February 14, 2011

2/13/11 – Chiricahua NM

Chiricahua is Apache for “Wild Turkeys”.  We didn’t see any at the park—or on the way to or from the park.  I did see a javelina though.  It was inside a barbed wire fence next to the road about 10 miles from the park.  I got so excited about seeing it that I didn’t tell George in time for him to see it too.  It really does look like a wild pig.  Kinda ugly, actually…
Chiricahua NM is located in a “sky island”—an isolated mountain range rising above the surrounding land.   It’s nickname is the “Wonderland of Rocks”.  The Chiricahua Apaches (yep, it’s Cochise and Geronimo country) called the pinnacles “standing up rocks”.  I rather like that.  Most of the rock columns are standing up, although some have fallen over and some have eroded to become balanced rocks on top of the tall spires.  Sometimes you wonder what keeps them up on top when they look like gravity should pull them down into the canyon.
When we stopped at the entrance station, the ranger suggested we take the tour of the Faraway Ranch.  It was going to start in about 20 minutes, so we decided to do it.  Swedish emigrants settled here in 1888, and their ranch house was turned into a guest ranch by one of their daughters in the ‘20s.  After the death of their children, it became part of the park.  Everything was left inside, just like it had been while people were living in it.  You see things in it that a family would have kept—plus newer (up to the ‘70s).  I’d had a lot of these things myself, so it was like a trip down memory lane.
We stopped at the Visitor’s Center so George could get the stamp for his Passport book.  I asked the ranger for hiking recommendations—she suggested driving up Bonita Canyon to the end at Massai Point, then coming back down to Echo Canyon.  She told us to take a triangular route—the Echo Canyon Trail through the Echo Canyon Grotto to the Hailstone Trail, then on to the Ed Riggs Trail and back to the parking lot.  Total distance a little over 3 miles.  George did his standard reminders about the altitude and the distance and going slow—but it wasn’t a problem.

First segment was through absolutely spectacular rock formations downhill to the woods.  The next one was looking out to the south and was fairly level although hot and sunny.  The last one was through pine trees (alligator pines with really odd trunks), but the climb wasn’t bad. 
We were going to detour to the Fort Bowie National Historic Site on the way back to Benson, but I read in the park newspaper that after driving the 8 mile gravel road to the Visitor’s Center, you then have to hike another mile-and-a-half to the ruins of the fort.  It was getting late, and we voted to skip it.
However…we did make a detour just before we got back to the dying town of Willcox, AZ.  A ranger at Saguaro NP had told us about the sandhill cranes that winter there.  He gave us photocopies of maps he’d used and marked exactly where to see them.  We drove past the golf course, following signs to the “Birding Area”.  The road didn’t go very close to them out in the fields, but we climbed up on the cover of the truck bed and could see hundreds, probably thousands, of them.  We could see them dancing around, and could really hear them whooping (maybe sandhill cranes don’t whoop…they were really noisy though!)  Apparently they are a very impressive sight when they move from roosting sites to feeding grounds at sunrise, and reverse it at sunset.  Maybe another time—when we’ve got telephoto lenses!
More pictures of rocks if you’re interested…

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