Hoodoo? You Do!

Rhyolite hoodoos are the centerpiece of Chiricahua National Monument. | Noah Austin

Early this month, I headed down to Southeastern Arizona for an Arizona Highways assignment. On our way back to the Phoenix area, my wife and I decided to visit Chiricahua National Monument.

It was the first visit to this natural wonder for both of us, and while I've seen many photos of the monument in the magazine, they truly don't do this place justice. On the Echo Canyon Loop, an easy 3.5-mile hike, we enjoyed stunning views of the monument's hoodoos — the rock spires for which this National Park Service site is best known. The number and size of these bizarre formations were unlike anything I'd seen in Arizona.

I started wondering how, exactly, these hoodoos formed, so I did some research and thought I'd share it with our readers.

According to the Park Service, hoodoos are the result of a process called frost wedging. The hoodoos at Chiricahua are made of a type of volcanic rock. Like many rocks, it features small vertical cracks, called joints. When water fills these joints and freezes, it expands by about 9 percent, exerting enough pressure to shatter the rock; when the ice thaws, the broken rock is washed away, widening the cracks. During the Pleistocene ice ages, from 1.6 million to about 10,000 years ago, this happened repeatedly, eventually creating jagged columns of rock.

The columns were then smoothed by erosion over thousands of years. Wind erosion played a big part, with sand carried by the wind acting as a kind of sandpaper. Chemical weathering, lichen growth and other factors contributed as well, the Park Service says. The result is a collection of spectacular rock formations, each with its own distinct shape and character.

I definitely recommend a trip to the monument and a hike on the Echo Canyon Loop, which still shows some signs of the 2011 Horseshoe 2 Fire but is in great shape overall. The remote monument doesn't get a ton of visitors, and on the entire loop, we saw just one other hiker, despite it being a Sunday morning with perfect weather. The hike took us about two hours — mostly because we stopped every few minutes to shoot photos. I expect you'll find yourself doing the same.

— Noah Austin, Associate Editor

Chiricahua National Monument is located near the intersection of state routes 186 and 181 in Southeastern Arizona. To learn more, call the monument at 520-824-3560 or visit www.nps.gov/chir.

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