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Chiricahua National Monument - Arizona

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 desert tortoise.

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 mountains.

Historic Areas

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.

Hiking

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.

Nearby Attractions

Fort Bowie

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 tents inside.

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.

Cochise's Stronghold

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.

Amerind Foundation

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) 586-3666.

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