Chiricahua National Monument

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Exploring Chiricahua National Monument is exploring a fantasy world of extraordinary rock sculpturesthat were created by the forces of nature over millions of years. Called the"Land of the Standing-UpRocks" by Chiricahua Apaches and later the "Wonderland of Rocks" by pioneers, this northwest corner ofthe Chiricahua Mountains harbors towering rock spires, massive stone columns, and balanced rocksweighing hundreds of tons that perch delicately on small pedestals. Where hundreds of these rocks occurtogether, such as in the Heart of Rocks, the landscape appears as a rugged badlands.

The story behind the rocks is not completely understood, but geologists believe that about 27 million yearsago violent volcanic eruptions from nearby Turkey Creek caldera spewed forth thick white-hot ash. Theash cooled and fused into an almost 2,000-foot thick layer of dark volcanic rock known as rhyolite. TheChiricahua Mountains formed from this rock upheaval, and then the masters of erosion—water, wind,and ice—began sculpting the rock into odd formations. Erosion carved along weak vertical andhorizontal cracks forming the fascinating rock forms preserved today in Chiricahua NationalMonument.

The Chiricahua Mountains are a world apart from the surrounding Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts. Inthese cool, moist forested "sky islands" dwell many plants and animals of the Southwest and—whatmakes these mountains different—a number of Mexican species. Mexico is 50 miles to the south, yet the Chiricahuas special mix of life is more like that found in the Mexican Sierra Madres than in thesehighlands. Influence from the south is strong; many trees, wildflowers, and animals have crossed theborder into Chiricahua National Monument.

Most conspicuous are the rare birds, such as Sulphur-bellied flycatchers, Mexican chickadees, and Eleganttrogan, which make the area a natural mecca for birders. The Mexican influence includes mammals, suchas the Apache fox squirrel, coatimundis, and peccaries, and trees, including the Chihuahua pine andApache pine. Mexican species intermingle with plants and animals more common to Southwestmountains. The plant variety is rich, from cactus in the lowlands, to oaks, alligator juniper, and Arizonacypress in Canyon forests, to manzanita-buckthorn-skunkbush chaparral on ridges, to ponderosa pine,Douglas fir, and aspen that cover the highest slopes.

The monument is a mecca for hikers and birders. At the intersection of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts, and the southern Rocky Mountains and northern Sierra Madre in Mexico, Chiricahua plants and animals represent one of the premier areas for biological diversity in the northern hemisphere.

Of historic interest is the Faraway Ranch, a pioneer homestead and later a working cattle and guest ranch. It is a significant example of human transformation of the western frontier from wilderness to the present settlement. Faraway Ranch offers glimpses into the lives of Swedish immigrants Neil and Emma Erickson, and their children. The house is furnished with historic artifacts which not only give us reminders of our youth and our ancestors, but one can also trace the development of technology during the first half of the twentieth century.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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