Day 3, Saturday, March 16, 2019
The last day of our Arizona trip, Mom and I went to Chiracahua National Monument. It is located in the Chiracahua Mountains of southeast Arizona. We had been planning to visit the day before, because I really, really wanted to go, but it had been closed due to an unusual cold front and snow the day before. When I found out it was scheduled to reopen the next day, I made sure we took the opportunity! I was so excited! However, when we got there, we learned that although the monument was technically open (The Visitor’s Center at least), the road was closed past the Visitor’s Center; basically, the scenic drive up the mountain.
Chiracahua National monument is a rugged section of land, of which approximately 85% is designated as wilderness. It protects the hoodoos and balancing rocks of a volcanic eruption 27 million years ago, when the Turkey Creek Caldera exploded and spewed white hot ash all over the area. The ash has, over time, eroded away and created the hoodoos and rock formations that exist there today. Chiracahua is high-elevation, ranging from 5,124 feet at the entrance station to 7,310 feet at the summit of its tallest mountain. In addition to the volcanic eruptions, they get the effects of seasons, and a lot of erosion from the winter rain and winds. The area was designated as a National Monument on April 18, 1924, by President Calvin Coolidge.
Chiracahua is known as the Wonderland of Rocks for its beautiful rock formations. Apparently though, people in general are less impressed by rocks than I am, as it is one of the lesser visited monuments with annual visitation in 2018 of 60,577.
We checked out the Visitor’s Center, got my passport stamps, and did a bit of shopping. There was a tour starting at the historic Faraway Ranch, so we headed over there to catch it. The Faraway Ranch started as a cattle ranch in 1886, owned and operated by Neil and Emma Erickson, Swedish immigrants who met and married in the United States. They ran the ranch as a cattle ranch from 1886 to 1917, when Neil accepted a job with the new National Park Service and had to relocate. At that point, his oldest daughter Lillian took over the operation of the ranch and began renting it out to tourists as a guest ranch.
The guest ranch was quite popular, and many people visited over the years; even though it was remote, you got all your meals provided, a chance to relax, and later on there was even a swimming pool! After running the ranch for many years, Lillian died in 1977 and the family decided to sell it to the National Park Service to be added to the monument. It was a fitting end of the ranch of the family who for so long had been a part of protecting and advocating for this beautiful area.
The home is very well preserved to its time as a guest ranch and had many artifacts belonging to the family and stretching back to the late 1880s. It was fun seeing products and items that were used there over time. An antique butter churn! Vintage cleaning products! One of the lamps in the living room was fascinating, with a beautiful hand painted shade painted by one of the women in the Erickson family. Lillian went blind as she got older, and although she still managed the ranch with help from her staff, she did need accommodations. One of the items on display are her Braille playing cards!
A quarter mile away, there is a rustic cabin that once belonged to a neighbor of the Erickson family. Mom and I walked down there to check it out, despite the cold. It would have been tough to live in such a remote area during a cold, Arizona winter. And yes, in case you were wondering, parts of Arizona get very cold.
Interestingly, it was near here that Park Ranger Paul Fugate disappeared without a trace in 1980, so there’s a cold case for you amateur sleuths to research. Hopefully one day they find out what happened to him, so his family can have closure.
After we visited the ranch, we ate lunch at a picnic table and got word from a park employee that the road up the mountain had reopened! We got to drive up and see the beautiful scenery! Chiracahua is known for its hoodoos, narrow canyons and rock formations. Unfortunately, there was a thick layer of fog blanketing the higher elevations of the monument. We drove to the top of the road, but our views were non-existent once we got very high. We did get to see some gorgeous rock formations at the lower elevations though, which were still above 5,000 feet!
I still enjoyed visiting, but definitely want to return when it is warm enough to do some hiking and see the view. I bet it is spectacular!