DescriptionApproximately 70 miles northeast of Douglas via US 191 and SR 181 or 36 miles southeast of Willcox via SR 186 and SR 181, Chiricahua (cheer-ee-KAH-wah) National Monument, also called the “Wonderland of Rocks,” is in the Chiricahua Mountains at an elevation ranging from 5,180 to 7,310 feet. Nine miles of the 21-mile county road that runs south from Bowie across Apache Pass to SR 186 are unpaved and rough in places. Unseasoned mountain drivers and cars pulling trailers should avoid the narrow, winding route from Portal; it is closed in winter.
The 11,985-acre area encompasses lands once controlled by the Chiricahua Apaches under Cochise, who led the Native Americans' resistance to the white man during the 1860s.
The Chiricahua Mountains rise above the surrounding grasslands, providing shady forests and glens that harbor Mexican chickadees, raccoon-like coatimundis, javelinas and a number of other wildlife species. Among the monument's outstanding features are gigantic, erosion-sculptured monoliths of volcanic ash.
Current research indicates that about 27 million years ago violent eruptions from the nearby Turkey Creek caldera took place, covering the area with white-hot ash. After the ash fused and cooled into an almost 2,000-foot layer of rock, the forces of erosion sculpted it into the odd array of shapes that can be seen.
Formations include the Totem Pole, 137 feet high and only a yard thick at its narrowest point; the Mushroom; and Big Balanced Rock, weighing 1,000 tons and resting on a base about 4 feet thick. In some places canyon walls rise as much as 1,000 feet. Many areas can be reached only on foot.
Among the first pioneers to settle in the area were Ja Hu Stafford and Neil and Emma Erickson. By the 1920s one of the Erickson daughters, Lillian, and her husband, Ed Riggs, had turned the homestead into a guest ranch, built trails into the rocks and were the driving force in the creation of Chiricahua National Monument. Today Faraway Ranch is preserved as a historic site with tours offered.
Picnicking, camping and parking areas are available near the visitor center in Bonita Canyon. Reached from the visitor center by 6 miles of paved mountain road, 6,780-foot Massai Point offers an overlook and an exhibit building. More than 17 miles of trails lead to all parts of the monument. Campground programs are conducted in spring and fall. Contact the visitor center, (520) 824-3560, ext. 302, for an updated schedule.
Vehicles longer than 29 feet are not permitted beyond the visitor center. A hiker's shuttle departs to the high country daily; phone for schedule. Visitor center daily 8:30-4:30; closed Christmas. Park entrance and shuttle free. Campers must register at the campground. Camping fee per night $12; $6 (ages 62+). Fees may vary; phone ahead. Campgrounds will not accommodate travel trailers or motor homes more than 29 feet long.
For further information contact the Superintendent, Chiricahua National Monument, 12856 E. Rhyolite Creek Rd., Willcox, AZ 85643; phone (520) 824-3560.
Things to SeeFaraway Ranch
This homeland of Cochise and the Chiricahua Apaches is accented with precariously balanced boulders, spires and fantastic rock formations.