Chiricahua National Monument – Southwestern History – And A Volcanic Past

Know before you go

This is not your typical five miles off the highway visit. This is more of a “I really want to see this place visit.” If you are traveling I-10 and see the signs for the park and decide to go, know that you are going to be driving 40 minutes and 37 miles before you get to the park.

Be advised, if you are low on fuel get some in Willcox before proceeding. As you get nearer to the park you will see a sign announcing “no services.” Hint, they mean it. No cell service, no restaurants, no stores, no groceries, no gas, no people and very few houses.

what to expect

The Chiricahua Mountains are in view most of your way to the park. The desert plateau you are traveling on is desolate but very beautiful in it’s own right. The entire plateau is a volcanic caldera.

As you get closer to the park you will notice more trees and green in general. Once you get there, you are welcomed with the scenic and very rugged Chiricahua Mountains.

Sugar Mountain on the Right – It is the tallest mountain in Chiricahua National Monument

As you enter the National Monument you are climbing up into a “sky island” an isolated mountain range rising above the surrounding desert grasslands. On the way in you will see cactus and mesquite start to fill in with sycamore, juniper and oak trees. It is a landscape that is typical of the basin and range topography in southwest Arizona. But as you enter the park and go past the visitor’s center you will see rock pinnacles towering over the road on both sides that announce that you are in Chiricahua country.

These rocks were called “Standing up Rocks” by the Chiricahua Apache

These are old rock formations formed some 27 million years ago when Turkey Creek Volcano spewed ash over a 1,200 square mile area. The super heated ash particles from the volcano melted together and formed layers of gray rock called ryholite (rye-o-lite). Cooling of the area and subsequent uplifting from the earths plates created joints and cracks in the rhyolite. Eons of weathering by ice wedging and erosion enlarged the cracks leaving behind endless spires which are widely varied in appearance.

Human History in the area

The Chiricahua Mountains were first inhabited by humans in the 1400’s and has long been the home of the Chiricahua Apaches. The Chiricahua Apaches were nomads who hunted large animals and gathered edible plants. They were also known as fierce warriors and respected by their enemies.

When the Spanish arrived in the 1500’s the Chiricahua Apaches resisted choosing to fight the Spanish to insure they did not colonize. To that end the Chiricahua Apaches repeatedly raided the Spanish camps taking food, weapons, horses and other items they needed. As a result they quickly learned how to handle guns and horses and used them against the Spanish.

In 1821 after Mexican independence Mexican explorers and immigrants entered the mountains and canyon seeking gold and sliver and land. This was followed by masses of European immigrants. The Chiricahua Apaches continued to resist all that entered their land by attacking, killing and plundering their enemies encampments and homesteads.

the apache wars

After the famous Apache Cochise came Geronimo. Geronimo was not a chief, but a medicine man of the Bedonkehe band of the Chiricahua Apache. He would eventually become their leader because he believed, like Cochise before him, that his people deserved freedom. Geronimo had been one of Cochise’s most devout warriors. He had helped him take captives after the Bascom Affair and had fought alongside him during the Battle of Apache Pass. Mangas Coloradas was Geronimo’s chief at the time, and Geronimo had been present at Mangas’ death and then assumed the role of Chief of the Chiricahua Apache.

Geronimo was born on the Gila River in New Mexico, not far from the Gila Cliff Dwellings. His birth name, Goyakla, meant “one who yawns.” He would go on to become a brilliant war leader. While Cochise was a noble leader, Geronimo was more of a rogue.

Eventually, the Chiricahua Apaches and Geronimo knew that in order to continue they would have to make peace with the immigrants. To that end Geronimo met with General Crook of the US Army to surrender in 1886.

This photograph was taken in 1886, before Geronimo surrendered to General Crook on March 27

In 1888 Swedish immigrants Neil and Emma Erickson were among the first to settle in the canyon. They made their living by growing vegetables in a four acre fenced garden and cattle ranching. They sold many of their fresh vegetables to the occupants of Ft. Bowie.

By by the 1920’s a steady stream of visitors entered the mountains and canyon to sight see. The Erickson’s eldest daughter Lillian turned the homestead into a guest ranch which operated until 1973. The “Dude” ranch was a success but revenue fell due to mismanagement. Even so, “Faraway” ranch survived the “Great Depression.”

After the deaths of the three Erickson children the homestead, canyon and mountains were turned into a historic district and eventually into a a National Monument. The National monument itself was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corp which created created the original roads, trails and buildings.

What does it look like?

What follows are some of the photos we took on the way to the park and inside it’s boundaries.

Approaching the Monuments Boundaries

Road into the Chiricahua National Monument
Glorious Pinnacles arise on either side of the road.
Sugarloaf Mountain viewed from the Nature Trail
Sugarloaf Mountain looking toward the Dragoon Mountains

I hope you have enjoyed our information and photos from our visit to Chiricahua National Monument. If you are staying in the area or just want to visit you can obtain more information from the Chiricahua National Monument website. If you go to this magnificent place you will not forget it.

2 comments

    • Just a bit Joe. We hiked up almost to the top just before dark. Had another 150 vertical feet and a half mile before we would have arrived. Sun was setting so we decided to head back down. It really a visually stunning place.

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