Times Spent Outdoors: Priceless!

Chiricahua National Monument

Add This Sky Island To Your Bucket List

The Chiricahua Mountains are a sky island in the southeast corner of Arizona – not a place you'd probably pass by on your way to somewhere else. But if you have never been there, you seriously need to add a visit to the Chiricahuas to your bucket list.

The rock formations are spectacular – you will see towering hoodoos, rocks that look precariously balanced, shady grottos, and miles of standing columns that might remind you of a gargantuan army marching in formation.

First Things First

When you first arrive, take the time to stop at the tiny graveyard just outside the entrance. Chiricahua pioneers rest there under the trees. Continue on into the National Monument to the Visitor Center. This is where you buy your permit, and you can also purchase maps and books. There are some exhibits here that explain some things about the monument, plus there are picnic tables in shady spots, and a couple of trails.

In fact, one of my favorite trails there was the short easy trail from the Visitor's Center to the Faraway ranch and/or Bonita Creek Campground. This trail passes through some lovely forest. We spotted more deer and birds on this trail than on any other in the area. Coues deer were everywhere, and didn't seem to mind us much at all.

There are benches here and there in case you'd like to sit and just look around. There are also some ruins, including two large fireplaces along the trail. You'll pass a pretty meadow, a streambed, and a hill, so you get plenty of opportunity to spot wildlife. One of the strangest things along the trail is a very tiny jail made by barring up a cave opening. Peering inside will give you instant claustrophobia. I'd have hated to be a prisoner there!

Faraway Ranch

Stop at the Faraway Ranch and find out when the tour starts. We took the tour and found out all kinds of interesting things about the ranch and the Ericksons who built it. The Faraway Ranch eventually ended up being a dude ranch, and you'll get to tour the two-story home and see the swimming pool. While you are waiting for the tour to start, be sure to check out the little building behind the wooden benches.

There are lots of old things in there to look at. There is a bell hanging from the tree by the benches, and when that bell begins to ring, the tour is about to start.

The road past the Visitor Center is a scenic drive that winds up the mountain and takes you past a million gorgeous views. The Visitor Center is at 5,400 feet and Massai Point at the end of the road is 6,870. When you plan your visit, bear that in mind - it can be chilly and even snowy from December to March, and in the monsoon season (July-September) there can be sudden dangerous thunderstorms with lightning.

Many Hiking Trails

Once you get to the top of the mountain there are many hiking trails to choose from. There are actually about 17 miles of trails in the Chiricahua National Monument, and they are all amazing. There is a really nice 1/2-mile nature trail that I highly recommend. You will see a lot of great rock formations and learn a bit about the ecosystem around you. There is an exhibit building, too.

At Echo Canyon there are lots of hikes to choose from. When we were there, we found out that if you are at the Visitor's Center at 8:00 a.m. sharp, they have a shuttle that will take you to Echo Canyon Trailhead, and you can make the 7.3 mile hike back down the mountain to the Visitor's Center. On the way you'll see some of the most famous rock formations in the park. Be sure to ask about that when you are at the Visitor's Center.

I also highly recommend the Echo Canyon trail. Depending on how long you have, or how hard you want to hike, you can make this trail as short or as long as you want. But do at least go as far as the Grotto – you'll find yourself surrounded by gigantic stones that tower over the trail and form cool, shady rooms where you can sit and sip some water and enjoy the breeze.

Fort Bowie

Between Willcox and the Chiricahua National Monument is another great site – Fort Bowie National Historic Site. The day we hiked in we were the only ones there besides the ranger at the Visitor Center. The hike in is part of the fun. It's a three-mile round trip, so allow at least two hours. We spent almost four because we spent a long time wandering around the ruins and looking at things in the visitor center.

You'll hike past the remains of a Butterfield Stage Coach Station, the post cemetery, and even an Apache wickiup. The best part is Apache Spring, one of the prettiest places I've ever seen in Arizona. I would seriously love to live there.

There are picnic tables and restrooms at the trailhead and there are picnic tables and water at the visitor center.

Amazing history, fabulous scenery, animals and plants galore – what more could you want? Plan a trip to southeastern Arizona soon.

Getting There

The Chiricahuas are about 120 miles southeast of Tucson. Take I-10 east from Tucson to the first exit for Willcox. Travel 3 miles into town to the stoplight and turn right.

You will follow Arizona State Highway 186 for 32 miles to the junction of Arizona State Highway 181. Turn left and 4 miles later you will be at the Chiricahua entrance station. (Plan to stop and pay your respects at the tiny graveyard near the entrance. It's a nice photo op.)

Entrance fees are $5.00 per person, children 15 and younger are free. The Interagency Senior, Access,

and Annual Passes are honored. The Chiricahua Park Pass is available for $20 and provides entrance for the pass owner and up to three other adults.

Staying There

There are no hotels or gas stations in or near the Monument. Bonita Canyon Campground is open year-round and does not take reservations. First come, first served. Individual campsite fees are $12 per night or $6 for owners of an Interagency Senior or Access Pass. Group site fees are $3 per person, per night.

The site will accommodate 8-24 people in tents only. You may reserve

the group site by calling 520-824-3560 x0. Ranger programs at the campground usually start in March. Busiest months are March and April when the campground is typically

full every night. If you don't want to camp, or the campground is full, there are other campgrounds south of the Monument, or you can get a hotel room in Willcox.

No RVs or trailers over 29 feet long are allowed past the visitor center. Dogs must be on a leash and can't be left alone. They are only allowed on certain trails, so if you are planning a hiking trip, it's best to leave Fido home.


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