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Chiricahua Car Camp
Chiricahua National Monument
May 17-19, 2002
by Chuck Parsons & Candi Cook

The Time: approximately 27 million years ago. The Place: Turkey Creek Caldera in present-day southeastern Arizona. The Event: the start of a massive series of volcanic eruptions, on a scale the earth had never before seen and equal to the force of a thousand Mount St. Helens, that would last for over a million years and forever change hundreds of square miles of surrounding landscape. An estimated eight to ten times during this period the thirteen-mile diameter caldera would explode in a volcanic holocaust, as it violently ejected tons of molten rock, and superheated gases exploded from vents in the caldera floor. Eerily glowing superheated clouds of incandescent white-hot ash, along with jets of steam and poisonous, toxic vapors, were blasted high into the atmosphere, turning day into night for weeks and months at a time. Avalanches of burning hot volcanic sand raced across the land, covering and obliterating everything in their paths. The tortured and scorched land would lay silent and still between periods of turmoil and violence.

During these million years of upheaval, the Turkey Creek Caldera would eject enough ash, pumice, and sand from vents in the caldera floor to bury over 700 square miles of surrounding countryside up to a depth of two thousand feet or more. The intense heat and pressure eventually turned this material into a solid rock we know today as welded rhyolite tuff. Over time nine of these layers were deposited and solidified.

Indian Paintbrush

A period of mountain building followed, where great uplifting forces from deep within the earth created the present day Chiricahua Mountains. In the process, the 2,000-foot layers of welded rhyolite tuff split into massive upright blocks. The masters of erosion—wind, water, and ice—then went to work on the rock, and over the passage of millions of years created the convoluted landscape we see before us today. More than anything, Chiricahua National Monument is a testimony to the unrelenting and on-going powers of erosion.

f_soaring e_balanced
Balanced rocks and soaring pillars of stone are a common sight in the Chiricahuas.

On Friday morning, May 17, Chuck Parsons, Candi Cook, Glenn Kappel, Fred Abele, and Michael Humphrey began a journey to discover the wonders of this place the Chiricahua Apaches called the “Land of the Standing-Up Rocks”. Fourteen other hiking club members and guests were to join us later in the day at our campsite. After a short lunch and refueling stop in Willcox, we make our way down Arizona Route 186, passing the imposing double-headed mountain range to our east known as Dos Cabezas. Unseen from the road and at the base of the mountain, lies the old gost mining town of Dos Cabezas.

After checking in at the entrance station, we stopped by the Visitor Center to check out our options for a late afternoon hike before dinner. The first choice was the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail, a relatively easy 1.8-mile round trip hike that would provide commanding views of the surrounding area from one of the parks highest vantagepoints. However, we soon found out the trail was closed because of a massive rockslide that occurred back in February. Rangers were uncertain when or if the trail would be reopened. We were also informed that, because of the extreme fire danger conditions that existed throughout Arizona’s parched forests, no open fires (wood or charcoal) would be allowed. We would be limited to cook stoves only. Darn – so much for grilled steak and chicken.

With those preliminaries out of the way, we finally arrive at our spacious group campsite in Bonita Canyon Campground. By 2:00 PM in the afternoon we are unloading camping gear and setting up our tents under the welcome shade of a surrounding forest of pine, juniper, and oak trees, enjoying the pine-scented air of this 5,400-foot camp that would be our home for the next two nights. That done, we sit back and relax for awhile, cold drinks in hand, while discussing our options for the day. We debate between the Natural Bridge Trail and the Faraway Ranch Historic Trail. We opt for the Faraway Ranch Historic Trail, an easy 2.4 round trip trail from the campground to Faraway Ranch, with the trailhead just around the corner.

A new Big Balanced Rock in the making.

This is an easy, level walk through the woods, passing through a beautiful spring meadow, but requiring a couple of detours around construction areas. It seems the monument is upgrading its infrastructure for the first time in many years, totally replacing the eight-mile long Bonita Canyon Drive all the way to its terminus at Massai Point, laying miles of new water, sewer, and power lines, as well as (welcome to the 21st century) fiber optic cable. Peering down into the four-foot depths of these freshly dug trenches, one gets a very real sense of just how dry these forests have become. You literally cannot see the slightest evidence of moisture in these now bone-dry forest soils.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how quickly and easily a raging inferno could get started in these extreme drought conditions Arizona has been suffering for the past four years now. It is not yet June, and already thousands of acres of forest have been consumed by several fires raging across the state.

Somewhere along the trail, we spot a whitetail deer nervously watching us, as it scrounges the forest looking for food. One really has to wonder how all the forest dwellers can continue to survive such harsh conditions. No doubt the ancient laws of survival of the fittest will prevail more than usual this summer. One of the several interpretive signs we come across on this trail informs us of the enormous contributions made by the Civilian Conservation Corps in national parks and monuments across the country. Begun by the Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s, as the nation suffered through the grips of the Great Depression, the CCC put hundreds of thousands of young men to work, building trails, roads, buildings, and various infrastructure, while sending money home to their families. The CCC made a huge difference in many young lives and created major improvements in many of our national parks and monuments.

Pinnacle Balanced Rock
Stone totems reach for the sky.

We finally arrive at the Faraway Ranch area and check out some of the adjacent buildings and cabins. We will not spend too much time here, since we have already missed the 2:00 PM tour and are considering coming back for the Sunday afternoon tour. The tour promises to give a good insight into the life and times of some of the earliest pioneers in the Bonita Canyon area and the many day-to- day challenges and hardships they faced. We then come across the rather bizarre sight of an old-fashion claw-foot enamel bathtub sitting out in the open air. I could tell a very interesting story here about this bathtub and two of our hikers, but in deference to the expression that one picture is worth a thousand words, I will let that picture tell the story in my “Best of 2002” presentation next year. Talk about a trip report cliffhanger! :o)

By the time we make our way back to the campground, we are greeted by several more arrivals, including Scott and Nancy Clarke, along with their son, Matt Schmidt, two nieces, Areyna Schmidt and Naomi Schmidt, and nephew, Skyler Schmidt, as well as Liyan He and her son Michael. After cleaning up and resting for a bit, we start making preparations for tonight’s dinner. Candi is on a fairly strict diet and exercise regimen, as she gears up toward her goal of climbing Mt. Whitney this September. As lofty as that goal would be for most of us, it is but one stepping stone in a long series of stepping stones to her ultimate goal of climbing Mt. Everest—at 29,028 feet, the crowning achievement for all serious mountain climbers. The determination, commitment, dedication, and planning that this remarkable young woman puts into everything she does in life leaves me with no doubt whatsoever that she will one day achieve her goal. God speed to you, Candi Cook. Go for it! On this pleasantly cool Chiricahua night, however, I convince her to relax the rules just a bit and sample a great import beer from Holland that I have brought along.

After dinner, a few more arrivals start filtering in, including Rudy, Jo, Joyce, and Sam. Joyce informs us that Anatoli and Natasha will not make it tonight, but will be arriving early Saturday morning, hopefully in time to join us for the hike. During post-dinner conversation, the subject of Arizona Jackalopes and Arizona Snipe somehow slips into the stream of talk (not real sure now, but it might have even been me). Oddly enough, neither Candi nor Sam, both relative newcomers to Arizona, had ever heard of either one. Candi, a former Texas gal from Austin, did seem to recall hearing about the infamous Texas Snipe, naturally the largest of all known snipes and reputed to be found only during a night hunting trip under the spell of a full moon.

At one point, Glenn, Michael, and I had pretty much convinced them of the legitimacy of both of these legendary creatures, to the extent that Sam was ready and anxious to hit the trails this very night in search of the elusive Arizona Snipe. We hoped to be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a Jackalope on the trail Saturday. The end of the evening for the children and young adults was a class on making the perfect S’more (courtesy of our resident S’more expert, Candi). It details not only roasting the marshmallows over the camp stove fire, but also melting the chocolate onto the graham cracker. This allows for a very delicious S’more, with gooey marshmallow and dripping chocolate. After such a sweet treat, the sugar high eventually wore off, and most head off to bed for an early night. After all, we had a very big day ahead of us tomorrow, as we looked forward to a day of hiking in the Chiricahuas.

Saturday morning in the Chiricahuas dawned clear and a refreshingly cool 60° for us already heat-weary desert dwellers, as we stirred about in preparations for the morning’s breakfast. Some of us were awakened to the raucous call of the camp raider Steller’s jays we had seen earlier on Friday afternoon, one of which persisted in hammering away at Michael’s cook set, firm in the belief that where there was food cookware, there had to be food.

Saturday morning breakfast at Bonita Canyon Campground.

There was even some talk of the old Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”, as quite a number of these huge jays gathered in the trees all around us, waiting for just the right opportunity to swoop down and grab any morsel of food left unattended or carelessly dropped on the ground. They were quite persistent and bold and did one heck of a job in keeping the camp clean of food particles, not even leaving enough for the ants to clean up. Someone had also spotted a coatimundi the night before in a large juniper tree next to the water pump, and Sam mentioned a skunk he had spotted in the night. Thankfully, he did not mistake it for a Jackalope and try to approach too closely for a better look. Sunday morning we would also be visited by the relatively rare Chiricahua fox squirrel, a huge squirrel with a beautiful chestnut and gray color pattern and a large bushy white and gray-black tail. Despite the drought, a good variety of forest creatures seem to be holding their own in these mountains.

Looking out over the great vastness and beauty of Chiricahua National Monument and the surrounding Chiricahua Mountains from this vantage point high above Echo Canyon, it would be both remiss and unforgiving not to mention the very significant role that the proud and once-feared Chiricahua Apaches played in this, their former homeland. The Chiricahuas and the Dragoons, 35 miles to the west, were the homes and rocky fortresses of the Apaches for centuries before white men ever appeared on the scene. We know, from archeology findings, that the Native American presence in these mountains stretched all the way back to 8,000 B.C. The trickle of white homesteaders into this area in the mid- nineteenth century spelled the beginning of the end for the Apaches, as the trickle steadily grew into a torrent, and bloody encounters between the two groups in the form of attacks, raids, counter-raids, cold-blooded murder, and out-right massacres ensued and eventually brought in the U.S. Calvary to restore stability to the region.

The Chiricahua version of a rock garden.

The nearby Fort Bowie was established at Apache Pass in 1862, and served as the base of operations for the next 25 years, as the cavalry waged a bloody and prolonged war on the Apaches, under the leadership of Cochise and then Geronimo. A peace treaty with Cochise in 1872 resulted in the settlement of him and his followers on a temporary reservation in Pinery Canyon in the Chiricahuas. Following his death two years later, the Apaches were forcibly removed from Pinery Canyon and shipped to the hot, barren San Carlos Reservation in the Gila River Valley far to the north. Most of the remaining tribe, under the leadership of Geronimo, was rounded up and shipped by train to reservations in distant and remote Florida, never to see their Arizona homeland again. The surrender of Geronimo and his remaining band of warriors soon followed in 1886, sealing the final fate of the Apaches and closing a long chapter of Native American history in Arizona. Fort Bowie was abandoned, the cavalry soon departed, white settlers were safe at last from surprise attack, and the once mighty and proud Chiricahua Apaches no longer existed in their native homeland in these rugged and beautiful Chiricahua and Dragoon Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Did justice or travesty prevail in this bitter struggle? You be the judge, but let your heart make that decision.

We waited until almost 8:30 for Anatoli and Natasha, before departing camp and making our way up the scenic Bonita Canyon Drive to Echo Canyon Trailhead, our starting point for the Heart of Rocks Trail that we would be hiking today. By 9:00 AM on this beautiful Saturday morning in the Chiricahuas, we were gathered at the 6,780-foot trailhead for a group picture, before stepping out onto the trail that would take us first through the breathtaking Echo Canyon, probably the most scenic part of today’s hike. The trail weaves through dense chaparral thickets of manzanita, scrub oak, pinyon pine, alligator juniper, Arizona cypress, and Emory oak, as it descends to the heavily wooded Echo Park.

Twelve hikers gather at the Echo Canyon Loop Trailhead.
Front Row (kneeling): Chuck, Rudy, Glenn, and Sam
Second Row: Jo, Joyce, Candi, Liyan, and Michael
Third Row: Fred, Matt, and Scott

Along the way, we traverse through an almost surreal labyrinth of rocky spires, pinnacles, hoodoos, massive stone columns, and narrow passageways weaving through and around rocky grottos created by a combination of wind and water erosion. All of our cameras are extra busy burning film on this portion of the trail, as we try to capture the beauty of this unique and vast landscape before us and forever freeze these brief instants in time on film.

Descending through the cool, shaded forests of oaks, pines, junipers, and cypress in Echo Park, we soon find ourselves on the canyon floor and in the even deeper shade of towering ponderosa pines, soaring oaks, sprawling sycamores, Arizona madrone, and even a few Douglas fir, some soaring sixty feet or higher into the deep blue Arizona sky of this spectacular Saturday morning in the Chiricahuas. We take a short rest break on the cool canyon floor, before starting the almost 900-foot ascent through Sarah Deming Canyon to the start of the 0.9-mile Heart of Rocks Loop Trail. After finally completing this long ascent, Sam and I, who are bringing up the rear as we stop to take numerous pictures, get a call from Candi over the TalkAbout radios informing us that the rest of the group is going to stop by Big Balanced Rock, just outside of the Heart of Rocks Loop, for a lunch break. That sounds like good news to us, and we hasten to meet them. We shortly catch up with the rest of our group and all enjoy a leisurely lunch break in the shade of a rocky ledge just out of view of Big Balanced Rock, in anticipation of the beautiful hike that awaits us.

The first of many spectacular sights.
Fred, Rudy, Jo, Candi, Joyce, and Chuck
in front of Big Balanced Rock.

After lunch and before starting the Heart of Rocks Loop Trail, we decide on one more group picture by Big Balanced Rock. This structure is shorter in height, but larger in diameter then Pinnacle Balanced Rock. Just to the left of Big Balanced Rock, we notice a smaller balanced rock that has already met its fate, as it lies toppled on its side up against a taller column of rock. The power of erosion is in evidence everywhere in this monument of stony splendor, and nothing—not the largest, nor the smallest structure – can escape its powerful grasp in the end. The largest sandstone monoliths in the Grand Canyon that would dwarf anything in the Chiricahuas, will one day be reduced to fine sand and gravel.

The short Heart of Rocks loop trail is a virtual Alice-in-Wonderland of whimsical fairly land figures carved into stone, including the Camel’s Head, Thor’s Hammer, Punch & Judy, Duck on a Rock, the Totem Pole, the Old Maid Rock, Kissing Rock, and finally the awesome Pinnacle Balanced Rock—a thousand ton pillar of rock delicately perched on a base approximately eighteen inches in diameter.

Thor’s Hammer
Kissing Rock
Camel’s Head
Punch & Judy

One can only wonder just how much more of its narrow base can erode away, before this magnificent pillar of stone topples over in a thunderous crash that will echo far and wide through the stony wonders of Chiricahua National Monument.

Big Balanced Rock and its unfortunate neighbor.
Anatoli and Natasha

About one third of the way through the loop trail, Sam and I, once again in the rear taking lots of pictures of these unique formations, finally meet up with Anatoli and Natasha, who explained that they were unable to leave the Phoenix area as early as planned, and as a result arrived too late to start the hike with us. They had also hiked in from the Visitor Center and would be returning the same way after completing the loop trail. The four of us hike together for awhile, before Candi and her lead group then join us, as they complete the loop trail from the opposite direction. We soon split up once again and all eventually make our way out of this magical and scenic Heart of Rocks area and back onto the main trail for the start of our 3.1-mile hike back to the trailhead. We make relatively quick time on this return loop, since there is not quite as much to photograph, and we are all getting a bit tired and anxious to reach the trailhead and head back to camp. By 4:00 PM we are all assembled back at Echo Canyon Trailhead and ready to make our way back down Bonita Canyon Drive to our campsite.

Arriving back in camp, we all clean up and rest for awhile with a few cold ones, while discussing our options for the evening. We had missed last night’s ranger talk on Buffalo Soldiers, because of a late dinner start, and determined to make tonight’s talk on rattlesnakes. However, Anatoli suggests catching the sunset from Massai Point at the end of Bonita Canyon Drive as an alternative. Some opt for the ranger talk, while the rest of us head out to Massai Point in hopes of witnessing one of the spectacular sunsets the Chiricahuas are noted for. While waiting for the sun to get lower to the horizon and begin its magic, Candi and Sam take advantage of the remaining light to do a little rock climbing, and I pull out my camera and take advantage of this opportunity to get two rock climbers in action.

Sam gets in some quality rock climbing.
Sam and Candi have made it to the top!

As the sun gets lower to the horizon, its setting rays start to light up a band of clouds on the horizon, gradually changing them from off-white, to light orange, to scarlet-orange, and finally a beautiful, deepening shade of crimson. Thanks, Anatoli, for a great suggestion. Much better than rattlesnakes, this spectacular sunset in the Chiricahuas.

Nightfall is quickly approaching, as we note that the others are still away for the ranger talk, and make preparations for our potluck dinner on this, our last night together in the Chiricahuas.

Potluck turned out to be a gross misnomer in this case, since the spread we soon had before us was more of a great smorgasbord of culinary delights in the form of numerous fresh fruits and veggies, boiled eggs, fresh sautéed asparagus, saffron rice with a hint of curry, tortellini in garlic-mushroom sauce, sliced ham, a deli plate, special Russian dishes like eggplant caviar, pickled tomatoes, and pickled mushrooms, and a large, crusty loaf of French bread.

Dessert (who could eat it?) consisted of pistachio parfait, fruit Jell-O, and chocolate chip cookies.

Candi was quoted as saying this was by far the healthiest and the best camping trip potluck she had ever enjoyed. The rest of us concurred, as we continued stuffing ourselves, and agreed that we would have to assemble this same group in this same place this time next year. Chiricahua—2003!

Close-up of Cochise Head.

Rudy and the others returning from the rattlesnake talk update us after dinner on the subject of rattlesnakes in the Chiricahuas. It seems there are at least four different species of rattlers slithering around out there in the brush, the deadliest being the Mojave Rattlesnake. In the event of an actual snakebite, one should try to remain calm, elevate the bite area, and seek medical care as quickly as possible. Self-treatment of any kind is no longer recommended. Fortunately, we never came across any of these rattling serpents during our stay in the Chiricahuas, although one of our hikers did encounter a diamondback the week before on the Fossil Springs hike. After a short discussion on options for Sunday, most of us retire for the evening under the star-filled night skies over the Chiricahuas, pleasantly tired from the day’s busy activities.

Michael, Naomi, Skyler, and Areyna standing in their rock fortress.

Sunday morning dawned partly cloudy and cool again, as we went about preparing breakfast and thinking about our options for the day. Our main short-term goal was to vacate the campsite by the 11:00 AM check out time. On one of my trips across the wash to our vehicles yesterday, I had noticed young Michael He going to a lot of work stacking river rock. It seems that he had decided to build a small rock fort.

What was just a lot of assorted rock piles yesterday had now taken the distinct and quite symmetrical shape of a small rock fortress, with two-foot high rock walls and an entryway.

Joyce, Jo, and Rudy enjoy Sunday morning breakfast.

The full structure measured roughly four by eight feet and was quite a remarkable engineering feat for Michael and his three talented helpers: Naomi, Areyna, and Skyler.

Nancy Clarke had stayed behind yesterday with these four busy fort builders and checked out the Visitor Center and Faraway Ranch, while the rest of us were on the Heart of Rocks hike. I would take their picture later, as they stood proudly in the middle of their fort. Great job, you guys!

As the morning progressed, we began taking down our tents and packing away supplies, as we said goodbye to our fellow campers, one by one. Most had opted to start heading home or check out a few more sights before leaving. Before long, Candi and I, along with Glenn, Fred, Michael, and Sam had the campsite to ourselves. The place seemed eerily quite and empty now, where 14 tents had once stood. We were in no real hurry to leave, since we had decided to take in the scenic lookouts along Bonita Canyon Drive, perhaps do a short hike, and get to Faraway Ranch for the 2:00 PM afternoon tour. Candi decided to check out my new camp chair with built-in footrest and got so darned comfortable and relaxed, we had a heck of a time prying her back out to pack up her tent.

I should talk, since mine was still standing as well. It was almost 11:00 when we finally had everything packed away and did a final check for trash and anything that might have been left behind.

The last day at camp is always a bit sad, knowing the trip is soon coming to an end, as we head out for our final journey through the Chiricahuas.

Candi, Glenn, and Fred on a relaxing Sunday morning.

After completing the Bonita Canyon Drive lookouts and even doing a bit of rock climbing at the Organ Pipe lookout to get a better view over the trees, we stop for a lunch break near the Natural Bridge trailhead. After lunch, we realize we don’t have sufficient time to do any hiking and make it back in time for the tour, so decide to head straight for Faraway Ranch, after first checking in at the Visitor Center. We meet our friendly ranger guide, Katherine, outside of the main house, as she tells us a bit of background history of the area before the actual tour begins. She also tells us a rather strange story about a German couple who insisted on having their picture taken, while standing in the middle of the nearby bathtub that I had mentioned earlier in this report. We all got a good chuckle out of that one. H’mm. Yes, very strange indeed.

Cloudy skies hang over Faraway Ranch.

Ranger Katherine then escorted us into the Faraway Ranch house, as she began unfolding the story of the Erickson family and showing us through the different rooms.

Swedish immigrants, Neil and Emma Erickson were among the very first white settlers, along with the nearby Stafford family, to settle in Bonita Canyon.

The Ericksons and their baby daughter, Lillian, homesteaded one of Stafford’s cabins and 160 acres of surrounding land in 1888. Two more children followed, and the cabin was enlarged a couple of times. As it became more of a working ranch, it gradually expanded to its present day form, with the addition of a second story and several more rooms. Neil Erickson, now in the U.S. Forest Service, was eventually transferred to Flagstaff, and management of the ranch was left to Lillian and her two siblings, Ben and Hildegard, who soon started taking in paying guests to supplement the income of the cattle ranching operation. This would eventually become a very lucrative business in itself.

Lillian was eventually left to run the operation by herself and coined the name Faraway Ranch, since it was, as she put it, “so god awful far away from everything”. Lillian married Ed Riggs in 1923, and they expanded the guest ranch business, built trails, and took guests on horseback rides to see what they called the “Wonderland of Rocks”. Largely because of their tireless efforts in promoting the area and pushing for the idea of a national park to preserve it for future generations, Chiricahua National Monument was established in 1924. Ed died in 1950, and Lillian, a very strong-willed woman known as the “Lady Boss”, continued running the place single- handedly, despite being blind now from an earlier fall from a horse. For the next 25 years she ran a thriving cattle ranch and guest ranch business at the now famous Faraway Ranch, before retiring to a rest home in Wilcox in 1975, at the age of 87. After Lillian’s death two years later, Faraway Ranch was purchased by the Park Service and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Lillian and most of her family now rest peacefully in a quite little cemetery at the mouth of their beloved Bonita Canyon, amidst the “Wonderland of Rocks” they worked so tirelessly to preserve.

With the tour concluded, we walk around for one last look at the ranch and its magnificent surroundings, take a few more pictures, and begin our long journey back to the Phoenix area, as we leave behind this very magical and wondrous place known first as “The Land of the Standing-Up Rocks” by its former Apache inhabitants and then later as “The Wonderland of Rocks” by descendents of a Swedish immigrant family. It is getting close to dinnertime as we arrive in the Tucson area, so we decide to check out the El Charro Café, highly recommend by our tour guide, Ranger Katherine. It is an excellent old-style Mexican restaurant, built in an older section of Tucson in 1922, and we will make a special point of stopping here again on the next trip to the Chiricahuas, hopefully this time next year. The Chiricahuas are, after all, one of those uniquely special Arizona places that keeps pulling you back time after time after time.

From the prospective of Candi Cook, a first-time visitor to Chiricahua National Monument:

I tend to prefer backcountry areas, where the camping area is very secluded and there are few others around, except for those in your party. This campground managed to make one feel as if your group was the only one in the area, with the added luxuries of running water and flush toilets. It was definitely a unique area and very well maintained. The interpretive signs on the trails, lookout points, and in the Faraway Ranch area included a lot of good historical notes, allowing one to really go back in time and personally feel and re-live the experiences.

In many of my experiences in Arizona, I seem to always say I have not seen this landscape/terrain before. And each time the area seems just as beautiful as before, with its own unique qualities. Chiricahua National Monument definitely was the next place of interesting and incredible beauty. On the trek to the park, you get a glimpse of the skyline, which entices you into its spell. When you drive in and begin to really see the rock formations, plant life, and wildlife, you are then entranced. The rock formations are like none I have ever seen before. As we approached our campsite, I was a bit anxious, because I do not prefer camping in large groups, and I certainly do not like the idea of a campground that you share with strangers in the other campsites. I was pleasantly surprised by the layout of the campsites, and in particular I liked the beautiful setting in the group site. There was plenty of room to set up tents, among various trees and plant life, along with a very nice area with tables to convene for cooking, drinking, and relaxing.

Chuck, Joyce, Fred, Jo, Rudy, Michael, Glenn, and Candi take a break from hiking.

As we sat and relaxed on the first day, it was slightly difficult to get motivated for the short hike to Faraway Ranch. However, I knew if we did not take full advantage of our time, we could miss something, and I did not want to do that. Along our walk to the Faraway Ranch we stopped to read the signs about the plant life. I found this particularly informative, and enjoyed the fact that we then proceeded to look for and identify the various trees that were described. The leisurely stroll to the Ranch and back was a perfect start to a great weekend. After greeting the late arrivals and eating dinner, we sat around and had a nice conversation. We were then serenaded to sleep at night by lullabies from a variety of birds and brought out of sleep in the morning by a continuation of their sweet songs. After a fulfilling breakfast, the journey for the day began, and we headed to our much-awaited hike. I am not sure words could begin to truly describe the beauty that our eyes beheld. There were incredible formations of rocks that were endless in sight. At times the patterns of rock formations reminded me of a hall of mirrors, where the formations continued on and on in a mirror-like image out to infinity.

I enjoyed identifying the various rock formations and also liked trying to create my own. Furthermore, I liked the hiking route; we were brought right into the heart of rocks and then brought out in a nice forest walk. The decision to go up to the Cochise Head lookout and visitor center after the hike was great. After seeing the beautiful creations brought on by natural evolution, we read about the history and the actual steps that built the masterpiece of rocks. As if we had not already had enough scenery adrenaline for the day, watching the sunset was a perfect closing to a beautiful day. After the sunset, we went back to the campsite to devour all of the items brought by each person for the potluck. I thought I was not going to be able to participate because of my strict diet. Who has seen such a spread of fresh and sautéed vegetables at a camp cook out? I typically have not, but certainly enjoyed the arrangement of various foods, ranging from eggplant caviar to sautéed asparagus, and stuffed cheese pasta to saffron rice. Then once again the night ended with pleasant conversation.

A sea of stone pillars, with Cochise Head on the horizon.

Sunday morning was nice, but kind of sad. Many people were disassembling their tents and heading back into town. Luckily, the five of us had planned to see the Faraway Ranch tour at 2pm, so we simply watched, or I simply took my time in eating and resting – soaking up the natural beauty of the environment. Then I got stuck in Chuck’s new camp chair, since it was just a wee bit too comfortable. However, I managed to get out with enough time to spare to pack up my tent and belongings and leave the site by 11am. We all enjoyed a nice lunch at the trailhead of the natural bridge hike, and then enjoyed stopping and taking pictures at the various viewpoints along Bonita Canyon Drive. To sum up our trip – we took a trip down history lane and took a tour with a wonderful and informative guide through Faraway Ranch. We were brought through the initial steps of creation, the years of operations, and the end point at which it was created as a National Monument and became recognized as a significant area of natural beauty.

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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated August 28, 2018