WILL THE “LAND OF STANDING-UP ROCKS”, BECOME AMERICA’S SIXITH PARK, THE CHIRICAHUA NATIONAL PARK IN SOUTHEAST ARIZONA, IS “A WONDER LAND OF ROCKS”
One of Arizona’s Crown Jewels has been tapped to be the next American National Park, the hoodoo paradise, of the Chiricahua National Monument has long been one of Southeastern Arizona’s best kept secrets…today that secret is out!
The Chiricahua National Monument is under consideration to become the 60th U.S. National Park. Few who visit would argue that the pinnacles, columns, spires and balanced rocks of this place ‘The Land of Standing-Up Rocks’, a befitting name given by the Apache to this extraordinary rock garden. In the late 1800s pioneers lobbied and persuaded Congress to protect this ‘Wonderland of Rocks’, and in 1924 the Chiricahua National Monument was created.
The proposal on the table makes the 12,000 acres monument, designated since 1928, a Federal Park featuring the eight mile Bonita Drive weaving through the volcanic features with hoodoos reaching toward the sky. It is a photographer wonderland from the moment the sun breaks the horizon and spotlights the amazing black ridge lines.
The Monument’s, Echo Canyon Loop Nature Trail, is perfect for short distance legs, folks who want to stretch their legs after a long drive but don’t want to break out the water bottles and packs—it is less than a mile long. Topside you greet the sun and wander the summit enjoying the different points of view. For some this is just the beginning, since this is the trailhead for the Heart-of-Rocks trail which is a downhill stroll for eleven miles back to the front entrance to the Monuments visitor’s center. A shuttle is available early Saturday mornings at the visitor center.
The SouthWest History that swirls around the twenty mile by forty mile Chiricahua’s enriches the choice and makes some wish for additional units to preserve spots like Fort Bowie, Johnny Ringo’s Gravesite or Skeleton Canyon where Geronimo surrendered, many of these on private land today. The dirt road over the Chiricahua Mountain summit, Pinery Canyon Road, allows access to Rustler’s Park and many ridge line hiking trails. Dropping down the mountain into Cave Creek and nearby Rodeo, New Mexico, the tourist is now in primetime bird-watching territory.
The Monument features the volcanic wastes from an immense explosion 27 million years ago and is now found 36 miles southeast of Wilcox, Arizona.
The eruption that shook thi region spewing thick white-hot ash from the Turkey Creek Caldrea later cooled and hardened into rhyolitic tuff, laying down almost two thousand feet of dark volcanic ash and pumice. The highly silic hoodoos eventually eroded into the natural features that we see today.
In 2008, the Chiricahua National Monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Faraway Ranch was once owned by immigrants, Neil and Emma Erickson from Sweden. In 1976, Congress decided to further preserve the land, designating 87% of the monument as Wilderness.
As well as the geological aspects of this park, the monument is host to a biological crossroads, a place where four different ecological regions all come together, the Chiricahua Mountains, the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Madre ranges all meet. The convergence of these four areas bring richness in both floral and faunal diversity, like the Rocky Mountain representatives such as the Ponderosa pine and Engelmann spruce co-exist beside the Soap tree yucca from the Chihuahuan desert. Stately Arizona sycamore and various types of oak dot the well-watered canyons. Apache pine grows here at the most northern end of the Sierra Madre range. Chihuahua pine is found, as are Douglas and White fir, Arizona cypress, Cane cholla, Prickly pear and several species of ferns, mushrooms, and fungi. There are five major drainages within the monument, several with intermittent creeks that support a mixture of deciduous and evergreen woodlands. The heavily forested canyons provide habitat for numerous wildlife, including coatimundi, white-tailed deer, javalina, and many species of birds; over three hundred bird species are found in the Chiricahua Mountains, some of whom have migrated north from Mexico.
The Chiricahua Mountains are part of a collection of forty neighboring mountain groups that lie between the Colorado Plateau and the Sierra Madre Occidental. Named the Madrean Archipelago, because it resembles an oceanic archipelago – a sea dotted with islands – only here the sea is hot desert grassland. These isolated mountain ranges are called ‘sky islands’.
Chances for the proposed Chiricahua National park, Tucson representative Martha McSally has championed the choice and financially, it seems a wash, for the U.S. Park Service. There is little difference between being a national park and a monument, they are managed and funded exactly the same. This push for National Park status boils down to an attempt to increase attendance which in turns provides increased funding. There is no change in the present boundaries expected.
Some one familiar with the proposal says people who are unfamiliar with an area and depend on guide books tend to believe national parks are more splendid, grand than mere monuments, even though that’s not necessarily true. But that’s what the public generally believes, so making it a park will bring more people to visit and therefore generate more revenue to manage it.
The gold pan of Arizona, SouthEast Arizona, home to Tombstone, a huge icon for all of the wild west that spilled over the landscape will get a huge shot in the arm if Congress acts on the proposal to make the Chiricahua National Monument the 60th U.S. National Park. Statistically, national parks get ten times more tourism, than do national monuments. So the new park who might see 50,000 annual visitors today could begin drawing in close to a half million tourists each year who may require meals, hotel rooms and gasoline.
Often linked with the Apache Indian War Fort Bowie and the Coronado National Park combined the new park could attract up to 200,000 annual visitors that moves the needle up toward two million potential new visitors to Cochise County where a huge economic
could make a big difference in the once Copper rich county. Today National Parks strive to bring increased economic value to their surroundings and in particular to communities of color, like Benson, Douglas, Bisbee and Wilcox, making the Chiricahua National Park a good fit for the goals of the U.S. National Park Service.
Montezuma Pass (above) provides access for the US-Mexico Border as well as for Coronado National Monument commemorating the spot where Conquistadors first crossed into the U.S. from Mexico.
The competition to become the nation’s 60th U.S. National Park is very strong. Mount Hood, Portland, Oregon’s premier tourist spot is in the running. Stronghold Table in the south Unit of Badlands National Park, has been recommended to be the nation’s first Tribal National Park in partnership with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and would expand recreation and visitation and, the prospect of a Tribal National Park, could be impactful.
In 1963 the Colorado River was dammed and allowed to back up 186 miles through Glen Canyon forming Lake Powell. Built originally to provide a water supply to the arid Southwest, today the dam undermines that very objective and it has caused damage across the Colorado River Basin. Before the dam, Glen Canyon was the biological heart of the Colorado River, with more than 79 species of plants, 189 species of birds, and 34 species of mammals; and a cultural treasure, with more than 3,000 ancient ruins. All of that was lost!
The Glen Canyon Institute says it is no longer viable to maintain two half-empty reservoirs — Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The practical alternative would be to drain most of the water in Lake Powell into Lake Mead, and turn Glen Canyon into a National Park.
Lots of politics wrapped up in Glen Canyon, in a time of state’s rights, is it really smart to take the Crown jewel of the Portland tourist trade making it a federal park when a state park would send all the money back into the community? My money rides with the Chiricahua National Park, National Park Status would bring in tourist dollars and pesos, federal infrastructure cash, good salary jobs, an steady infusion into a dull economy. Lots of history surrounding the present Chiricahua National Monument. Scene of struggles between the Apache war chief Geronimo, Apache War fort, Fort Bowie, a short distance from the present Chiricahua National Monument Visitor Center, down the road a pieces is Johnny Ringo’s Grave, Turkey Creek Camping and Rucker Lake offers both hunting and fishing…Tombstone and Bisbee both would benefit from additional spending in the borderlands of Arizona called Cochise County.