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Chiricahua National Monument

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Chiricahua National Monument Overview

The people of eastern Arizona have elevated understatement to an art form. Chili peppers that could burn a hole through galvanized steel are referred to as "a little hot." Cripplingly beautiful sunsets that light the western sky on fire are "nice." You get the feeling that they might refer to the Grand Canyon as "the big hole northwest of here" if given the chance.

It is possible that the roots of this minimalist style of speech extend all the way back to Arizona's original inhabitants. The Chiricahua Apache, who claim the Chiricahuan Mountains as their ancestral land, referred to Chiricahua National Monument in eastern Arizona as an awe-inspiring collection of precariously balanced stone monoliths, deep canyons, sky-high spires, and colossal columns as the "Land of Standing-Up Rock." The Europeans who first came here added their special brand of flair by calling it "Wonderland of Rocks." These names hardly do justice to the diversity of topography, wildlife, and foliage in the area, but maybe that's as it should be. Even the most vivid and evocative words fall short of describing this spiritual place of geologic wonder.

Check out the Critters of Chiricahua
Though it sits 50 miles north of Mexico and is surrounded by the Sonoran and Chiricahuan Deserts, Chiricahua National Monument is an anomaly of the high desert. Seven distinct habitats attract an incredible number of plant and animal species to the area. The interesting blend of local and exotic makes Chiricahua one of the most biodiverse regions in North America. Surprisingly, many creatures found in the park have more in common with the Mexican Sierra Madre than with other regions of Arizona. These border-crossing animals are of special interest. Keep an eye out for Mexican chickadees and sulphur-bellied flycatchers. The Apache fox squirrel and coatimundis, a mammal related to the raccoon, are other immigrants that have taken up residency here.

More on birding and wildlife viewing in Chiricahua National Monument

Tour Faraway Ranch
The Apache, led by Cochise and Geronimo, fought valiantly to stem the tide of white pioneers coming to the Chiricahuan Mountains, but in 1886 Geronimo's band surrendered to the white "settlers." With the Native Americans' imminent relocation, a new way of life took root. Neil and Emma Erickson, a couple from Sweden, were among the first whites to come here. They built a home in remote Bonita Canyon, farmed the land, and raised a family. By the 1920s, one of the Ericksons' daughters, Lillian, had turned the homestead into a guest ranch. In true call-it-like-you-see-it southwestern fashion, "Lady Boss" Erickson and her husband, Ed Riggs, named their home Faraway Ranch. Lady Boss and Ed explored the land, built trails, and took guests on horseback trips. They showed photos of the land surrounding their property and promoted the idea of making Chiricahua a national park; their efforts eventually helped it gain its current status as a national monument. Today the house is a mandatory stop for visitors interested in this region's history over the past 100 years.

Cruise Bonita Canyon Drive
Climbing gradually through oak-juniper and pine forests, Bonita Canyon Drive winds eight miles to the mountains' crest and Massai Point. The overlook gives commanding views of the park, desert valleys beyond, and the landmark peaks of Sugarloaf Mountain and Cochise Head. As you drive back, stop at the roadside pullouts to see rock formations, other geologic features, and exhibits.

Hike Echo Canyon Loop Trail
Chiricahua is irresistible to any self-respecting hiker traveling in the Southwest. Though the park is only 12,000 acres, more than 20 miles of trails snake past unusual rock formations and through dense forest. The best way to see the park is on foot, and one of the most scenic hikes is Echo Canyon Loop Trail. It begins at the Echo Canyon parking area and offers jaw-dropping views of some of Chiricahua's most famous structures. The return trip travels along Hailstone Trail, where volcanic hailstones—evidence of the eruption that created the rock of Chiricahua—are scattered about.

More on hiking in Chiricahua National Monument

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