The Time: approximately 27 million years ago. The Place: Turkey Creek Caldera in
present-day southeastern Arizona. The Event: the start of a massive series of
volcanic eruptions, on a scale the earth had never before seen and equal to the
force of a thousand Mount St. Helens, that would last for over a million years
and forever change hundreds of square miles of surrounding landscape. An
estimated eight to ten times during this period the thirteen-mile diameter
caldera would explode in a volcanic holocaust, as it violently ejected tons of
molten rock, and superheated gases exploded from vents in the caldera floor.
Eerily glowing superheated clouds of incandescent white-hot ash, along with jets
of steam and poisonous, toxic vapors, were blasted high into the atmosphere,
turning day into night for weeks and months at a time. Avalanches of burning hot
volcanic sand raced across the land, covering and obliterating everything in
their paths. The tortured and scorched land would lay silent and still between
periods of turmoil and violence.
During these million years of upheaval, the Turkey Creek Caldera would eject
enough ash, pumice, and sand from vents in the caldera floor to bury over 700
square miles of surrounding countryside up to a depth of two thousand feet or
more. The intense heat and pressure eventually turned this material into a solid
rock we know today as welded rhyolite tuff.
Over time nine of these layers were deposited and solidified.
A period of mountain building followed, where great
uplifting forces from deep within the earth created the present day Chiricahua
Mountains. In the process, the 2,000-foot layers of welded rhyolite tuff split
into massive upright blocks. The masters of erosion—wind, water, and ice—then
went to work on the rock, and over the passage of millions of years created the
convoluted landscape we see before us today. More than anything, Chiricahua
National Monument is a testimony to the unrelenting and on-going powers of
Balanced rocks and soaring pillars of stone are a common sight in the Chiricahuas.
On Friday morning, May 17, Chuck Parsons, Candi Cook, Glenn Kappel, Fred Abele,
and Michael Humphrey began a journey to discover the wonders of this place the
Chiricahua Apaches called the “Land of the Standing-Up Rocks”.
Fourteen other hiking club members and guests were to join us later in the day
at our campsite. After a short lunch and refueling stop in Willcox, we make our
way down Arizona Route 186, passing the imposing double-headed mountain range to
our east known as Dos Cabezas. Unseen from the road and at the base of the
mountain, lies the old gost mining town of Dos Cabezas.
After checking in at the entrance station, we stopped by the Visitor Center to
check out our options for a late afternoon hike before dinner. The first choice
was the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail, a relatively easy 1.8-mile round trip hike
that would provide commanding views of the surrounding area from one of the
parks highest vantagepoints. However, we soon found out the trail was closed
because of a massive rockslide that occurred back in February. Rangers were
uncertain when or if the trail would be reopened. We were also informed that,
because of the extreme fire danger conditions that existed throughout
Arizona’s parched forests, no open fires (wood or charcoal) would be
allowed. We would be limited to cook stoves only. Darn – so much for
grilled steak and chicken.
With those preliminaries out of the way, we finally arrive at our spacious group
campsite in Bonita Canyon Campground. By 2:00 PM in the afternoon we are
unloading camping gear and setting up our tents under the welcome shade of a
surrounding forest of pine, juniper, and oak trees, enjoying the pine-scented
air of this 5,400-foot camp that would be our home for the next two nights. That
done, we sit back and relax for awhile, cold drinks in hand, while discussing
our options for the day. We debate between the Natural Bridge Trail and the
Faraway Ranch Historic Trail. We opt for the Faraway Ranch Historic Trail, an
easy 2.4 round trip trail from the campground to Faraway Ranch, with the
trailhead just around the corner.
A new Big Balanced Rock in the making.
This is an easy, level walk through the woods, passing through a beautiful
spring meadow, but requiring a couple of detours around construction areas. It
seems the monument is upgrading its infrastructure for the first time in many
years, totally replacing the eight-mile long Bonita Canyon Drive all the way to
its terminus at Massai Point, laying miles of new water, sewer, and power lines,
as well as (welcome to the 21st century) fiber optic cable. Peering down into
the four-foot depths of these freshly dug trenches, one gets a very real sense
of just how dry these forests have become. You literally cannot see the
slightest evidence of moisture in these now bone-dry forest soils.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how quickly and easily a raging
inferno could get started in these extreme drought conditions Arizona has been
suffering for the past four years now. It is not yet June, and already thousands
of acres of forest have been consumed by several fires raging across the state.
Somewhere along the trail, we spot a whitetail deer nervously watching us, as it
scrounges the forest looking for food. One really has to wonder how all the
forest dwellers can continue to survive such harsh conditions. No doubt the
ancient laws of survival of the fittest will prevail more than usual this
summer. One of the several interpretive signs we come across on this trail
informs us of the enormous contributions made by the Civilian Conservation Corps
in national parks and monuments across the country. Begun by the Roosevelt
Administration in the 1930s, as the nation suffered through the grips of the
Great Depression, the CCC put hundreds of thousands of young men to work,
building trails, roads, buildings, and various infrastructure, while sending
money home to their families. The CCC made a huge difference in many young lives
and created major improvements in many of our national parks and monuments.
Pinnacle Balanced Rock
Stone totems reach for the sky.
We finally arrive at the Faraway Ranch area and check out some of the adjacent
buildings and cabins. We will not spend too much time here, since we have
already missed the 2:00 PM tour and are considering coming back for the Sunday
afternoon tour. The tour promises to give a good insight into the life and times
of some of the earliest pioneers in the Bonita Canyon area and the many day-to-
day challenges and hardships they faced. We then come across the rather bizarre
sight of an old-fashion claw-foot enamel bathtub sitting out in the open air. I
could tell a very interesting story here about this bathtub and two of our
hikers, but in deference to the expression that one picture is worth a thousand
words, I will let that picture tell the story in my “Best of 2002”
presentation next year. Talk about a trip report cliffhanger! :o)
By the time we make our way back to the campground, we are greeted by several
more arrivals, including Scott and Nancy Clarke, along with their son, Matt
Schmidt, two nieces, Areyna Schmidt and Naomi Schmidt, and nephew, Skyler
Schmidt, as well as Liyan He and her son Michael. After cleaning up and resting
for a bit, we start making preparations for tonight’s dinner. Candi is on
a fairly strict diet and exercise regimen, as she gears up toward her goal of
climbing Mt. Whitney this September. As lofty as that goal would be for most of
us, it is but one stepping stone in a long series of stepping stones to her
ultimate goal of climbing Mt. Everest—at 29,028 feet, the crowning achievement
for all serious mountain climbers. The determination, commitment, dedication,
and planning that this remarkable young woman puts into everything she does in
life leaves me with no doubt whatsoever that she will one day achieve her goal.
God speed to you, Candi Cook. Go for it! On this pleasantly cool Chiricahua
night, however, I convince her to relax the rules just a bit and sample a great
import beer from Holland that I have brought along.
After dinner, a few more arrivals start filtering in, including Rudy,
Jo, Joyce, and Sam. Joyce informs us that
Anatoli and Natasha will not make it tonight, but will be arriving early
Saturday morning, hopefully in time to join us for the hike. During post-dinner
conversation, the subject of Arizona Jackalopes and Arizona Snipe somehow slips
into the stream of talk (not real sure now, but it might have even been me).
Oddly enough, neither Candi nor Sam, both relative newcomers to Arizona, had
ever heard of either one. Candi, a former Texas gal from Austin, did seem to
recall hearing about the infamous Texas Snipe, naturally the largest of all
known snipes and reputed to be found only during a night hunting trip under the
spell of a full moon.
At one point, Glenn, Michael, and I had pretty much convinced them of the
legitimacy of both of these legendary creatures, to the extent that Sam was
ready and anxious to hit the trails this very night in search of the elusive
Arizona Snipe. We hoped to be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a Jackalope
on the trail Saturday. The end of the evening for the children and young adults
was a class on making the perfect S’more (courtesy of our resident
S’more expert, Candi). It details not only roasting the marshmallows over
the camp stove fire, but also melting the chocolate onto the graham cracker.
This allows for a very delicious S’more, with gooey marshmallow and
dripping chocolate. After such a sweet treat, the sugar high eventually wore
off, and most head off to bed for an early night. After all, we had a very big
day ahead of us tomorrow, as we looked forward to a day of hiking in the
Saturday morning in the Chiricahuas dawned clear and a refreshingly cool 60°
for us already heat-weary desert dwellers, as we stirred about in
preparations for the morning’s breakfast.
Some of us were awakened to the
raucous call of the camp raider Steller’s jays we had seen earlier on
Friday afternoon, one of which persisted in hammering away at Michael’s
cook set, firm in the belief that where there was food cookware, there had to be
Saturday morning breakfast at Bonita Canyon Campground.
There was even some talk of the old Alfred Hitchcock movie “The
Birds”, as quite a number of these huge jays gathered in the trees all
around us, waiting for just the right opportunity to swoop down and grab any
morsel of food left unattended or carelessly dropped on the ground. They were
quite persistent and bold and did one heck of a job in keeping the camp clean of
food particles, not even leaving enough for the ants to clean up. Someone had
also spotted a coatimundi the night before in a large juniper tree next to the
water pump, and Sam mentioned a skunk he had spotted in the night.
Thankfully, he did not mistake it for a Jackalope and try to approach too
closely for a better look. Sunday morning we would also be visited by the
relatively rare Chiricahua fox squirrel, a huge squirrel with a beautiful
chestnut and gray color pattern and a large bushy white and gray-black tail.
Despite the drought, a good variety of forest creatures seem to be holding their
own in these mountains.
Looking out over the great vastness and beauty of Chiricahua National Monument
and the surrounding Chiricahua Mountains from this vantage point high above Echo
Canyon, it would be both remiss and unforgiving not to mention the very
significant role that the proud and once-feared Chiricahua Apaches played in
this, their former homeland. The Chiricahuas and the Dragoons, 35 miles to the
west, were the homes and rocky fortresses of the Apaches for centuries before
white men ever appeared on the scene. We know, from archeology findings, that
the Native American presence in these mountains stretched all the way back to
8,000 B.C. The trickle of white homesteaders into this area in the mid-
nineteenth century spelled the beginning of the end for the Apaches, as the
trickle steadily grew into a torrent, and bloody encounters between the two
groups in the form of attacks, raids, counter-raids, cold-blooded murder, and
out-right massacres ensued and eventually brought in the U.S. Calvary to restore
stability to the region.
The Chiricahua version of a rock garden.
The nearby Fort Bowie was established at Apache Pass in 1862, and served as the
base of operations for the next 25 years, as the cavalry waged a bloody and
prolonged war on the Apaches, under the leadership of Cochise and then Geronimo.
A peace treaty with Cochise in 1872 resulted in the settlement of him and his
followers on a temporary reservation in Pinery Canyon in the Chiricahuas.
Following his death two years later, the Apaches were forcibly removed from
Pinery Canyon and shipped to the hot, barren San Carlos Reservation in the Gila
River Valley far to the north. Most of the remaining tribe, under the leadership
of Geronimo, was rounded up and shipped by train to reservations in distant and
remote Florida, never to see their Arizona homeland again. The surrender of
Geronimo and his remaining band of warriors soon followed in 1886, sealing the
final fate of the Apaches and closing a long chapter of Native American history
in Arizona. Fort Bowie was abandoned, the cavalry soon departed, white settlers
were safe at last from surprise attack, and the once mighty and proud Chiricahua
Apaches no longer existed in their native homeland in these rugged and beautiful
Chiricahua and Dragoon Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Did justice or
travesty prevail in this bitter struggle? You be the judge, but let your heart
make that decision.
We waited until almost 8:30 for Anatoli and Natasha, before departing camp and
making our way up the scenic Bonita Canyon Drive to Echo Canyon Trailhead, our
starting point for the Heart of Rocks Trail that we would be hiking today. By
9:00 AM on this beautiful Saturday morning in the Chiricahuas, we were gathered
at the 6,780-foot trailhead for a group picture, before stepping out onto the
trail that would take us first through the breathtaking Echo Canyon, probably
the most scenic part of today’s hike.
The trail weaves through dense
chaparral thickets of manzanita, scrub oak, pinyon pine, alligator juniper,
Arizona cypress, and Emory oak, as it descends to the heavily wooded Echo Park.
Twelve hikers gather at the Echo Canyon Loop Trailhead.
Front Row (kneeling): Chuck, Rudy, Glenn, and Sam
Second Row: Jo, Joyce, Candi, Liyan, and Michael
Third Row: Fred, Matt, and Scott
Along the way, we traverse through an almost surreal labyrinth of rocky spires,
pinnacles, hoodoos, massive stone columns, and narrow passageways weaving
through and around rocky grottos created by a combination of wind and water
All of our cameras are extra busy burning film on this portion of the
trail, as we try to capture the beauty of this unique and vast landscape before
us and forever freeze these brief instants in time on film.
Descending through the cool, shaded forests of oaks, pines, junipers, and
cypress in Echo Park, we soon find ourselves on the canyon floor and in the even
deeper shade of towering ponderosa pines, soaring oaks, sprawling sycamores,
Arizona madrone, and even a few Douglas fir, some soaring sixty feet or higher
into the deep blue Arizona sky of this spectacular Saturday morning in the
Chiricahuas. We take a short rest break on the cool canyon floor, before
starting the almost 900-foot ascent through Sarah Deming Canyon to the start of
the 0.9-mile Heart of Rocks Loop Trail. After finally completing this long
ascent, Sam and I, who are bringing up the rear as we stop to take numerous
pictures, get a call from Candi over the TalkAbout radios informing us that the
rest of the group is going to stop by Big Balanced Rock, just outside of the
Heart of Rocks Loop, for a lunch break. That sounds like good news to us, and we
hasten to meet them. We shortly catch up with the rest of our group and all
enjoy a leisurely lunch break in the shade of a rocky ledge just out of view of
Big Balanced Rock, in anticipation of the beautiful hike that awaits us.
The first of many spectacular sights.
Fred, Rudy, Jo, Candi, Joyce, and Chuck
in front of Big Balanced Rock.
After lunch and before starting the Heart of Rocks Loop Trail, we decide on one
more group picture by Big Balanced Rock. This structure is shorter in height,
but larger in diameter then Pinnacle Balanced Rock. Just to the left of Big
Balanced Rock, we notice a smaller balanced rock that has already met its fate,
as it lies toppled on its side up against a taller column of rock. The power of
erosion is in evidence everywhere in this monument of stony splendor, and
nothing—not the largest, nor the smallest structure – can escape its
powerful grasp in the end. The largest sandstone monoliths in the Grand Canyon
that would dwarf anything in the Chiricahuas, will one day be reduced to fine
sand and gravel.
The short Heart of Rocks loop trail is a virtual Alice-in-Wonderland of
whimsical fairly land figures carved into stone, including the Camel’s
Head, Thor’s Hammer, Punch & Judy, Duck on a Rock, the Totem Pole, the
Old Maid Rock, Kissing Rock, and finally the awesome Pinnacle Balanced Rock—a
thousand ton pillar of rock delicately perched on a base approximately eighteen
inches in diameter.
Punch & Judy
One can only wonder just how much more of its narrow base
can erode away, before this magnificent pillar of stone topples over in a
thunderous crash that will echo far and wide through the stony wonders of
Chiricahua National Monument.
Big Balanced Rock and its unfortunate neighbor.
Anatoli and Natasha
About one third of the way through the loop trail, Sam and I, once again in
the rear taking lots of pictures of these unique formations, finally meet up
with Anatoli and Natasha, who explained that they were unable to leave the
Phoenix area as early as planned, and as a result arrived too late to start the
hike with us.
They had also hiked in from the Visitor Center and would be
returning the same way after completing the loop trail. The four of us hike
together for awhile, before Candi and her lead group then join us, as they
complete the loop trail from the opposite direction. We soon split up once again
and all eventually make our way out of this magical and scenic Heart of Rocks
area and back onto the main trail for the start of our 3.1-mile hike back to the
trailhead. We make relatively quick time on this return loop, since there is not
quite as much to photograph, and we are all getting a bit tired and anxious to
reach the trailhead and head back to camp. By 4:00 PM we are all assembled back
at Echo Canyon Trailhead and ready to make our way back down Bonita Canyon Drive
to our campsite.
Arriving back in camp, we all clean up and rest for awhile with a few cold ones,
while discussing our options for the evening. We had missed last night’s
ranger talk on Buffalo Soldiers, because of a late dinner start, and determined
to make tonight’s talk on rattlesnakes. However, Anatoli suggests catching
the sunset from Massai Point at the end of Bonita Canyon Drive as an
alternative. Some opt for the ranger talk, while the rest of us head out to
Massai Point in hopes of witnessing one of the spectacular sunsets the
Chiricahuas are noted for. While waiting for the sun to get lower to the horizon
and begin its magic, Candi and Sam take advantage of the remaining light to
do a little rock climbing, and I pull out my camera and take advantage of this
opportunity to get two rock climbers in action.
Sam gets in some quality rock climbing.
Sam and Candi have made it to the top!
As the sun gets lower to the
horizon, its setting rays start to light up a band of clouds on the horizon,
gradually changing them from off-white, to light orange, to scarlet-orange, and
finally a beautiful, deepening shade of crimson. Thanks, Anatoli, for a great
suggestion. Much better than rattlesnakes, this spectacular sunset in the
Nightfall is quickly approaching, as we note that the others are still away for
the ranger talk, and make preparations for our potluck dinner on this, our last
night together in the Chiricahuas.
Potluck turned out to be a gross misnomer in
this case, since the spread we soon had before us was more of a great
smorgasbord of culinary delights in the form of numerous fresh fruits and
veggies, boiled eggs, fresh sautéed asparagus, saffron rice with a hint of
curry, tortellini in garlic-mushroom sauce, sliced ham, a deli plate, special
Russian dishes like eggplant caviar, pickled tomatoes, and pickled mushrooms,
and a large, crusty loaf of French bread.
Dessert (who could eat it?) consisted
of pistachio parfait, fruit Jell-O, and chocolate chip cookies.
Candi was quoted as saying this was by far the healthiest and the best camping
trip potluck she had ever enjoyed. The rest of us concurred, as we continued
stuffing ourselves, and agreed that we would have to assemble this same group
in this same place this time next year. Chiricahua—2003!
Close-up of Cochise Head.
Rudy and the others returning from the rattlesnake talk update us after dinner
on the subject of rattlesnakes in the Chiricahuas. It seems there are at least
four different species of rattlers slithering around out there in the brush, the
deadliest being the Mojave Rattlesnake. In the event of an actual snakebite, one
should try to remain calm, elevate the bite area, and seek medical care as
quickly as possible. Self-treatment of any kind is no longer recommended.
Fortunately, we never came across any of these rattling serpents during our stay
in the Chiricahuas, although one of our hikers did encounter a diamondback the
week before on the Fossil Springs hike. After a short discussion on options for
Sunday, most of us retire for the evening under the star-filled night skies over
the Chiricahuas, pleasantly tired from the day’s busy activities.
Michael, Naomi, Skyler, and Areyna standing in their rock fortress.
Sunday morning dawned partly cloudy and cool again, as we went about preparing
breakfast and thinking about our options for the day. Our main short-term goal
was to vacate the campsite by the 11:00 AM check out time. On one of my trips
across the wash to our vehicles yesterday, I had noticed young Michael He going
to a lot of work stacking river rock. It seems that he had decided to build a
small rock fort.
What was just a lot of assorted rock piles yesterday had now
taken the distinct and quite symmetrical shape of a small rock fortress, with
two-foot high rock walls and an entryway.
Joyce, Jo, and Rudy enjoy Sunday morning breakfast.
The full structure measured roughly
four by eight feet and was quite a remarkable engineering feat for Michael and
his three talented helpers: Naomi, Areyna, and Skyler.
Nancy Clarke had stayed
behind yesterday with these four busy fort builders and checked out the Visitor
Center and Faraway Ranch, while the rest of us were on the Heart of Rocks hike.
I would take their picture later, as they stood proudly in the middle of their
fort. Great job, you guys!
As the morning progressed, we began taking down our tents and packing away
supplies, as we said goodbye to our fellow campers, one by one. Most had opted
to start heading home or check out a few more sights before leaving. Before
long, Candi and I, along with Glenn, Fred, Michael, and Sam had the campsite
to ourselves. The place seemed eerily quite and empty now, where 14 tents had
once stood. We were in no real hurry to leave, since we had decided to take in
the scenic lookouts along Bonita Canyon Drive, perhaps do a short hike, and get
to Faraway Ranch for the 2:00 PM afternoon tour. Candi decided to check out my
new camp chair with built-in footrest and got so darned comfortable and relaxed,
we had a heck of a time prying her back out to pack up her tent.
I should talk, since mine was still standing as well. It was almost 11:00 when
we finally had everything packed away and did a final check for trash and
anything that might have been left behind.
The last day at camp is always a bit sad, knowing the trip is soon coming to an
end, as we head out for our final journey through the Chiricahuas.
Candi, Glenn, and Fred on a relaxing Sunday morning.
After completing the Bonita Canyon Drive lookouts and even doing a bit of rock
climbing at the Organ Pipe lookout to get a better view over the trees, we stop
for a lunch break near the Natural Bridge trailhead. After lunch, we realize we
don’t have sufficient time to do any hiking and make it back in time for
the tour, so decide to head straight for Faraway Ranch, after first checking in
at the Visitor Center. We meet our friendly ranger guide, Katherine, outside of
the main house, as she tells us a bit of background history of the area before
the actual tour begins. She also tells us a rather strange story about a German
couple who insisted on having their picture taken, while standing in the middle
of the nearby bathtub that I had mentioned earlier in this report. We all got a
good chuckle out of that one. H’mm. Yes, very strange indeed.
Cloudy skies hang over Faraway Ranch.
Ranger Katherine then escorted us into the Faraway Ranch house, as she began
unfolding the story of the Erickson family and showing us through the different
Swedish immigrants, Neil and Emma Erickson were among the very first
white settlers, along with the nearby Stafford family, to settle in Bonita
The Ericksons and their baby daughter, Lillian, homesteaded one of
Stafford’s cabins and 160 acres of surrounding land in 1888. Two more
children followed, and the cabin was enlarged a couple of times. As it became
more of a working ranch, it gradually expanded to its present day form, with the
addition of a second story and several more rooms. Neil Erickson, now in the
U.S. Forest Service, was eventually transferred to Flagstaff, and management of
the ranch was left to Lillian and her two siblings, Ben and Hildegard, who soon
started taking in paying guests to supplement the income of the cattle ranching
operation. This would eventually become a very lucrative business in itself.
Lillian was eventually left to run the operation by herself and coined the name
Faraway Ranch, since it was, as she put it, “so god awful far away from
everything”. Lillian married Ed Riggs in 1923, and they expanded the guest
ranch business, built trails, and took guests on horseback rides to see what
they called the “Wonderland of Rocks”. Largely because of their
tireless efforts in promoting the area and pushing for the idea of a national
park to preserve it for future generations, Chiricahua National Monument was
established in 1924. Ed died in 1950, and Lillian, a very strong-willed woman
known as the “Lady Boss”, continued running the place single-
handedly, despite being blind now from an earlier fall from a horse. For the
next 25 years she ran a thriving cattle ranch and guest ranch business at the
now famous Faraway Ranch, before retiring to a rest home in Wilcox in 1975, at
the age of 87. After Lillian’s death two years later, Faraway Ranch was
purchased by the Park Service and placed on the National Register of Historic
Places in 1980. Lillian and most of her family now rest peacefully in a quite
little cemetery at the mouth of their beloved Bonita Canyon, amidst the
“Wonderland of Rocks” they worked so tirelessly to preserve.
With the tour concluded, we walk around for one last look at the ranch and its
magnificent surroundings, take a few more pictures, and begin our long journey
back to the Phoenix area, as we leave behind this very magical and wondrous
place known first as “The Land of the Standing-Up Rocks” by its
former Apache inhabitants and then later as “The Wonderland of
Rocks” by descendents of a Swedish immigrant family. It is getting close
to dinnertime as we arrive in the Tucson area, so we decide to check out the El
Charro Café, highly recommend by our tour guide, Ranger Katherine. It is
an excellent old-style Mexican restaurant, built in an older section of Tucson in
1922, and we will make a special point of stopping here again on the next trip
to the Chiricahuas, hopefully this time next year. The Chiricahuas are, after
all, one of those uniquely special Arizona places that keeps pulling you back
time after time after time.
From the prospective of Candi Cook, a first-time visitor to Chiricahua National
I tend to prefer backcountry areas, where the camping area is very secluded and
there are few others around, except for those in your party. This campground
managed to make one feel as if your group was the only one in the area, with the
added luxuries of running water and flush toilets. It was definitely a unique
area and very well maintained. The interpretive signs on the trails, lookout
points, and in the Faraway Ranch area included a lot of good historical notes,
allowing one to really go back in time and personally feel and re-live the
In many of my experiences in Arizona, I seem to always say I have not seen this
landscape/terrain before. And each time the area seems just as beautiful as
before, with its own unique qualities. Chiricahua National Monument definitely
was the next place of interesting and incredible beauty. On the trek to the
park, you get a glimpse of the skyline, which entices you into its spell. When
you drive in and begin to really see the rock formations, plant life, and
wildlife, you are then entranced. The rock formations are like none I have ever
seen before. As we approached our campsite, I was a bit anxious, because I do
not prefer camping in large groups, and I certainly do not like the idea of a
campground that you share with strangers in the other campsites. I was
pleasantly surprised by the layout of the campsites, and in particular I liked
the beautiful setting in the group site. There was plenty of room to set up
tents, among various trees and plant life, along with a very nice area with
tables to convene for cooking, drinking, and relaxing.
Chuck, Joyce, Fred, Jo, Rudy, Michael, Glenn, and Candi take a break from hiking.
As we sat and relaxed on the first day, it was slightly difficult to get
motivated for the short hike to Faraway Ranch. However, I knew if we did not
take full advantage of our time, we could miss something, and I did not want to
do that. Along our walk to the Faraway Ranch we stopped to read the signs about
the plant life. I found this particularly informative, and enjoyed the fact that
we then proceeded to look for and identify the various trees that were
described. The leisurely stroll to the Ranch and back was a perfect start to a
great weekend. After greeting the late arrivals and eating dinner, we sat around
and had a nice conversation. We were then serenaded to sleep at night by
lullabies from a variety of birds and brought out of sleep in the morning by a
continuation of their sweet songs. After a fulfilling breakfast, the journey for
the day began, and we headed to our much-awaited hike. I am not sure words could
begin to truly describe the beauty that our eyes beheld. There were incredible
formations of rocks that were endless in sight. At times the patterns of rock
formations reminded me of a hall of mirrors, where the formations continued on
and on in a mirror-like image out to infinity.
I enjoyed identifying the various rock formations and also liked trying to
create my own. Furthermore, I liked the hiking route; we were brought right into
the heart of rocks and then brought out in a nice forest walk. The decision to
go up to the Cochise Head lookout and visitor center after the hike was great.
After seeing the beautiful creations brought on by natural evolution, we read
about the history and the actual steps that built the masterpiece of rocks. As
if we had not already had enough scenery adrenaline for the day, watching the
sunset was a perfect closing to a beautiful day. After the sunset, we went back
to the campsite to devour all of the items brought by each person for the
potluck. I thought I was not going to be able to participate because of my
strict diet. Who has seen such a spread of fresh and sautéed vegetables
at a camp cook out? I typically have not, but certainly enjoyed the arrangement
of various foods, ranging from eggplant caviar to sautéed asparagus,
and stuffed cheese pasta to saffron rice. Then once again the night ended with
A sea of stone pillars, with Cochise Head on the horizon.
Sunday morning was nice, but kind of sad. Many people were disassembling their
tents and heading back into town. Luckily, the five of us had planned to see the
Faraway Ranch tour at 2pm, so we simply watched, or I simply took my time in
eating and resting – soaking up the natural beauty of the environment.
Then I got stuck in Chuck’s new camp chair, since it was just a wee bit
too comfortable. However, I managed to get out with enough time to spare to pack
up my tent and belongings and leave the site by 11am. We all enjoyed a nice
lunch at the trailhead of the natural bridge hike, and then enjoyed stopping and
taking pictures at the various viewpoints along Bonita Canyon Drive. To sum up
our trip – we took a trip down history lane and took a tour with a
wonderful and informative guide through Faraway Ranch. We were brought through
the initial steps of creation, the years of operations, and the end point at
which it was created as a National Monument and became recognized as a
significant area of natural beauty.