The Chiricahua Mountains and surrounding areas of far southeastern Arizona
were once the homeland of the Chiricahua Apaches, led by Cochise and Geronimo.
They took advantage of this rugged land which consists of high desert basins
and abrupt mountain ranges - "sky islands" - to resist the pioneer settlement
for more than 25 years.
More than a century later, most of these mountains are within the Coronado
National Forest, much of it unspoiled wilderness. The unique northwest corner of
the Chiricahua Mountains is designated as the Chiricahua National Monument.
This region was known to the Apaches as the Land of Standing-Up Rocks. The pioneers
called it the Wonderland of Rocks.
Much of the monument is a maze of rock spires, hoo-doos, giant rock columns,
and delicate balanced rocks. While much of this high country is semi-arid
woodland consisting of juniper and pinyon pines, areas dense in rock formations
appear as rugged badlands. A network of trails accesses these badlands and offer
The origin of the rocks is thought to be a massive volcanic eruption about
27 million years ago. A 2,000 foot layer of white hot ash fused into rhyolite. Eons of exposure
to the elements did the rest. The rhyolite's weak vertical and horizontal
cracks were more susceptible to erosion thus creating these fanciful formations.
The Chiricahuas are many miles from the main highway. Visitation to the monument
is relatively low, especially in the off seasons. The result is an area which
is exceptionally unspoiled and exceptionally rich in wildlife. The campground
(right) is located in the riparian area of lower Bonito Canyon near the base of
the mountain. The canyon supports a heavy growth of oak and Arizona cypress as well
as lush, grassy meadows. The bird population is exceptionally large and varied.
But more so is the incredible population of butterflies. The meadows were particularly
rich with them - numerous varieties with many beautiful colors. I was fortunate
to get one to pose for me as shown in photos left and right.
Silver Spur Meadow was the site of a huge Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp
during the Depression. The men of the CCC built the facilities and trails here
at the monument as they did at many of the national parks and monuments. All that remains
today are two fireplaces with their stone chimneys (photo, left). Their large
size is indicative of the large structures which once were in this field.
The camps were run in a semi-military regimen, providing training, hard work,
and purpose for thousands of young men during a very hard era. It also exposed
them to the outdoor life. The work they did at the national parks and monuments
could never be replicated today because the expense would be too great. It is
therefore an important legacy to our country.
The wildlife of Bonito Canyon was much in evidence. A highlight of our visit was
an encounter with a bear on the park road. This occured a half hour before sunset
so sadly the lighting was poor. When the bear went back into the woods, I was able
to get a much closer shot, but it was too dark, and the picture failed.
This drought of this past summer in Arizona drove hungry and thirsty bears into
closer contact with humans. Unbelievably, several black bears were
captured on the streets of Phoenix this summer!
We asked the park ranger about this bear. Apparently it was a female with a
cub in tow, and they had been frequenting the area around the campground but
had not caused any trouble. The garbage cans in the campground are bear-proof
and there are also food lockers. So the bears hadn't actually raided the
campground. There were some pockets of water in Bonito Creek, and that could have been
There were other mammals in the area. Gerry spotted a coatimundi near a waterhole.
This raccoon-like creature is generally considered Central American, but mixing does occur
here near the Mexican border. We spotted a deer near Massai Point (photo, left) just after sunset.
During the night, I heard a jostling of our gear on the picnic table. Using my
flashlight, I mesmerized a beautiful ring-tailed cat standing on my Coleman
stove! This reclusive animal resembles a cat, but has a huge bushy tail like a fox,
and the tail has black rings! There were of course many lizards in the park
as the region is semi-desert.
The park also preserves some pioneer history. After Geronimo surrendered
in 1886, one of the region's first homesteaders was the Erickson family,
immigrants from Sweden. They built a ranch in Bonito Canyon. By the 1920's,
daughter, Lillian Riggs, had developed the property into a guest ranch and
named it the Faraway Ranch. The property was eventually absorbed into the
national monument. Today, visitors may tour the grounds, and guided tours
are conducted inside the well preserved main building.
The most spectacular part of the park is known as the Heart of Rocks. It is
accessible only by several hours of hearty hiking through a very unspoiled
and very beautiful wilderness area.
We invite you to join us on this hike which also includes a visit to the
equally beautiful Echo Park. Proceed to Chiricahua National Monument - Hiking the Heart of Rocks.