Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Chiricahua National Monument

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Sunday was a great day! After going to Benson for Mass, we had breakfast at Nico’s a small taco shop we’d heard about. They serve a lot more than tacos, and they serve large and reasonable. For $3.25 each, we got a huge breakfast burrito featuring sausage, eggs, and sharp cheddar. It was nearly more than we could eat, but by putting aside part of the tortilla, we managed to get through it.

We filled up the gas tank and went east on I-10 to Willcox, AZ, and then headed south toward Chiricahua National Monument. Before we got there, though, we stopped at the Pioneer Cemetery at Dos Cabezas, a tiny town once supported by mines, now just a group of buildings in ranch country.

The cemetery contains very old graves, and at least one from 2007. Some were marked with typical upright marble slabs, a few with wrought iron fences. There were old decaying wooden crosses, and one grave marked with an iron pipe cross and a wreath of barbed wire.

The cemetery is very large, with old marked and unmarked graves scattered throughout the desert landscape. Names are hard to find and read, and some of the graves have nearly disappeared from view.

While the weather was generally beautiful, clouds hung over the mountains, and we wondered what we'd find upon arrival.

Chiricahua National Monument has been described as a “Wonderland of Rocks.” This forest of rock spires was eroded from layers of ash deposited by the Turkey Creek Volcano eruption 27 million years ago. Today’s National Monument comprises nearly 12,000 acres in the heart of the Chiricahua Mountains. As the arrow flies, the National Monument is just 40 miles from Cochise Stronghold, the visit we talked about in our blog recently.

The Chiricahua Mountains are one of many "sky island" ranges in southern Arizona. They rise like islands from the surrounding grassland "sea". Plants and animals from four ecosystems; Rocky Mountains, Sierra Madre Mountains, Sonoran & Chihuahuan Deserts, all meet here.
Near the Visitor Center we got a preview of the rock formations we would see later.

We drove the 8-mile Bonita Canyon Scenic Drive, climbing through oak, cypress and pine forests, to an elevation of 6,870 feet at Massai Point where we hiked a short trail up to a lookout building that had a 360 degree view of the Rhyolite Canyon, adjacent valleys and mountain peaks.

One sight that was beautifully blessed with sunshine was called Cochise Head. "The colossal rock formation takes the shape of a man's head, a man lying serenely on his back. His face is rugged and noble, with a long, curved nose and a domed forehead. For an eyelash -- a 100 foot Douglas fir. This remarkable rock formation is made of welded tuff, a rock formed from volcanic ash. The historical figure represented is said to be Cochise, the brilliant chief of the Chiracahua Apaches." (To see the "eyelash," left click on the photo. Just remember to click your "Back" icon to return.)

Returning on the scenic drive, we were able to stop at pullouts to photograph some of the strange columns and other formations.

This formation is called "China Boy." It was undoubtedly named before the time of "politically correct!

These pictures are of the Organ Pipe Formation. It looks as if one of the pipes has broken away.

Before leaving the national monument, we made one final stop at Faraway Ranch, the home of Swedish immigrants Neil and Emma Erickson, who settled in Bonita Canyon in the late 1880s. This is the road into their homesite.

Their home evolved from a simple homestead to a thriving guest ranch that was in operation from 1917 to 1972.
The Ericksons and their descendants were instrumental in exploring the land and finding its wonders. They were also the primary force behind getting President Calvin Coolidge to create Chiricahua National Monument in 1924 to preserve and protect the pinnacles. At the death of the owner in 1977, the home and ranch were deeded to the National Park Service to become part of the Chiricahua National Monument.
In 1934 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) took on the job of improving the one road and constructing trails and some of the structures still in use today.

One of the CCC’s projects was to build a campground in the park. It is still an active campground, but no vehicles longer than 29 feet are allowed. The sites are all short (not many 40-foot motorhomes in the 1930’s!), the roads twist and turn, and in several places there are dips in the road that would make a longer vehicle little more than a permanent bridge, anchored on both ends by its frame, with all wheels spinning uselessly in the air.

We returned to Caverns RV Park by way of the towns of Elfrieda, McNeal and Tombstone. (To enlarge the map, left click on the image. To get back here, left click your "Back" icon.) Our Sunday drive carried us 220 miles through the beautiful southeastern Arizona area of … Our Life on Wheels.

1 comment:

  1. I am so sad that the Chiricahua's are on fire this year. I love this place.


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