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The Chiracahua Mountains: Rocks, Rocks, & MORE Rocks!

One word describes our ride in the Chiricahua Mountains… ROCKS. There are rocks, rocks, and more rocks! You will ride ON rocks, THROUGH rocks, AROUND rocks… You will clamor over them and hope your shod horse gets a good perch… There are narrow sections with loose rocks, so you hope your horse is relaxed but paying attention!

Let me start with a simple list. This might not be a ride for you IF:

  • You are afraid of heights
  • You don’t thoroughly trust your horse
  • Your horse doesn’t thoroughly trust you
  • Your horse can’t stop and stand still
  • Hikers or other horses suddenly appearing from behind a rock will cause your horse to spook
  • You and/or your horse are not comfortable riding on solid boulders for at least one or more horse lengths

We originally planned to do this ride with Jim, the neighboring camper when we stayed at Lazy Horse Ranch. It didn’t work out, but our new neighbor agreed to be our guide. Our neighbor John has spent decades on horseback, often following difficult trails and enjoying solo camping in the backcountry.

I have done some challenging rides in Colorado, but this trail was one of the most difficult I have done. I asked John, with his extensive experience, to rate this trail. He gave it a 7/10. I have done some “7’s” before, and I concur with John’s assessment. Having said that, this was one awesome trail!

Hoping Sadie would cooperate

Alan rode Kadeen, my seasoned guy, and I rode Sadie. I have spent the last 4-6 weeks beefing up Sadie’s trail manners. We are asking her to do much harder trails than she had ever experienced before. In fact, she really didn’t have many trail miles on her when we got her. When she would get anxious about climbing the rocky hills, her head would start bouncing all over the place. And she would jig… and get pretty obnoxious.

The Monday after the Chiricahua ride, we had an appointment to get both horses’ teeth floated. I was hoping to have it done before this ride, but we couldn’t get an earlier appointment. I wanted to eliminate any pain-related explanation for her obnoxious head tossing. However, the more I rode her throughout March, the more convinced I was that the majority of the problem was related to anxiety, frustration, or just a bad attitude.

For about 4 miles of our 13-mile ride, her head managed to cross every possible dimension in front of us! Up and down, around and sideways, tossing and flailing… And then, abruptly, she quit! She was using a fair amount of energy just covering the trail… apparently, she had an Ah-HA moment! She really did great for the rest of the ride.

What’s around the corner?

For about a half-mile, John suggested we get off and walk our horses. His comment was that he trusted his horse… he just didn’t trust what might happen if other horses or hikers rounded a blind corner and surprised him and/or his horse. Truly, there is no room on most of this trail to pass another horse or “run into” a hiker. We encountered a half-dozen hikers during our walking time. John said that was far fewer than normal. I must say, walking on rocks, in cowboy boots, on a narrow trail with your horse behind you, wasn’t easy. Especially when that horse has been trained to walk next to you!

I started with a bullet list of points to consider before attempting this trail. It is truly an incredible ride, but I wouldn’t want to do it on a squirrelly horse. Honestly, I was a bit concerned that Sadie would come through, but she did very well. However, bear in mind that the majority of this trail is about 2 feet wide. There are loose rocks on long stretches. The drop-off is immediate and steep… with no wiggle room. There are 90 degree turns and several places where you are riding between rock walls. The scenery is freaking amazing!

Details about location, elevation, and route

Chiricahua National Monument is 35 miles southeast of Willcox, AZ. There is no charge to use the park unless you are camping.

Our ride began at the Visitor Center on the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail. From there, we headed southeast on the Sarah Deming Trail. Next, we saw the Big Balanced Rock on the trail appropriately named after that wonder. We finished on Mushroom Rock, Hailstone, and Upper Rhyolite Canyon trails. According to park literature, there are about 17 miles of day-use trails.

Our minimum elevation was 4940 feet and we reached a maximum height of 6760 feet.

Alan and I hope to do this once more before we head north. Unfortunately, we have so much to do prior to our departure, I’m not sure if we’ll get the chance. I hope you enjoy these photos and perhaps they will give you some idea of the trail.

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