In the spirit of keeping the “new” in New Mexico we snipped our roots from Las Cruces and motored on to Southern Arizona. Our first stop was Chiricahua National Monument. Now we know what you're saying “Chiricawhat?!.” That’s what we were saying too when Tyler found it while clicking through google maps one day. Due to its proximity to the Cochise Stronghold where we were heading to climb we decided to give it a try. As we drove through the golden grassland, the canyon full of rock towers began to appear. Our inability to properly pronounce the name didn’t seem to matter anymore. The road within the monument brought us and Hermelda through an everlasting maze of rock towers that hovered so high that the person that wasn't driving had to sit on the floor of the bus to get the best view. We even had a quick sighting of a Coatimundi, which is supposedly rare to see within the park.
Our day obviously couldn’t be all sunsets and breathtaking vistas though. We later found ourselves reversing the bus about two miles back down one of the most wash boarded roads that even a mud season in Vermont couldn't create. After making something like a 20 point turn on this single lane dirt road, we retreated back to the monument and paid for a night of camping in the park. The next morning we crossed over to the other side of the valley where the same volcanic activity that gifted us with a canyon full of towers, had us drooling with the possibility of climbing routes on the granite domes of Cochise Stronghold. Instead of grabbing the ropes right away though we simply laced up the hiking boots and went out to get a surveillance of the area, which we were sure glad that we did. If you are planning a trip to Cochise to climb, or just hike at some point, know that this place is massive and pretty much like a maze so be prepared to get a little lost.
For our first climb we decided to go with What’s My Line, a classic that highlights the area’s famous rock structure, chicken heads. Now for anyone that is a little off set about rock structures being named after the appendages of a chicken, don’t worry, it’s a quite appropriate name. Despite having an interesting experience finding the start of the climb we were blown away by the massive expanse of rock which we found rising above us, absolutely covered in these chicken heads. We were also extremely excited to utilize these features as protection (or what catches you if you fall for the non-climbers out there) which amazingly serves as the main and sometimes only form of protection on the route. The next day we climbed Bee Line on Stronghold Dome before being shut down the next morning on another climb by a scary amount of bees (Weird that there were no bees on Bee Line, but on Owl Rock there were tons…)
On our way out of Cochise we made a touristy stop in the town of Tombstone. The town has done an excellent job of holding onto their strong wild west past which is hard to miss after a walk down Allen Street. Even approaching the street one can hear the sound of gunshots and see some true stereotypical cowboys with the boot spurs and all. While in town we enjoyed a local coffee shop and did some research on what was to come next. Between all of the noise from the gunfight re-enactments next door and the presence of a 10 mile extremely wash boarded road leading into the west side of the stronghold, we made the decision to head north west towards Tuscon. As the drive grew longer, the size of the cactus grew taller. The Tuscon area is famous for the Saguaro Cactus which has become a staple of the American Southwest.
Upon arrival in Tuscon we headed towards Mt Lemmon after stopping at Summit Hut to get the low down of climbing in the area. Mt Lemmon rises up out of the cityscape and has a paved road to nearly the summit so that everyone can enjoy it as they please. Despite our views of paved roads to the top of mountains being a bit unnecessary, this was an extremely beautiful stretch to drive and rivals or beats the views on similar roads such as the Blue Ridge Parkway of the East. Along the drive the mountain is crawling with granite cliffs as far as the eye can see. With that comes an impressive amount of rock climbing with the area hosting well over 2,000 routes. At a certain point the mountain creeps high enough to allow for snow, even in Southern Arizona. On our few days on the mountain we were able to enjoy seeing plenty of kids and families seeing snow for the first time and finding routes to sled through the forest.
After learning our bearings and taking some quick stops to go on a walk with our climbing gear (honestly we got lost a couple times), we found ourselves near Windy Point and decided to check out the climbing on the North Fin. Some real classics on the mountain are in this area and we were able to get on a few of them including Nang, and Agatha Christie. The next morning, as per the advice of an employee at the Summit Hut store in town, we decided to check out the Prison Camp area. We did some research and learned that the reason for the name is because Mt Lemmon at one point actually held a Prison from which the labor to build the highway came from. Later on the prison actually turned into a Japanese Internment Camp and construction continued (some crazy history). The camp was located near this climbing area.
On the walk down to the cliffs, we walked by several old foundations before navigating our way to a beautiful stream that dropped down a waterfall near what is known as Dragon Tower. We climbed two routes on the tower before heading further downstream into a small gorge like environment hosting cliffs on all sides with the stream winding through underfoot. We managed to get on a few more routes at the Mr Meanor Wall, as well as Jailhouse Rock. Some of our favorites at Prison Camp include Dragon’s Arete, Mr Meanor, Solitary Refinement and Assault with Battery. After a great day in the perfect Arizona winter weather, we decided to head into Tuscon and treat ourselves to some Chinese food that we have been craving for a while now(Missing Asia in Lyndonville!) and catch a little of the super bowl.
Our final day in the Tuscon area we decided to start heading North to do some biking in Catalina. We were psyched with the trails in the area that ranged from hard packed sand with lot’s of flow to rock gardens and steep slab. The 50 year trail is the main drag through the area with great side routes including The Chutes which utilized some amazing ridge riding with berms and big rocks throughout. We have really been enjoying Arizona so far and there is plenty more to come! The plan for this week is to head through Phoenix to enjoy a little biking, then continue North towards Prescott. We will probably spend a day or two climbing in the area before heading to Sedona for what looks like potentially some of the best mountain biking of the trip. Thanks for reading!