The Chiricahua Wilderness includes much of the Chiricahua Mountains. The Chiricahua Mountains are Arizona’s most southeasterly mountain range. The highest point in the Chiricahua’s is 9,700 feet. The Chiricahua Mountains are an amazing sight to see. The spectacular views, rock formations, diverse plant and animal life make it a terrific spot to visit.
The range offers a network of trails and gorgeous hiking country. If you are interested in making a hike, it is advisable to head to the Chiricahua National Monument on the west side of the mountain range. There is a visitor center located at the national monument that has maps and personnel to give suggestions on hiking trails.
The history of the Chiricahua Wilderness began with the Chiricahua Apaches, who made this area their home. When European settlers began to move in on their land, war broke out. The Apaches were very good at knowing the land and using the rocks as lookout points. It wasn’t until 1886 when Geronimo, one of the last Apache leaders surrendered and eventually the tribe left the wilderness.
On your way out to the east side of the Chiricahua’s from Douglas you will take State Highway 80. Along your drive, you will come across a sixteen-foot high pyramid. It is approximately 40 miles northeast of Douglas. The pyramid is in recognition of the final Apache surrender. It is in Skeleton Canyon and represents the 25-year war with the United States and the Chiricahua Indians. The pyramid was dedicated in 1934.
After passing the pyramid, you will continue on State Highway 80 east and into New Mexico. You will travel through the town of Rodeo, New Mexico. Then just north outside of town, you will turn left and head up to the Chiricahua Wilderness. You will need to look for signs along State Highway 80 to direct you to the Wilderness. In the Chiricahua Wilderness, you will pass through several ghost towns like Portal and Paradise. Once you are in the area you will discover its beauty.
If you would like to go to the visitor center in the Chiricahua National Monument to find out about hiking trails in the area, you will need to take U.S. Highway 191 north out of Douglas. You will continue on the highway until you come to the town of Sunizona. Here you will head east on State Highway 181. The State Highway eventually veers off to the north and then to the east again where it dead-ends in the Chiricahua National Monument.
Twenty seven million years ago a volcanic eruption of immense proportions shook the land around Chiricahua National Monument. One thousand times greater than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, the Turkey Creek Caldera eruption eventually laid down two thousand feet of highly silicious ash and pumice. This mixture fused into a rock called rhyolitic tuff and eventually eroded into the spires and unusual rock formations of today.
The monument is a mecca for hikers and birders. At the intersection of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts, and the southern Rocky Mountains and northern Sierra Madre in Mexico, Chiricahua plants and animals represent one of the premier areas for biological diversity in the northern hemisphere.
Of historic interest is the Faraway Ranch, a pioneer homestead and later a working cattle and guest ranch. It is a significant example of the human transformation of the western frontier from the wilderness to the present settlement. Faraway Ranch offers glimpses into the lives of Swedish immigrants Neil and Emma Erickson, and their children. The house is furnished with historic artifacts that not only give us reminders of our youth and our ancestors, but one can also trace the development of technology during the first half of the twentieth century. Acreage: 12,000 acres.
Chiricahua National Monument
President Coolidge signed the bill in 1924, making the most scenic section of the Chiricahua Mountains a national monument. The Chiricahua National Monument covers approximately 12,000 acres. The Chiricahua Mountain range is part of the Coronado National Forest. This land was once the home of the Cochise and Chiricahua Apache Indians. The area has the nickname “Standing-Up Rocks.” This is not surprising, because many of the rock formations found in the Chiricahua’s are quite impressive. The Chiricahuas are noted for the rock spires and boulders balancing on top of smaller rocks.
Geologists believe that the formations were made from volcanic eruptions. The theory is that twenty seven million years ago, a volcanic eruption shook the land around the Chiricahua National Monument. This eruption was one thousand times greater that the 1980 eruption of the Mount St. Helens. This eruption called the Turkey Creek Caldera eventually laid down two thousand feet of highly silicious ash and pumice. This mix of ash and pumice fused into a rock called rhyolitic tuff. After years of erosion, the unusual rocks that are in the monument were formed.
The Chiricahua National Monument is also filled wildlife and a variety of plants. You will find this spot great, if you are a birder. There are hummingbirds, Zone-tailed hawks and trogons in the area. The Chiricahua’s also have both Southwestern and Sierra Madrean flora and fauna.
The first stop to the national monument is the visitor center. Here you will learn about the history of the area. There is a slide show and exhibits detailing the geology, wildlife and the numerous sightseeing spots in the monument. The rangers are happy to answer questions and recommend hiking trails. The visitor center also offers books, videos and maps for purchase.
The visitor center is open everyday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is a $4.00 charge to cars on you way in to the center. If you have any questions about the monument, you may call 520-824-3560.
Visitors can get an overview of the park by taking a drive. The Bonita Canyon Drive travels along a paved 6 mile winding road. The mountain road goes through oak-juniper and pine forests up to the top of the Chiricahua Mountains. Here, at the top, on Massai Point you can see the park, valleys and Cochise Head. The point also has a geology exhibit and a variety of hikes begin at this spot.
Hikers can see the beauty of the area by taking one of the many trails in the Chiricahua National Monument. There are nearly 100 miles of hiking trails to choose from during your visit. It is important to be prepared when embarking on a trail. The visitor center is a great place to make your hiking plans. Hikes are best made during the months of March to May or October to November.
Camping is available at the Chiricahua National Monument. The campgrounds can be found a half-mile from the visitor center. There are no showers or hook-ups at the grounds. Campers will be charged $6.00 a day.
The Chiricahua National Monument requires all dogs to be on leash. Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails, except the Faraway Trail. Horseback riding is permitted, but rangers would like to be aware of their presence.
You can get the Chiricahua National Monument from Willcox by taking State Highway 186 south, until it turns into State Highway 181. There are several entrances into the National Monument from State Highway 181. If you are coming from Douglas, you will take State Highway 191 north out of town. When you get near Sunizona, you will head east on State Highway 181 to the Chiricahuas. If you are coming from Tombstone or Bisbee, you will head south out of town on State Highway 80 to Douglas. Then you will head north on 191 through Douglas. When you get near Sunizona, you will head east on State Highway 181 to the Chiricahua’s.
This National Monument is a real treasure. You should plan quite a bit of time for your visit. There is so much to see and do, that you will want to make a return visit.