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Day Trip from Tombstone

A must see while extending your stay in Tombstone would have to be the Chiricahua National Monument in eastern Cochise County. Once referred to as the "Land of Standing-Up Rocks" by the Chiricahua Apaches and today known as the "Wonderland of Rocks" our day trip will bring you to where natural beauty and human history meet.

The grass was growing quite tall along side the rain soaked road. I was noticing the green stalks still damp with the remnants of the storm that appeared to be guiding us to our destination. The clouds were dark ahead of us and yet the sky was filling with the many hues of blue welcoming our visit to this enchanted land. The surrounding terrain brought a feeling of peacefulness as if I could feel the spirits of by-gone warriors. I knew that we were starting on a journey of extraordinary beauty and welcoming peace.

We first stop at the entrance station where we receive a map of the 8-mile scenic route ahead of us. The map shows the locations of not only scenic views but also sites of historical interest. The Faraway stop is the first area where we park and enjoy a short walk. Here we find deer nibbling on the grass as the yellow butterflies skirt alongside the path that leads us to Faraway Ranch. This area welcomes us with the tack room where the realness of this once busy cattle ranch turned guest lodge becomes evident as we noticed the many coffee cans now painted over in white with names such as Nixie and Calico still hang above the saddle mounts. The entry seems a bit lifeless now. The door that once held 'lucky' horseshoes that were nailed on in such a way as to hold in all the luck they could is now bare. Only the imprints of where these symbols of ranching and luck once hung remain. The tin shed attached to this tack room also shows us signs of life gone by. Stacks of corrugated steel are piled with years of dust and debris. Once destined to be used on the roof they now just wait for time to go by perhaps never to be used for the purpose they were intended for. The hitching post is steps away from the doorway. Little is left of its original state but I can still feel the purpose it served, as horses would have been tied up there. The saddles would have been removed and brought into the room where placement would depend upon the name on the white painted coffee can.

After crossing over a picturesque little bridge we are greeted with a view of a two-story home where the green grass surrounds this residence and gives us a feel of a life long ago. The park has provided us with a history lesson in plaque form, as we are able to read about this Faraway Ranch. We can also view into its past with photos captured when this was not just a working cattle ranch but also a busy guest ranch at the base of the Wonderland of Rocks. We took the path inside the gate that lead to the home and peered through the windows. The furnishings giving proof of life once inside this now empty home. The porch off the kitchen has been screened in to keep the busy flies away and I feel the longing for a glass of summer lemonade as I glance out to the beauty that surrounds this home in Bonita Canyon. I can hear the birds calling as if their generations knew the stories they wanted to reveal to us about the family that once called this ranch home.

We leave this Faraway Ranch behind and drive again up the canyon. The storm we were trailing left a splash of puffy three-dimensional white clouds across the blue sky. As the sun began to peer through the clouds with its dramatic change of light, I am starting to see signs of just why this is called the Wonderland of Rocks. The walls of the canyon appear to have been sculpted with a chisel that left each formation bringing to mind the pieces of a chess game. But before we journey further in we stop at the visitor center and acquaint ourselves with this area. The highlight was an 8- minute video narrated by the late Rex Allen, Sr. beautifully telling the story of the Chiricahua National Monument. A visit with the Ranger there will acquaint the hiker with the more than 20 miles of trails that wind through the park. Trails range from 1/4 mile to 9 miles roundtrip and the hiking brochure along with plenty of water and good hiking shoes are recommended. We also find out that the park also includes a campground where tables, grills, restrooms, and water are available to tent campers as well as trailers up to 26 feet long. As we drive through the campground I can feel the peace and serenity that one would find as they join with nature and sleep among these monuments of stone.

The road on up toward our ultimate destination is covered in a canopy of trees shading our way. The signs warn us of falling rock and we see evidence of such. The storm that preceded us must have loosened the walls along the road. Signs of shattered rock lay on the road; a starburst pattern left in its wake showing the force it hit the ground with. The brown-gray rock soon transforms into a brilliant rust red earth that has washed over the road and the sun is breaking through illuminating the hillside with a bath of luminous white light. We approach a crest where I can see the valley with miles and miles of rolling hills and the many trees that have grown from seedlings to call this their home. They, I am sure, know the history of all the past inhabitants of this wonderland. I listen for their story as we creep along the roadway unable to take my eyes off of the beauty that surrounds us.

We circle around to the lookout point at Echo Canyon adjacent to Sugarloaf Mountain. The landscape is now open and wide with miles of chiseled, sculpted, and balanced rock. The formations create a shadow that lengthens the echoes of time. I could see deep into the walls of a somewhat distant canyon and pick out shapes that required a name. The wind spoke of stories echoing the myths of the various platforms and ledges that surrounded us. I knew that the previous inhabitants would have named these spires giving each a certain personality or trait. I was feeling overwhelmed in the scheme of time. Time that it took to form these canyon walls and its distinguishing landmarks. We travel on to Massai Point where the elevation is 6870 feet. A wheelchair accessible path has been provided to allow every one a 360-degree view of the massive pillars of rock. The information area encourages us to look out and see the face of Cochise in the rock formations. Unbelievable as it may seem, you truly can see a face of what appears to be an Apache Indian lying down in the distance. The lookout point offers us a view to locations with colorful names such as Punch and Judy, Duck on a Rock and Heart of Rocks. The view is simply unspeakable and breathtaking. I want to walk the trails that have greeted the past inhabitants as well as hikers from all over the world but we are being asked to leave. The dark clouds have returned and the thunder is roaring its voice at us. I feel as if the voice of the sculptured warriors of the Chiricahua Mountains is speaking to me through the heartbeat of the distant thunder. A heartbeat of history.

We depart Massai Point with a rumble of thunderous heartbeats bidding us farewell. We follow the same road out as we came in on being careful not to miss a single view. There are pull out locations where formations such as "Sea Captain" and "China Boy" have been named with an accuracy that is astounding. You really can view a "Sea Captain" with the hooked nose and all that time has worn into the rock. We encourage you to take this wonderful journey into the Chiricahua National Monument. You will enjoy the casual walk through Faraway Ranch while you learn the history of the families that once called this home. The breath taking views are beyond compare and exclusive to our county. Take a picnic along with you and enjoy the refreshing atmosphere that encompasses these 9,440 scenic acres of land that awaits you on your day trip from Tombstone.

The Chiricahua National Monument is located 35 miles southeast of Willcox on highway 186 or 26 miles east of Sunizona on highway 181. There are no services along either of these roads so prepare accordingly. There is an entry fee of $5.00 per adult which is valid for 1 week from the date of purchase. For more information visit their website at or call 520-824-3560.


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