Land of the Standing-up Rocks: Chiricahua National Monument, AZ

Filled with extraordinary rock formations, the Chiricahua National Monument in Southeastern Arizona is a wonder to behold.

The standing stones: The Chiricahua terrain is marked by striking rock formations © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The word “Chiricahua” may be derived from the Opata Indian word for turkey—wild turkeys are common in the area.

Chiricahua Mountains is designated by the American Bird Conservancy as a Globally Important Bird Area.

With 12,000 acres of shapely hoodoos and weird rock formations, Chiricahua National Monument boasts fantastic hikes, scenic lookouts, and the historic Faraway Ranch. The visitor center is loaded with information on the wildlife, birds, geology, and history of the area.

A favorite Chiricahua experience is driving to the top of the winding, eight-mile-long main road, Bonita Canyon Drive, which is flanked with overgrown trees and beautiful scenery.

Note: It can be very windy and chilly, so dress in layers.

Twenty seven million years ago a massive volcanic eruption shook this land. One thousand times greater than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, the Turkey Creek Caldera eruption eventually laid down 2,000 feet of highly silicious ash and pumice. This mixture fused into a rock called rhyolitic tuff.

The Chiricahuas are a Wonderland of Rocks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wind, water, ice, and time sculpted the solid mass into huge towers and further shaped them by erosion into the spires and the unusual rock formations we admire today.

Named “Land of the Standing-up Rocks” by the Apaches, this ragged landscape of tall Rhyolite pinnacles and enormous balancing rocks had been populated by nomadic tribes for centuries—but it wasn’t until battles between the U.S. Army and the Apache Nation in the mid-1800s that most Americans were even aware of this unusual country.

Those battles—which pitted soldiers against warriors led by the legendary chief, Cochise, and, later, Geronimo—have been replayed in countless novels and movies for more than 100 years, usually from the view point of the victor.

Sometimes lost is the fact that the Chiricahua Apaches initially lived in peace with the new-comers, even allowing the famous Butterfield Overland Stage route to pass through their mountains and obtain water, a scarce and precious resource.

It wasn’t until 1861 that Cochise and his tribe—blamed for atrocities that were actually committed by another tribe from the north—began the fight that brought the fledgling Arizona territory to a near standstill.

With 12,000 acres of shapely hoodoos and weird rock formations, Chiricahua National Monument boasts fantastic hikes, scenic lookouts, and the historic Faraway Ranch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stagecoaches were attacked; towns, ranches, and mines were abandoned after raids. Even the small military outpost of Tucson felt threatened. Retaliation on both sides continued through the years until the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and the removal of the Apaches from their beloved Chiricahuas.

Chiricahua National Monument is located 35 miles southeast of Willcox on Highways 186 and 181.

Did You Know?
The Chiricahua Mountains are a crossroads for plants and animals from four ecosystems; the Rocky Mountains to the north, Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains to the south, the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.
The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
—John Muir

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