Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Chiricahua National Monument

I had business in southern Arizona and after a few meetings was heading to my hotel in Willcox.  Instead of checking in, I elected to drive the extra 40 miles to Chiricahua National Monument to witness this stunning landscape just before sunset.  I was the only car on the entire highway up the mountain at this time of day.  In a race against darkness, I made it to the Echo Canyon Trailhead and after parking, had just enough time to hike about a 3/4 mile to the heart of this hoodoo filled valley.  As the sun set behind the mountain, the hoodoos came alive in vibrant colors.  My gamble to make it here before sunset paid a great reward.

As the last rays of light splashed on the canyon, I was reminded that I had a hike to make back to my car in darkness.  Not a long hike but getting darker every minute.  I elected not to use my flashlight as that would blind any vision I had outside where the light was directed.  The trailhead sign warned of all the typical dangers in remote wilderness... inability to be found quickly, lack of water, various animals such as black bear, cougar, rattlesnakes, etc. but it failed to mention the one animal that I REALLY did not want to run into in the backcountry at night... the Jaguar.

The Arizona Republic ran a story recently about Jaguars being spotted in this mountain range and the next range over (which the big cat has to travel through this one to make it to the next.)  Knowing that it was highly unlikely to run into one of only a handful of these elusive beasts was a little comforting, but I still decided to make loud noises with a deep voice as I hiked back to my car so as not to surprise any of the various hunters that come out at night.  In addition to a backpack filled with gear any solo hiker would likely need, I also left my 5+ foot camera tripod fully extended and tucked under my arm so any animal would think I looked a little bigger and more menacing than perhaps I really was...Of course, I made it back to the car in one piece and chuckled that I was probably a little more fearful than I should have been!  It's quite amazing to know, in retrospect, that the apex predators of this area at night are not humans.