The Mountains of Arizona

Flys Peak

Flys Peak as I hike in

At Flys Saddle

Look at Riggs Peak

Flys Peak summit, one of the witness marks

Ward Peak

Looking at Ward Peak from Flys summit

Another view as I descend to Round Park

Look back up at Flys Peak from Round Park

Woody ridge to the top

Summit of Ward, big trees on their side

Hiking the Crest Trail

Riggs Peak

Riggs Peak lower slope

View of Flys Peak from Riggs Peak

Almost to the top

The top

Hiking out Long Park Road

Buena Vista Peak

Buena Vista Peak

View of Barfoot Peak from the summit

Flys Peak and the high crest of the Chiricahuas from Buena Vista Peak

Montage: sign, the viewing platform, foundation of the lookout, benchmark

Onion Peak

Onion Peak

Approaching along its ridge

Summit cairn

View north, Cochise Head and other peaks

All images

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Chiricahua Mountains Crest

Flys Peak • Ward Peak • Riggs Peak
Buena Vista Peak (Barfoot Lookout) • Onion Peak

Today I would return to the high Chiricahua Crest, the first time I've been back since 2003, when I hiked Chiricahua Peak with my wife. I wanted to hike to and climb Flys Peak, the main summit north of Chiricahua Peak. I also wanted to climb Ward Peak (also known as South Flys Peak) and Riggs Peak. The three peaks lie along a common axis, easily accessed from the Rustler Park campground and trailhead.

Assuming things went well and I was still feeling energetic afterwards, I also had Buena Vista Peak (with Barfoot Lookout) and Onion Peak on the possible agenda. Three of these peaks are ranked peaks, while two are not. Riggs is not, but it has en elevation above 9,000 feet, which interested me. That, and it looked easily accessible from the Crest Trail. Buena Vista is not ranked either, but it has a trail and once hosted the Barfoot Lookout, which no longer exists. If all went well, I could bag five peaks today.

I left Bisbee at 5 a.m. and drove through Double Adobe, Elfrida and Sunizona, on routes US-191, AZ-181 and AZ-186, aiming for the Chiricahua National Monument. Just before the monument, I turned onto Pinery Canyon Road (Coronado Forest Road 42), which wiggles uphill for 12 miles, gaining 2,500 feet, to Onion Saddle on the high crest of the Chiricahua Mountains.

The drive went well, there being no traffic this early on a Sunday. Pinery Canyon Road is not paved but is a good hardpack, prone a little to washboarding due to the traffic it sees. Many people just drive partway up it and camp somewhere in the canyon itself. The last five miles, the road is steeper and hugs the mountainsides more, a shelf road that is only one car-width wide. However, there are usually pullouts in case someone is coming the other way. The road is well maintained but still has some short rocky segments. Passenger vehicles would be okay if driven slowly and having a few inches of clearance.

I took my time, and was at Onion Saddle, where I turned right onto FR-42D, the spur to Rustler Park. This three-mile road is also in good shape, narrow and twisty with steep drops, but if driven slowly, an easy road to manage. I rolled into the Rustler Park area around 7:20 a.m.. The day was sunny and clear, and at 8,400 feet elevation, very chilly, in the low 40s going by my car's temperature gauge.

This is a fee area, $8 per day or $10 per week. The biggest surprise was that I actually had $8 on me. Usually I have a $20 bill in my wallet and that's it. I paid my fee and then drove to the Rustler Park ranger station/hut. There were already three vehicles parked in the small clearing near the buildings. I got dressed properly, my pack arranged, and locked up the car, starting my hike at 7:30.

Flys Peak
• Chiricahua Mountains & Wilderness
• Coronado National Forest
• Cochise County

Date: May 12, 2024 • Elevation: 9,667 feet • Prominence: 420 feet • Distance: 3 miles ascent, 0.5 mile descent • Time: 4 hours & 20 minutes (entire hike with Ward & Riggs Peaks) • Gain: 1,260 feet ascent, 420 feet descent • Conditions: Sunny, cloudless skies, cool at first

ArizonaMainPBLoJUSGS BM Datasheet

My plan was to hike to Flys Peak, then Ward Peak, then double back and hike up Riggs Peak, all on one long journey. Rather than follow the Crest Trail, which actually drops about 300 feet in elevation on the segment between here and Flys Park Saddle, where I was heading, I chose to walk the continuation of the dirt road that goes south another couple miles, to Long Park then to Flys Park Saddle. This is what I drove when I was last here in 2003. Back then, I had a beefier Nissan Truck. I wasn't going to bash my Subaru up this road.

This road walk went well, gaining about 600 feet in two miles towards Flys Park Saddle. The first half-mile of this road is steepest and rockiest. Then it improves slightly, being a narrow shelf road etched precariously onto the hillsides. I covered the road segment in about 45 minutes, and the trail continuation to Flys Park Saddle in another ten minutes. So far, it was just me. I had not seen a single person.

Flys Peak rises immediately south of the saddle, and Riggs Peak to the north. The Crest Trail sidehills past Flys Peak to the west, but the Flys Peak Trail goes up and over the peak, then down the other side, where it meets again with the Crest Trail at Round Park. I got onto Flys Peak Trail and slowly trudged upward.

The hike was easy, and I just took a bunch of baby steps, going slow but never needing to stop. About halfway up, the trail cuts through thickets of small narrow "doghair" trees, evidently grown only since the big fires from 2011. On the ground were fallen trees. Crews had sawed through the ones blocking the trail.

I was soon nearing the top. The trail curls to the peak's south side, then comes to a junction. I went left (uphill) and in moments was on top of Flys Peak. The top is broad and the highpoint not very distinct. I hiked to what looked to be the highest ground, then walked over to another couple of areas, these near the concrete foundations of the old lookout that was once here.

I then walked back to what I was certain was the highest point, then saw a witness marker disk in a rock nearby, stamped "Chiricaqua". The map cites benchmark "Chiricahua" here, but I could not locate the main benchmark. I was able to find the other witness mark, and both pointed to a tree. Checking the datasheet for this station afterwards, the main marker has been absent for decades, so I didn't feel like I erred in not finding it. I did not find a register. This peak is in the Chiricahua Wilderness, so any registers and cairns likely get removed on a regular basis.

I rested for a bit on the trunk of a tree that was bent so that it was horizontal, a perfect "sitting tree". Views were limited due to the trees, which seemed to escape the big 2011 fire. The peak is named for Camillus Fly, a photographer based in Tombstone during its earliest years, a contemporary of the Earp brothers and the various dramatis personae of that era. Fly is famous for his many images of Geronimo and his band. The iconic image of Geronimo kneeling, with a rifle in his hands, staring intensely into the camera (I guarantee you you've seen it many times) was taken by Fly. He died in Bisbee in 1901.

I resumed my hike, going downhill directly to Round Park, the saddle that connects between Flys Peak and Ward Peak.

Ward Peak • "South Flys Peak"

Elevation: 9,570 feet • Prominence: 320 feet • Distance: 0.6 mile ascent, 1.5 mile descent • Gain: 323 feet ascent, 550 feet descent • Conditions: same


At Round Park, I stayed on the Crest Trail, which bent left (southeast) and gained uphill through more of that doghair forest and downed logs, achieving its apex a little east of the top of Ward Peak.

Now it was time for some off-trail hiking. The top was about a quarter-mile away to the west, maybe 150 feet higher. At first, it was easy going, a few downed trees and brush thickets, but easily bypassed. I came to a couple rocky outcroppings and was able to scoot up by going to their sides. Slowly, the number of downed logs increased.

The last fifty vertical feet (and about 200 horizontal feet) was through heavy downfall compounded by the dense woody adolescent trees that form the doghair effect (doghair is not a type of tree. It just means the trees are packed closely together. I am not sure what kind of trees these are).

I was able to get through it but it was slow. I'd walk along a log for a bit, then step off and over more logs, being sure not to slip and bust an ankle or worse. Finally, I was at the top, which, surprise, featured a couple massive trees on their sides. I walked the small summit area and noted the downed trees and uprooted root balls, and the mush of rocks in the area. I did not stick around.

Going down, I angled wide at first to bypass the worst of the downfall, which worked a little. I generally followed any open lanes I could find. As such, I angled a little to the left eventually (northeast) and had to angle back to get back to the trail. It wasn't a big deal as I would have hit the trail no matter what, but I avoided the worst of the logs and dense trees. This was not a fun peak, but it went fast.

Now back on the Crest Trail, I stayed on it northbound, bypassing Flys Peak to its west, covering about a mile to get back to Flys Park Saddle, where I was about an hour ago. So far, I was two for two on peaks and feeling pretty good, and conditions were staying calm and lovely. Next up: Riggs Peak.

Riggs Peak

Elevation: 9,305 feet (Lidar) • Prominence: 251 feet (Lidar) • Distance: 0.5 mile ascent, 2.6 miles descent • Gain: 288 feet ascent, 900 feet descent • Conditions: Great


Back at Flys Park Saddle, I continued north on the Crest Trail, as it gained about a hundred feet. When it started to drop and trend left, I went off trail and on to the clumpy grass hillside, the top not too far away. Even from a distance, I could tell this peak had probably the prettiest hillsides, no doghair thickets and no abundance of downed logs (although there were a few).

The off-trail hiking did not take long, just a quarter mile and about 150 feet of gain, and suddenly, I was on top, which was grassy and shielded by a few big trees, another small batch that seemed to avoid the worst of the big fires. Riggs Peak lies outside the Wilderness, but I did not locate a cairn or register. I suspect not too many people bother with this peak.

I hiked down the same way, re-meeting the Crest Trail and following that back to Flys Park Saddle. A couple turkeys walked on by ahead of me, seemingly unconcerned about my presence. By turkeys, I mean the birds. I never saw a soul on this hike.

From here, I hiked back out to the Long Park access road. The hike out took about an hour. It was here I encountered the first humans, a group of about fifteen. They were all looking in some direction and being real quiet. I asked one person what they were looking at and he had no idea. They looked young, like college age. Perhaps a birding outing. A few minutes later, I see a van slowly inching up the road. The guy stopped and we chatted. He said the van is just 2-wheel drive but that he takes it everywhere. The van did have good tires and clearance, though. I was back to my car about 11:45 a.m., a four hour and 20 minute hike, give or take, covering 8.7 miles.

There was a little more activity here at Rustler Park, a group of people milling about the ranger station, a couple more cars. I debated what I wanted to do. I was tired but this had been a fairly easy hike, almost all on trail, so I felt good enough to look at the other two peaks on my agenda.

Buena Vista Peak • Barfoot Lookout

Elevation: 8,800 feet • Prominence: about 200 feet • Distance: 1.7 mile • Time: 45 minutes • Gain: 540 feet • Conditions: Sunny, breezier


I exited Rustler Park and drove about a mile, parking in a clearing near the junction with FR-357, signed for Barfoot Flat. Buena Vista Peak rises directly above this clearing. The old Barfoot Lookout once stood atop this peak. The Wikipedia page shows an image of the small hut. It was destroyed in the 2011 fire.

I walked up FR-357 about 500 feet, then hung a left onto the Crest Trail, just before the road passes over a cattle grate. I followed the Crest Trail about a half mile, up toward a saddle. The terrain here looked like it got hit pretty bad by the fire. Not a single big live tree stood, the slopes a bunch of downed logs and random smaller trees and brush. The trail itself was a little loose and eroded in spots, but easy to follow.

At the saddle, it meets a couple other trails, one from the west from Barfoot Flat. The Crest Trail continues south. I went hard-right, onto the lookout trail. This segment was about the same, loose and eroded but easy to follow. It switchbacks one more time, then ascends up some rocks to the lookout platform. The one-way hike was less than a mile, but I had gained over 500 feet.

The top features a stone and mortar wall and the foundations of the old lookout. Views were fantastic; I can see why they made this into a lookout. I snapped an image of the benchmark, and hung around for a few minutes, snapping photographs.

The descent went quickly, the whole round trip taking about 45 minutes. It was a little before 1 p.m. now. It was warmer, but only in the high 60s. However, the breeze had really picked up, although it wasn't too bad. It was strong enough to blow off my hat a couple times.

I returned to my car and inched down the road back to Onion Saddle. I was tired by now, but still interested to give Onion Peak a look.

Onion Peak

Elevation: 8,022 feet • Prominence: 382 feet • Distance: 2.4 miles • Time: 1 hour & 20 minutes • Gain: 490 feet • Conditions: Same, breezy up high


I parked in a clearing near a side road, FR-4854, that goes partway up the slope toward Onion Peak. This is one trailhead people use to begin a hike to Shaw Peak. I was only going in less than a mile. The peak, marked by an 8,022-foot spot elevation, is commonly known as Onion Peak. It gets its unofficial name from being so close to Onion Saddle. And how did Onion Saddle get its name? I read somewhere that it was named after Onion Peak.

I started walking at 1 p.m., going light. No pack, just wearing a vest with my stuff in the pockets. I walked up the road, passing a guy camped in a pullout with all sorts of neat contraptions such as solar panels, a tent on the car roof, and stuff set up all around. I didn't see the guy hiking up, but I could smell something cooking. At least I hope it was something cooking.

In about ten minutes, I had gained about 200 feet, coming to a pedestrian stile in the fence, which allows access to Trail 251. The trail was easy to follow but could have used a little upkeep. I stayed on the trail, gaining about another 180 feet, situating myself near spot elevation 7995, the little peaklet to the west of Onion Peak.

Trip reports mentioned a fence that runs along the ridge to Onion Peak. I found a cairn and a trail that angled right, towards Onion Peak, so I followed it, but did not see any fence. I stayed on the trail and within a minute, came upon the fence.

From here, I just followed the fence, heading east toward the peak which was about a third of a mile distant. But I could see the peak clearly, and between me and it, the going looked brushy and rocky, but not difficult.

I found some paths that helped a lot, especially through one thick stretch of woody brush and branches. I crossed the fence at one point, where a tree had fallen on it. Being on the north side, it was a little more open, and I was able to follow paths almost the whole way.

The final hundred-foot gain was steeper and slightly brushier, but I was able to find ways through the small trees, stepping on rock outcrops, and there I was, the top. It led me right to the summit cairn. The one-way hike had taken me about 40 minutes, covering a little over a mile.

I found a register and signed in. There had been a couple visitors since the year started, and names went back many years. This is an easy add-on peak for those hiking to and from Shaw Peak. By itself, this peak is not much of an attraction. Views were excellent, especially looking north at rocky Cochise Head. Looking south, I had a fine view of the high Chiricahua crest, where I had spent all morning.

Going down, I followed my route almost exactly, got back on the actual trail, then the road. As I hiked down, I met the guy who was camping with all his gear and toys. He was doing some activity but I couldn't tell what he was doing. I said "hi" just to acknowledge him and not scare him. He looked up quickly, kind of surprised. He was friendly. We only talked for about 30 seconds.

I was back to my car at 2:20 p.m.. Finally, I was officially done. I had climbed five peaks and put in almost 13 miles of hiking and nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain. I was pleased to be successful, even on this humble peak. Now I could start the slow drive out.

Going down FR-42 (Pinery Canyon Road) was easy but I was very careful, keeping the car in lower gear and generally inching along at 15 miles per hour. Some of those drops are scary. But it wasn't a problem. Lower down, I could go a little quicker, but I kept it slow and steady until I was back on pavement. It was much warmer down below, and everyone I'd seen driving in this morning had packed up and left. I was home about 90 minutes later, after a drink stop in Elfrida.

I'd been eager to get up here, waiting for the snow to melt and for the roads to be passable and not muddy. The weather's been dry and calm the past few weeks. It had been over 20 years since I was high in the Chiricahuas, and I enjoyed it a lot. When I was here in 2003, I recall a much more dense forest but also fire damage from some fires in the 1990s. Then the big fire of 2011 came through, adding to the damage, but also, being 13 years later now, I could see some new growth, good and bad. That doghair crap can't be good. I'm not sure what they're going to do with that.

To be honest, I am not sure if I'll come back up to Onion Saddle and Rustler Park. I got the peaks I wanted, and what other ones I still want, there are other trailheads, and where Rustler Peak would not be the ideal starting point. I found the road to Onion Saddle to be tedious. I've done it 3 times now (the first in 2000) and I think that's enough for me. However, I most certainly will be back in the heart of the Chiricahuas soon.

(c) 2024 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.