Echo Canyon Loop Trail, walking in a stone forest

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September 14th 2006
Published: September 18th 2006
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We’re hiking in the Chiricahuas today. The Sunglow’s hearty breakfast of fried eggs over potatoes, sausage, toast with orange marmalade plus coffee and juice should keep us going until dinnertime.

As we drive Turkey Creek Rd. towards the highway, another rattlesnake is crossing the road. This one coils slightly as the Jeep approaches. Alan gets out to look but I’m content to observe the snake from inside the Jeep.

On Highway 181/186, it is still necessary to ford several streams that rush across the road. We also find a box turtle in the middle of the highway. Alan backs up the Jeep, gets out and guards the turtle until it is safely on the grassy roadside. Of course, we haven’t seen a car on the highway all morning.

The monument guardhouse is manned today, so Alan inquires about the safety of driving on Pinery Canyon Rd. for tomorrow. “I’ll call the Forest Service,” the ranger says. “Check in at the Visitor’s Center on your way out. The information will be waiting for you.”

At Echo Canyon parking area, we put on our packs and prepare the cameras. The trail is a 3.3-mile loop through the rocks and back to the Jeep. A brochure advises to take the trail counter-clockwise, which makes the return less steep.

A few dark clouds pass overhead as we start down the trail. Almost immediately, we are in the rocks. They march down the canyon side like rows of stone soldiers. We understand why the Apache called this “the land of standing up rocks.”

The trail begins to wind through and around the rocks. The path narrows between two rock formations that feel like a miniature slot canyon. Tall stones block the light and damp air blows in our faces. Long crevasses in the rocks provide a view of a hillside filled with rock creations.

Patches of green and yellow lichen cover the rocks. When the sun shines through the clouds and onto the rocks, they appear to glow.

This is a photographer’s paradise. The view around every turn in the trail slows our pace to a crawl. Rocks pile on top of one another, sometimes balancing on edge; other times, one rock leans against another. It looks like one good shake of the earth would send the rocks tumbling down.

The trail continues through a forest. A creek rushes beside us, still full from yesterday’s monsoon. The water has a yellow, foamy color that comes from the tannin in the live oak trees growing on the mountain slopes.

Water has collected in depressions in the flatter rocks. It’s easy to imagine a bear or mountain lion stopping by for a drink.

As the trail loops around, the vegetation becomes more desert-like due to hillside's southern exposure. Then, as the trail gently climbs, we are back in a pine forest, giving a cool end to a pleasant hike.

We stop at the Visitor’s Center on our way out of the monument. “We couldn’t get in touch with the Forest Service but you shouldn’t try Pinery Canyon Rd. It’s too rough,” says the ranger.

Back at Sunglow Ranch , we sit on the patio in the late afternoon relaxing with a glass of wine. Three deer run through the meadow, leaping around the trees.

Dinner tonight is potato soup with dumplings, tarragon chicken wrapped in puff pastry, and baked acorn squash. Coffee and apple cobbler with cream provide a delicious end to the meal.

“Have you been on Pinery Canyon Rd. yet?” asks Susan, the ranch manager. “It’s my favorite drive.”

We sit on the patio enjoying the night before going to bed. Alan takes the flashlight and shines it out into the meadow. Many pairs of eyes shine back at us. The deer are having a party.

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