Land of the Standing-up Rocks: Chiricahua National Monument, AZ, Part 2

In Bonita Canyon, just beyond the entrance to Chiricahua National Monument, you’ll pass the Faraway Ranch, established in 1888 by Swedish immigrants Neil and Emma Erickson. The story of this family’s immigration is inspiring. They were the ones who promoted the idea of creating a national park here.

With more than 18 miles of maintained trails winding through the park, hikers can find a trail to suit just about anyone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though they loved their home, the ranch really couldn’t support the family, and Neil made a living working for the Chiricahua Forest Reserve. By the 1920s, daughters Hildegarde and Lillian took over the ranch and began taking in guests looking for a wilderness experience.

The guest ranch was called the Faraway Ranch because it was so far away from anywhere. Tours of the ranch house and out buildings are still offered daily.

Further along the road is the visitor center where you can view an eight-minute video on the national monument. A schedule for guided walks and tours is posted. The gift shop contains a good selection of books and brochures to help both the casual and the specific explorer get the most from their visit.

A year-round campground operates on a no-reservation basis, having tables, grills, restrooms, and water. It will accommodate tents and trailers up to 26 feet long. The campground is set in the shade and in a beautiful location.

Continuing on Bonita Canyon Drive brings the visitor to the crest of the mountain, 6,900-foot-high Massai Point, named for the Apache Indian who stole Colonel Stafford’s horse and left his footprint on the trail. You can stretch your legs here and follow the trail to the top to see the desert valleys, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Cochise Head, just as the first white man did while tracking Bigfoot Massai.

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

With its 360-degree views, you can visit the stone exhibit house, loaded with artifacts, a relief map, and geologic information.

Be sure to walk the short Massai Point Nature Trail, a loop that features a bird’s-eye view of the Chiricahuas’ distinctive rock formations, placards describing the wildlife and topography, and a lookout platform with a viewing scope.

With more than 18 miles of maintained trails winding through the park, hikers can find a trail to suit just about anyone.

On a recent visit we hiked the easy 3.3-mile Echo Canyon Loop Trail—which winds down into a fantasyland of intriguing rock formations and cool, moist forests. If you’d like a longer hike, try the Heart of the Rocks Trail—it leads past a number of enormous balancing rocks such as Pinnacle Balanced Rock and Duck on a Rock.

As you explore the Chiricahuas, listen to the sounds around you. To leave their mountain home meant the Apaches had to leave their mountain spirits behind—and it’s said that the wind makes strange sounds as it whistles around the rock spires. If you weren’t a western fan before your visit to the Chiricahuas, you certainly will be afterwards—the history and tragedy of this western frontier takes hold of your heart and your imagination.

 

Did You Know?
The bush with the pretty red bark is manzanita, which is Spanish for little apple. Their small berries are an excellent food source for black bears, coati-mundi, and many birds at Chiricahua National Monument.

Worth Pondering…
Once in a lifetime,
if one is lucky,
one so emerges with sunshine
and air
and running water
that whole eons might pass
in a single afternoon
without notice.
—Loren Eisley

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