Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chiricahua National Monument

When I am eager to do something I am restless, like a kid on Christmas Eve. In this spirit, I found myself wide awake staring at the hotel ceiling at 5:30am. I attempted to go back to sleep, but my mind wasn’t having it, so I decided to get an early start for the day. I had intended to leave the hotel around ten, but having woke so prematurely I was out the door before eight. A hefty drive lay ahead of me but it was broken up by a stop to Chiricahua National Monument, a park I knew nothing about, other than it was on my way and I was desperate for a hike. 

I packed up my things and hit the road, I headed west, as that is where they keep Arizona in relation to Texas, through the city of El Paso. The city was bustling as usual and the traffic was combative. I get a sick joy out of driving in aggressive dense traffic, and energized by the thought of getting out of the car and hiking I weaved in and out of traffic to the consternation of anyone driving slower than me, which happened to be all but a few people. It wasn’t long before I put the city behind me and broke free into the desolate backcountry once more. However, here in Southern New Mexico, the ambling plains concluded in a faint outline of mountains. The early morning sun painted the landscape in golden hues making the farmland come alive. 

The drive was quick, as traffic was nearly non existent and the 75mph speed limit allowed me to buzz along. I passed dozens of cow farms, which one could smell for miles, and a few farmers markets. The markets were all but empty, only a few individuals selling some crafts. Soon I turned off the highway and onto a scenic back route, the mountains were close now, rising up beside me. Cattle grazed peacefully at their bases, unaware that they lived in an aesthetic paradise. The road was curvaceous and rolling. The air outside warm as I rolled down the windows. 

They say time flies when you are having fun. I say time flies when you are engulfed by beauty. The mountains along the road became rockier and more impressive as I entered Chiricahua National Monument. Soon trees started to hug the road. After days of driving through desert, I was suddenly in a forest, the trees hanging over the pavement like arches welcoming me. I stopped by the visitor center to grab a map and jumped back in the car. I was headed to Massai Point, a summit you could drive to, and where I planned to start my hike. 

I had no idea what this park entailed, until I arrived at the park I didn’t even know I would be in Mountains. As i turned out of the visitor center I was instantly awestruck. Before me rose pillars of stone straight up, hundreds of feet. I pulled off and stared in amazement. Huge boulders, some the size of houses, sat precariously atop stone pillars. Like columns made by the gods. All around me stood these amazing structures, each more impressive than the last. Somehow I managed to pull myself away from this site and continued up the mountain. The standing stones continued to my left, to my right a view across a mountainous landscape appeared. It became increasingly difficult to pay attention to driving as I strained to take in the majesty that surrounded me. 

I reached Massai Point without incident and was confronted with a view that can only be described as magical. Laid out before me was a valley filled with thousands of standing stone pillars and in the distance yet more mountain ranges, which a helpful sign informed me were over 100 miles away!

I had been awaiting this moment for far to long and I jumped out of the car and onto the trail. immediately the trail started defending into the valley. Stone Pillars surrounded me as I made my way down the mountainside. It was like walking through a thriving city’s downtown, stretching to see the tops of the pillars, only to discover enormous boulders balancing hundreds of feet above. 
Don't ming me, just chillin'. 
The decent was quick and soon I was surrounded by trees, The standing stones still dominated the background, ever present, like guardians watching over the forest. I came to a trail crossing and pulled out my map. I decided to go to Inspiration Point, which was located at the summit of an adjacent mountain to the one I had just descended. Instantly I began to feel the fatigue, I was  well over a mile above sea level and the altitude was having a major effect on my breathing. With each step I took the pain surged up my legs, in my head I thought about turning around, coming up with a variety of excuses as to why pursuing this feeble dream of summiting Inspiration Point was unsafe. My legs however pressed on, undeterred by my minds complaints. At one point I thought I heard horses coming up behind me so I looked back, only to realize the galloping sound I was hearing was my heart beating. 

Finally the route began to level out and I was able to catch my breath, a sign indicated that inspiration point was a mere half mile away. After first second guessing whether I should continue, I pressed on towards the summit, the trail was virtually flat at this point, allowing me to regain my breath. In the distance I heard voices and when I turned a bend three young boys were running down the trail towards me. Instantly my pain was replaced with embarrassment. The eldest of these kids couldn’t be more than eight and here they are running, running! at the summit, as if it were all just a simple stroll in the park. I passed them quickly without saying a word, to upset by the fact I was bested by these kids. It must have been a couple hundred yards later that I passed the boys parents, well out of sight or sound of their kids. “I hope those boys don’t venture off the path,” I thought to myself, “or run into a puma!”

Inspiration Point was just around the bend after I passed the parents, exchange the obligatory greeting that humans insist on having with every other member of the species. I had the place to myself, which was no surprise. Other than the family I had not seen a soul on my nearly two hour trek up to the summit. 

View from Inspiration Point. 
From the summit the whole world was visible, I could see hundreds of miles in every direction. From this pinnacle the standing stones which had been so impressive, seemed miniscule, dwarfed by the vastness of the mountain range and the valley that contained them. I sat down and had a snack, taking in the view. Across the valley on another summit I could see a small red dot, my car. It looked so far away, even if I could fly it was still nearly a mile away. All the pain and anguish had been worth it for this view. It was all mine, just me and the mountain, I sat atop one of the standing stones and looked down at the forrest below. It was a couple hundred foot drop straight down, the trees that grew near the base looked like shrubs. 

I was running out of daylight and decided it best to get back to the car before sundown. On my decent I kicked up my cadence in an attempt to make up sometime so I wouldn’t have to rush up the steep paths to Massai Point. The trail had been washed out recently, as signs in the parking lot had warned and soon I realized I was no longer on the main trail, but a game trail. This could have been a far bigger issue, but luckily I was on a ridge just above the main trail. All I had to do was climb down a fifty foot cliff. Lucikly, I had spent far too much of my childhood climbing up things and being forced to figure out how to get down. I negated my way from tree to tree, unfortunately all of which were dead, the obvious victims of a forest fire, but they held and I made it back to the main trail unscathed. The decent was pleasant as the sun hung low in the sky, casting long shadows from the standing stones. 
Mushroom Rock.
I reached the trail which would take me back up the mountain and stopped to enjoy the view, an older couple came from another trail and began trying to strike up a conversation with me. I would think that being in the wilderness would be hint enough that I had little interest in people, but apparently not, so I rudely left the conversation and headed up the trail. I knew this ascent was going to hurt, my legs already sore from my prior endeavor, but at least this was the end. Soon I would be eating lunch and watching the sunset in to the mountains. I raced up the steep paths, eager to get it over with. Soon the trees were once again replaced with stone, and soon it was over, I grabbed some food out of the car and sat on a precipice to eat. 
I got a tad Ansel Adam's-y...
The sun was setting behind the mountains when I started my drive back, the amber glow of sunset was glinting off the facades of the mountains. In the mountains the sunsets multiple times, as it disappears behind various ridges, and by the time I reach the farmland in the valley the sun was just coloring the sky in various shades of purple and orange. I drove on towards tucson in a painting, the world around me illuminated is fantasy. 
Boom goes the sunset!

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