Sunday, December 11, 2016

Chiricahua National Monument

I'd been curious about Chiricahua National Monument for awhile. Long before The Kid applied for and got her promotion and transfer to the southeastern corner of Arizona, I did an application through for a campground host slot at Chiricahua National Monument. At the time I didn't know much about it other than (a) it's located in southern Arizona, (b) it stays snow-free enough that their campground is open year-round otherwise they wouldn't be looking for winter campground hosts, and (c) they were advertising on

Unlike most of the applications I've done, which seem to vanish into an electronic void never to be heard of again, CHIR did a fast response. I got a nice note from the volunteer coordinator at the park that was in essence a FOAD but phrased quite politely: the VIP slot had been filled, but thanks for applying. I did an equally nice note back saying that if they had a cancellation, keep us in mind. That was back in the fall of 2014, I promptly shoved CHIR to the back of my mind until we got down here. That's when it turned into a "must visit it and get that NPS Passport stamp."

Yes, I fear I have turned into one of those visitors that annoy park staff: the visitor who doesn't really give a rat's patoot about what resources a park might happen to have -- historic buildings, gorgeous scenery, good hiking trails -- but just heads straight for the passport station at the Visitor Center, stamps his or her little blue book, does a 180 back to the parking lot, and heads for home.

Okay, so I'm not quite that bad. I do usually do one lap around the gift shop area to pick up a magnet or a book, do a quick perusal of the park information (e.g., walk through whatever museum-like area they have), and then exit. And at CHIR we did do the scenic drive up to two lookouts and amble over a fairly short trail that had signage at various points explaining just what we were looking at.
Nifty overlook that had a wall that to me felt much, much too low.
We also did a drive through of the campground. I do believe the phrase "narrow escape" would be fit quite nicely. Having seen it, I am so relieved we never got a call to go there. On the positive side, it did have potable water available. On the down side. . . can I start with it's a flood plain in a part of the country notorious for flash floods that can hit with zero warning, the spaces were small, and the whole campground felt super claustrophobic. It was also booked full that weekend. Why is a mystery, because having seen it, I certainly have no desire to ever camp there. It also supposedly had a campground host, but once again (just like at Cochise Stronghold) where that campground host was hiding was a mystery. There was a popup camper on one of three sites identified in the Visitor Center as campground host locations but no signs of life and for sure no signage right in the campground telling campers where the host could be found. Strange, but not my problem.
CCC-constructed fire lookout perched on a mountain top.

As for CHIR itself, it's not bad.The terrain is interesting. As one might surmise from the name, it's a chunk of the Chiricahua Mountains. Over millennia wind and water carved the rock into interesting formations referred to as "hoodoos." Some sections of the park have more than others, but the scenery definitely isn't boring. There are good hiking trails of various lengths and difficulties, and, for people who have horses, there is at least one equestrian trail..The Kid and I talked about going back one of these weekends and having the S.O. drop us off at the trailhead on one end and then meeting us at the other. Thanks to arthritic knees and a bad ankle, the S.O. isn't up to doing long hikes anymore, but theoretically I still am. (Side Note: Over 40 years ago doctors started warning me that if I didn't lose weight I'd end up with bad knees. At this point, when I've definitely slid into geezerhood and have a bunch of other things wrong with me, my knees are the one thing that seem to be functioning just fine. I may be fat, but I can walk just fine. It's a mystery.)

We also talked about going back and timing it so we could hike the trail to a fire outlook constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The trail curls around a mountain top and includes a tunnel. I would have liked to hike it, but we all agreed we lacked adequate water and it was getting to be a little late in the afternoon. No one wants to be walking down from a mountain in the dark even if it is on a well-marked and decently maintained trail.

The park also includes heritage resources in the form of a former dude ranch. Faraway Ranch began life as a farm established by a Swedish immigrant family in the 1880s and evolved into a guest ranch in the early 20th century. The park has an interesting display in the Visitor Center illustrating how the orginal crude cabin evolved over the decades into a much bigger and more elaborate ranch house. The ranch house is open for tours on the weekends, but unfortunately our timing was off. We were there on a Saturday when tours had been cancelled for that particular day. Maybe some other time -- it would be interesting to see the interior and to hear more about the history.
High dollar NPS earth-moving equipment

There's a tiny family cemetery right at the entrance to the park where members of the Swedish immigrant family are interred. I had the usual morbid thought that hits whenever I see historic cemeteries "preserved" by putting up a fence around the most prominently marked graves and then paving around the perimeter -- just how many people are under this asphalt? -- but no doubt the decision for the fencing and paving was made right after CHIR was established 80 years ago and people weren't quite as cognizant of the possibility of unmarked graves in pioneer cemeteries.
All in all, not a bad little park, definitely worth visiting. Interesting natural resources, interesting history, and out of the way enough that odds are it's never going to be crowded.

1 comment:

  1. My hiking days are past. You would have to put a bottle of good Irish whisky at the end of the trail to motivate me.
    the Ol'Buzzard


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