The fog rolls over the
mountains, at 7,000 feet, through the eerie rock
sentinals of the Chiricahua. Stone towers and buttresses
climb into the sky, partially obscured as wisps of mist
flow through the formations, as mystifying and enobling
now as when the Apache gathered inspiration here, for
more than 200 years.
The awesome display of standing rocks near
Willcox was created about 25 million years ago, when a
volcanic eruption exploded a caldera, creating a field of
rhyolite. Then, fault shifting broke the volcanic rock
into standing forms and stacked blocks. Now, after eons
of erosion, cracking by snow and ice and pounding by
rain, the rocks offer a display of standing and suspended
rock which is unequaled.
The Sky Island
This is a "sky island," mountains rising
out of the low desert of southeastern Arizona. The
moisture trapped by the mountains nourishes the forests
and wildlife within. The miraculous placement of this
range, surrounded by the Chihuahuan Desert, has created
four biotic systems, ranging from the Chihuahuan and
Sonoran desert; the transition (Sierra Madre); and the
Rocky Mountain zone. With all this environmental
diversity, the range of wildlife is impressive. Snakes,
lizards and other desert animals share this space with
the more normally seen foothills species including
coatimundi, foxes and black bears. You may see the much
sought after elegant trogon, along with flycatchers and
other birds. Plant life is equally diverse: mosses and
ferns are found under the rock statues, firs predominate
in the forest. 70 species of mammals live in the
monument, as do many amphibians, including the rare
This scenic park is located in the national
forest east of Benson and north of Douglas. It is
accessed from either the east or west side of the
Chiricahua mountain range. From the east, drive west from
Benson to either U.S. Route 666 or Arizona Route 186, and
drive south to Arizona Route 181.
From Douglas or New Mexico, take U.S.
Highway 80 south from Interstate 10 or north from
Douglas, and then turn west onto the sideroad that leads
through the village of Portal (ranger station) and the
Historic sites in the park include the
Faraway Ranch in Bonito Canyon. This is the place where
J.H Stafford and his 13-year-old bride, Pauline, built a
one-room cabin in 1879. They didn't stay long, but Neil
and Norma Erikson arrived in 1888 to establish their
farm, constructing a homestead and raising a family. All
this in what then was a remote mountain canyton, almost
at the 7,000 foot level with more than a day of travel to
the nearest town.
There is a campground in the monument, as
well as a forest campground located past Portal, along
the gravel road leading westward from Highway 80. There
are interpretive trails and guided tours of monument
sites. For park information, phone (520) 824-3560.
A visit to the monument cannot be complete
without a hike along the Echo Canyon Trail. One of the
most satisfying hikes in the Southwest, the route leaves
Massai Point (the location of a superb lookout at 6,870
feet) and loops through the rock formations. Covering a
total of 3.5 miles, the trail begins passing masses of
towering rock clusters, and then descends gently into
Echo Canyon. At any time of day, the formations in Echo
Canyon are spectacular; but try a moonlit excursion when
the standing rocks are illuminated, casting wierd shadows
on each other. The trail climbs for the final mile to
return to the trailhead.
You get to Massai Point and the trailhead
by driving the paved, 6-mile road leading from the
visitor center, which is at the park entrance.
Just outside the Coronado National Forest
boundary, Fort Bowie is located at the northern edge of
the Chiricahua Mountains, northwest of the Chiricahua
National Monument. Visitors can stroll through the ruins
of the fort, which was constructed in 1862. It was a stop
on the Butterfield Stage route which continued across
Arizona and Nevada to the California gold fields.
In 1862, a small troop of Civil War
vaolunteers drove several hundred Apache warriors from
the mountains in order to control and protect Apache
Spring, which lay in a prime location at Apache Pass, a
defining notch between the Chiricahua and Dos Cabezas
ranges. This event led to the series of wars with Cochise
and his followers, and the five-year battle with
Geronimo. After the battle with the volunteers, a small,
primitive fort was built, with a short adobe wall and
The crumbled site is accessed via a
self-guided foot trail, that leads throughout the fort
area. Remains of the stage stop are still here, and the
adobe and stone walls have been partially restored.
Visitors can see the shoolhouse, the hospital and
officers' quarters. Here is the site where Geronimo
surrendered, uttering the words "Don't believe any bad
talk you hear about me. . . I never do wrong without a
cause." It's a unique historical landmark, redolent of
the bravery of both the army bluecoats and the Indian
warriors who fought valiantly for their own just cause.
Geronimo's son (two years old when he died) is buried in
the old cemetary.
Below the fort (about 500 feel below) is
the pass and the spring, the object of years of conflict,
opposing causes, death, vistory and defeat.
To get there, drive south from Interstate
10 from the junction (Exit 362 just east of Bowie) or
from Willcox via the paved State Highway 186. From the
south and the Douglas area, drive northeast along U.S.
666 and then take State Hwy. 181 and State Hwy. 186 to
the unpaved road which leads to the fort and also north
to Bowie and Interstate 10.
The refuge of the great chief Cochise and
his Apache followers&emdash;chased into these high
granite reaches of the Dragoon Mountains&emdash;the
stronghold provides a fascinating glimpse of the days
when Indian wars dominated the scene in the Old West. The
site is operated by the National Forest Service
(520-826-3593) and includes a campground, picnic area,
and hiking trails. There are several other prominent
historic sites in Cochise County that commemorate the
struggles between the cavalry and the Apache, but
Cochise's Stronghold provides an affecting reminiscence
of those turbulent times.
U.S. Route 666 leads south from Interstate
10 and runs north from Douglas, on the Mexican border.
Just north of the community of Sunsites is a gravel road
that leads west to the Stronghold. If you're driving east
from Benson, another scenic route leads from Interstate
10, at the Dragoon exit. Drive east along this sideroad
to meet Highway 666 and drive south for another 8 miles
to the gravel road.
A private research and educational
organization, the Amerind Foundation is located 12 miles
east of Benson via Interstate 10 (take the Dragoon exit,
#318). Located in the very picturesque Texas Canyon, a
rocky draw near Dragoon, it is a center for research into
the native heritage of the Southwest, in addition to a
museum which is open to the public. The museum contains
artifacts of southwestern Indian life and antique Spanish
furnishings, which complement the Spanish colonial-style
buildings. This fine arts center also includes paintings
and sculptures on early western themes by such artists as
Frederic Remington, Oscar Borg, and William Leigh. For
those interested in learning more about the native and
colonial past of Southeastern Arizona, a visit here is a
must. Tours are available. For schedules, call (520)