek Canyon, and return on Saulsberry Trail. 

We made the steep climb up Pole but then I lost about three hours when I forged ahead in burned area and missed a switchback, distracted by downed logs, and continued on game trail. By the time I regained the trail, David was ahead of me. He went on to Monte Vista lookout, then came back to look for me. I went back down the trail twice, thinking he was in trouble behind me. I didn’t see little notes he left at two junction signs.

Eventually we reunited with an extra 5-6 backtrack miles under our belts and little daylight left to cover the fairly level but rough burned Crest Trail to Anita Park: an ugly flat but near a spring. Cold wind accompanied us on the Crest and met us full force at the “park.” The willows provided some windbreak. We decided to get water in the morning and skip dinner.

Click Here for the Rest of the Story
Cathedral like old growth Douglas fir trail in 1992.
Route Map 2015
Chiricahua Details
Forest Service
El Coronado
Moonscape on Chiricahua crest after large wildfire.
Beautiful oak near Turkey Pen in Chiricahua Wilderness.
Camped first night in remnant oak pine on Fivemile Creek .
Anita Park camp.
Cindy missed note from David at Morse Trail junction.
Pine Park from Snowshed Trail.

Rustler Park Reservations
Sky Islands Chiricahua Work