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Chiricahua National Monument Camping Trip
April 24-26, 2009
by Debbie M. and Sheila G.

Known as the “Land of Standing Up Rocks” the Chiricahua National Monument has become a favorite spring camping spot for the Arizona Trailblazers. Twelve hikers — Michael, Doug, Wendy, Lisa, Jenni, Sheila, Rudy, Clara, Cyd, Ann and Ralph, and hike leader Debbie — set up camp at the Bonita Campground on Friday to enjoy the weekend exploring the Chiricahuas. Glenn and Chuck drove up on Thursday and joined the group from a nearby campsite.

The Chiricahuas consists of almost 12,000 square miles of wilderness area and was once home to the Chiricahua Apaches. The history of warfare between the Apaches and the U. S. government is symbolic in that with Geronimo’s surrender in 1886, the Indian Wars ended. The native people were moved onto reservations in Oklahoma and New Mexico, and shortly after, white settlers began establishing homesteads in the area.

Interested in learning a bit about the history of the area, we visited the Stafford Cabin and Faraway Ranch for a very informative tour. We learned about the Ericksons, the original owners of the ranch and how the ranch was turned into a successful guest ranch which was in operation up until 1973. We were able to tour the house and see the original furnishings and how the kitchen looked circa 1950s.

The most striking feature of the house is a stone fireplace in the dining room made up of rocks transported from the Buffalo soldiers’ monument which was destroyed.

The rocks, with the names of the soldiers, engraved into the stone, are found in only two locations today.

After the ranch tour, we explored the grounds and there were many photo opportunities such as this one:

bathtub
Wendy, Glenn, and Sheila check out the antique bathtub.

On Friday evening, the group decided to visit the amphitheater for a show on the four seasons of the Chiricahuas.

We learned about the different wildlife and vegetation found in the area, as well as the changing seasons.

Although each season offers its own beauty, it was agreed that spring is the best time to visit the area.

flowers
Beautiful spring flowers in diverse vegetation.

Back at camp, a fire was set and socializing began in earnest. Most sensible campers hit the hay early in order to be prepared for the morning hike. However, there were four hardy souls (no names mentioned) who partied late into the night much to the chagrin of those trying to sleep. Two found sleeping in the open under the stars preferable to a tent!

One of the highlights of the camping trip is hiking Echo Canyon and the Heart of the Rocks. For those seeing it for the first time as well as those of us who return year after year, the rock formations are truly amazing to see. On Saturday, the group set off on the Echo Canyon Trail.

group

Hikers have a choice: they can hike the loop which includes Inspiration Point and the Heart of the Rocks for a 9.5 mile hike — or — choose the shorter 5 mile version directly through Rhyolite Canyon. The group stopped for a break at the junction and then split into two groups. Hiking weather was ideal, sunny but with a bit of cloud cover and temperatures in the 80s.

The Duck
The Duck
Kissing Rocks
Kissing Rocks
Balancing Rock
Balancing Rock
Punch and Judy
Punch and Judy

Doug and Sheila decided to forego the main hike and joined a short Ranger led geological hike instead followed by a very informative talk at Massai Point on the history of the Apaches in the area. When they returned to camp, the first group of hikers had also returned and were relaxing, napping, reading or enjoying a lively game of Canasta.

The lazy afternoon took an exciting turn when a strong gust of wind sent Ralph and Ann’s tent flying — even weighted down with gear! There was never a dull moment.

Ralph and Ann
Ralph and Ann minutes before their tent went flying ...

As the rest of the hikers returned, we had unexpected visitors — in the form of a large group of wild turkeys parading right past our site. There are many turkeys in the area and they can be heard throughout the evening and into the morning. We were also visited on several occasions by a white tail deer looking for water.

Other wildlife seen in the area included a coatimundi, which was spotted on the longer hike, and of course the bats, which came out each evening.

Clara and Jenni
9.5 miles! WE DID IT! Clara and Jenni

The group had the traditional potluck dinner on Saturday evening, with Doug cooking enough hamburgers for the entire group. The assortment of food was delicious!

It was decided that Clara would forego serving her freeze dried meals and instead sing for her supper. What a treat! Singing a cappella, she shared a most amazing performance — “Singing with the Stars, Chiricahua-style.”

After we had all eaten our fill (and then some) we headed up to the amphitheatre again to learn about the Buffalo Soldiers. Presented dramatically by a talented Ranger, complete with authentic costumes and artifacts of the time, we learned what is what like for a woman married to an officer of the U.S. Calvary who commanded a regiment of black Buffalo soldiers during the Apache Wars.

Camping certainly has its pleasures: the hiking and fresh air, catching a glimpse of the wildlife, outdoor cooking and picnicking, and sleeping in a tent. However, my favorite has always been relaxing and having fun around the campfire at the end of the day. Although some like to turn in early, I love sitting around the fire as the temperatures drop, the stars fill the sky, and people unwind from the day’s activities.

There is always fun to be had: whether it’s toasting marshmallows or tending the fire or telling stories. It was my job as the official hike leader of the trip to keep the late crowd quiet as the hours wore on; unfortunately, I failed in this endeavor on the first night as described earlier (and likely did my share of contributing to the ruckus). The second night, as is usually the case, was much more subdued and those who turned in early were probably grateful for the peace and quiet.

On Sunday morning the tents came down, vehicles were packed up, and good-byes were said: another Trailblazers camping trip concluded.

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updated May 6, 2009