Library image #3035
: An autumnal shaded hillside shines in the light of a setting sun; reds and golds are complemented by the tall, green pines.
The United States Congress designated the Chiricahua National Monument Wilderness (map
) in 1976 and it now has a total of 10,290 acres
All of this wilderness is located in Arizona
and is managed by the National Park Service.
About 27 million years ago the Turkey Creek volcano, in the heart of the Chiricahua Mountains, spewed forth more than 100 cubic miles of white-hot ash and pumice that settled, fused, and cooled into a 2,000-foot-thick layer of grey volcanic rock known as rhyolite. Then, nature’s sculptors (ice, water, wind) began whittling away at the rock to eventually create craggy grottoes, towering rock spires, massive stone columns, and balanced rocks weighing hundreds of tons. Known to the Chiricahua Apache Indians as "Land of the Standing-Up Rocks," this wonderland of rocks was renamed Chiricahua National Monument by the National Park Service
The Wilderness encompasses most of the monument on this “sky island” mountain range where snow falls in winter and summer temperatures hover “mildly” in the 90s with dramatic monsoon thunderstorms. It is a unique crossroads of plants and animals from four ecosystems: the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts, plus the Rocky Mountains and Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains. Cactus, yuccas, and mesquite in the grassy lowlands give way to sycamore, oaks, alligator juniper, and Arizona cypress in the canyons with Apache, Chihuahuan, and Ponderosa pines plus Douglas fir in the high country as you travel the 8-mile scenic drive to Massai Point. Watch for Chiricahua fox squirrels, coati-mundi, javelina, and black bears. This birdwatchers’ paradise is home to the rare sulphur-bellied flycatchers, Mexican chickadees, and red-faced warblers.
The 17 miles of day-use trails offer something for hikers of any ability. Try the Massai Nature Trail for a quick overview of the Wilderness while the 3.3-mile moderate Echo Canyon Loop winds among the pinnacles. More challenging is the 0.9-mile jaunt to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain, the 4.8-mile round trip Natural Bridge Trail, and the 7.3-mile round-trip hike to the Heart of Rocks, location of the most unusual named formations. No overnight camping is permitted in the Wilderness. The Bonita Canyon Campground has 25 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Stock up on supplies in Willcox, AZ because there are no services in the monument. The visitor center is open daily 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.