The upper portion of Bonita Canyon Drive and the Bonita Canyon Campground in Chiricahua National Monument are closed after flooding from heavy rains that passed through the area Wednesday (July 24) night.
Nearly three inches of rain fell in parts of the monument in the evening hours. The heaviest rains occurred between 7 and 8 p.m. and the monument was closed around 8:30 p.m.
The entire Bonita Canyon Drive was closed overnight and the lower portion was scheduled to reopen yesterday after crews are able to assess the damages and clean up debris.
Significant mud and debris flow, rockslides, downed trees, and damage to the roadbed has left the upper portion of the Bonita Canyon Drive (past the visitor center) unsafe for travelers.
The Bonita Canyon Campground also sustained moderate damage from the flooding. Fortunately, the monument had instituted pre-emptive closures two weeks ago for the campsites most at risk for flooding. Although several campers were in the sites that had remained open, no flooding or property damage occurred in those areas.
Over 18 inches of standing water, mud, and silt made its way into the historic restroom building in the campground. Cleanup and repairs to the roadway and campground are estimated to take several days and the road and campground remain closed until further notice.
Chiricahua National Monument is open to visitors. The lower portion of Bonita Canyon Drive is open and features access to historic Faraway Ranch, day-use picnic areas, a visitor center and bookstore, and several trailheads. Trails in the monument are passable but users may encounter debris piles and loose soils.
Hikers are reminded that areas that have experienced large fires, such as the Horseshoe II fire that burned over 200,000 acres in and around Chiricahua National Monument in 2011, have an increased risk of flash flooding. Floods are significantly larger following fires and floodwater can carry debris that could be hazardous.
Visitors are encouraged to check weather forecasts before heading out and pay attention to their surroundings. Soils in a burned landscape can create slippery conditions, and mud and rockslides can be triggered by the heavy rainfall events that are typical during monsoon season.
Weather forecasts call for additional precipitation in the coming days. The soils in and around the monument are saturated at this time. Conditions can change rapidly and it is best to contact the Chiricahua National Monument visitor center for the most-up-to-date information.
Chiricahua National Monument
In the far southeastern corner of Arizona are the beautiful Chiricahua Mountains, one of several “sky island” mountain ranges surrounded by expansive desert grasslands.
The Apaches called this place The Land of Standing-Up Rocks, a fitting name for an extraordinary rock wonderland.
The eight-mile Bonita Canyon Drive gradually climbs through oak, cypress, and pine forests to Massai Point. The overlook has a 360-degree view of Rhyolite Canyon, adjacent valleys, and surrounding mountain peaks.
Massai Nature Trail is a one-half-mile loop trail which allows you to discover the geologic story of the park. A stop at the exhibit building along the nature trail provides additional park information. The drive provides access to Bonita Canyon Campground, multiple pullouts to enjoy the scenery, and trailheads to the 17 miles of day-use hiking trails.
Bonita Canyon Campground is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are not accepted for the 25 individual campsites. Maximum RV length is 29 feet, actual measurements.
Did You Know?
The bush with the pretty red bark is manzanita, which is Spanish for little apple. These small berries are an excellent food source for black bears, coati-mundi, and many birds at Chiricahua National Monument.
Directions: From 1-10, take Exit 336 at Willcox; drive 3 miles into town to the stoplight and turn right; follow SR 186 for 32 miles to the junction of SR 181. Turn left and continue 4 miles to the entrance station.
Entrance Fee: $5 per person; Interagency Senior, Access, and Annual Passes are honored.
Phone: (520) 824-3560
Not to have known…either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.
—Joseph Wood Krutch