Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chiricahua National Monument

The Apache Indian people called the area of Chiricahua National Monument the Land of the Standing Up Rocks. The experts say these pinnacles, spires, and balanced rocks had their origin as volcanic ash spewed from the Turkey Creek Volcano 27 million years ago. The melted ash formed a gray rock called Ryolite. Eventually ice, wind and water have sculpted the formations we see today. Whatever the science is, it is a delight to visit as we three did on January 27. Unfortunately dogs were not allowed on the trails we walked, but Keesha behaved admirably as a guardian at our truck camper.

The dead end road into the Monument begins at the grassland elevation of 5124 feet or 1562 meters. About 2 miles or 3 km beyond the entrance is the Visitor Center where a short film is shown, displays are exhibited and books and t-shirts are sold. This was the Oak-Juniper tree elevation.

We drove up Bonita Canyon and observed the amazing formations which practically grew straight up from the road. The elevation continued to increase until we stopped at Echo Canyon to go on a short hike. A cold wind blew in this exposed spot at 6780 feet or 2066 m, but we bundled up and strolled down the trail to snap photos and eventually reach the Echo Canyon Grotto. The grotto is a large site, a natural jumble of huge Ryolite boulders forming a playful spot for people. We had the place to ourselves on this raw winter weekday. The wind howled through there, a natural air-conditioning which was not needed
on a day that had us navigating on packed snow on shady parts of the trail. But it was still a delightful place.

Snow on a section of the Echo canyon trail:

After lunch in the camper and hot coffee to warm up, we continued to the end of the road at Massai Point. Not named after an African tribe - those are the Maasai- Massai was an Apache Scout who worked for the US Cavalry in the days of the Indian Wars.

A short but scenic and educational nature trail at this highest elevation point (6870 ft, 2094 m) explains more details about this wild land. The vast majority of the Monument since 1976 is designated as Wilderness Area, which is protected by federal law for non-motorized recreation such as backpacking and horseback riding. The law prohibits logging, roads, and mechanized vehicles including bicycles.

The only place to spend the night in the Monument is in the Bonita Canyon campground. So hikers on the Heart of the Rocks trail, which is 9.5 miles or 15.4 km long, are expected to be out by the end of the day, but it is really the best and most scenic trip among the rocks. I’d love to do it someday.

We backtracked down to the Visitors Center where I bought a bunch of postcards for my postcard swapping hobby.

Then our last stop in the Park before heading home was the 1888 homestead of the Swedish immigrant Erickson family. It was a working cattle ranch, then a Guest Ranch. It is named The Faraway Ranch:

Finally it was sold per the family’s wishes to the National Park Service in 1979. The home itself has many original antique furnishings and the tour by a helpful volunteer gave us a real taste of what such a frontier life must have been like.

Sadly we packed up and headed for home, a mere 75 miles or 120 km distant, believing we’d arrive before nightfall. Unfortunately an old front right tire decided to come apart and we had to pull over and change it. Things were progressing as well as could be expected until we had to hoist the tire onto the lugs. Fortunately a young man stopped right at the crucial time and he helped us finish the dirty job. At least it was still light out. But the road, Arizona 186, was practically deserted. In the 30 to 45 minutes we were there, only 4 vehicles passed by us. That’s life in the boonies! Yet we still had help. Contrast that to a more populated area where 100 vehicles might go by and nobody stops to aid a motorist.

So we hit the road again, hoping that was the only and the last hiccup. As we drove through the tiny, mostly abandoned town of Dos Cabezas, a herd of mule deer doe crossed the road. Four passed in front of us, and four waited for their turn to cross after we passed. Dos Cabezas isn’t a ghost town - it has resident deer!

We got home later than expected, but in one piece and with a lot of fond memories.

Me in The Grotto:

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