Eastern Arizona – a hidden gem

During my trip to the southwest, I decided to take a weekend and see a National Monument in the Eastern part of Arizona. The park isn’t very well known but looked intriguing nonetheless. The Chiricahua National Monument is about 120 miles SE of Tucson and fairly close to the border of New Mexico. The park is referred to as a wonderland of rocks and is very similar to Bryce Canyon. The park encompasses 12,000 acres of rugged terrain within a mountain range that is twenty miles wide and forty miles long. The heart of the park has amazing pinnacle rock formations called hoodoos that are formed by millions of years of weathering. The entire process is too long to explain here, but in short, the constant freeze / thaw periods in a year are a major factor in the hoodoos forming. 

When entering the park, there is a visitor station a few miles up the road which has great information, maps and displays. There is an 8 mile scenic road that takes you to the top of the mountain where you can access hiking trails. During the drive, you will see hoodoos and balanced rocks all along your drive. The best way to view them is to go to one of the trail heads and walk down into the canyon.  There are several trails to choose from depending on your hiking ability. I took a 3 mile hike into the canyon about an hour before sunset. The hoodoos are huge and full of color. Most of them were over 20′ tall with many more than 30′.  The warm side lighting on the rocks made the colors pop and provided plenty of dimension to the scene. I didn’t stay overnight, but based on the remote area of the country and desolate surroundings, I would imagine that this area has some amazing dark skies on a clear moonless night. Next time I am in the area, I plan to make stay in the park and get some moonlit hoodoo images. I’m sure it will be amazing. Still trying to get caught up on postings. More to follow on a recent trip to Great Falls National Park. Hope you enjoy…

Chiricahua National Monument, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Chiricahua National Monument, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Hoodoos and the rugged wilderness - Chiricahua National Monument, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Hoodoos and the rugged wilderness – Chiricahua National Monument, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Chiricahua National Monument , AZ © Rob Loughrey
Chiricahua National Monument , AZ © Rob Loughrey

Southwest images

During a recent trip for work, I was able to stay a weekend in White Sands National Monument outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico. The park is approximately 275 square miles of white gypsum dunes and is the largest mass of gypsum in the world. Gypsum isn’t usually found in large dunes like this because it dissolves in water. Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum dunes and carry it out to sea. The reason this area is still around after thousands of years is because the rain has no where to go. The dunes are trapped in a large basin (Tularosa Basin) between the San Andreas and Sacramento mountains. Yeah, I know what you are thinking – It is strange how mountains in New Mexico are named after areas in California. Rain that falls in the park, eventually dries out and crystallizes and the process repeats. Anyway – enough of a science lesson. The park is an amazing place to visit with a seemingly endless sea of white dunes as far as the eye can see. The only thing framing your view are the mountain ranges in the distance.

Life finds a way - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Life finds a way – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

At the cost of $3.00 to enter (good for 3 or 5 days) it is one of the cheaper National Monuments to visit. Families with kids were making a day out of exploring or sledding down the steep drops of the dunes, just like it was winter in New York State. It is quite easy to get lost while walking through the dunes. I trekked out for a couple of miles searching for dunes without any footprints. It took awhile to find, but they are out there. I used the sun as my guide and drew arrows in the wash areas leaving myself a map to return to my car.  The white gypsum reflects the sun so much that it is almost blinding. The air is very dry and dehydration will set in before you realize it. Plenty of water, sunscreen and good sunglasses are a must. There is primitive camping locations in a remote area of the dunes and motorhome camping at the entrance to the park. I believe a small fee permit is required along with a tent. Once a month, the park has moonlight walks in the dunes for small groups. This can be scheduled by reviewing the park website and submitting a request to attend. The high winds in the basin are what shape the dunes and carve patterns in the sand. This is one of the things that really interested me about the park.

Soaptree Yuca plant - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Soaptree Yuca plant – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

hese patterns in nature go on forever intermingled with Soaptree Yuca, Horay Rosemary Mint or Skunkbush Sumac plants. All of these have found a way to survive in the limited water environment. If you venture out far enough, the patterns in the dunes are only interrupted by the occasional lizard foot prints or by the movement of the leaves being pushed around by the winds. It is areas like this where you can feel truly alone and miles away from everything. 

Sunset - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Sunset – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

This is someplace I am already looking forward to visiting again. Hope you enjoy…