Chiricahua National Monument lies in the far southeast part of Arizona.
From Willcox, it’s about 35 miles south of I-10 down AZ-186 to the turn-off onto AZ-181. From there it’s another four miles to the east to get to the park entrance. That’s about 233 miles from downtown Phoenix.
Long way to go, right? Not for the beauty in this park! It’s worth the drive.
The big draw is the “Wonderland of Rocks” – the eroded remains of volcanic action. The fractured rock eroded into spires, pinnacles, and balanced rocks in the canyons of the Chiricahua mountains. Driving up the canyon to the top of the mountain gives you an ever-changing view of these fantastic formations.
In many ways, Chiricahua resembles Bryce Canyon in Utah. It has some of the same types of formations, but where Bryce is layered ice cream colors, Chiricahua is all made of rhyolite and gets its colors from the sun. At sunset the rocks can glow with the red of the setting sun, but at noon they’re a soft gray with a little green mixed in.
Hiking is one of the best ways to see this park and there are many trails through the formations. One option is to take a shuttle up to the top of the mountain and hike back to the visitor’s center. The hikes can be easy or quite strenuous, depending on your choice of trails, and can go for many miles with elevation changes of up to 1,000′. The visitor’s center is at 5,400′ and the Massai Point end of the road is at nearly 7,000′, so plan accordingly. Lowlanders may find the trails extra challenging.
If you want to spend just a couple hours, you can drive up to the mountain top and see the Heart of Rocks area. With more time, you can spend a full day wandering in the rocks.
With the park being at the intersection of four major habitats, and being a “sky island” in its own right, there is a lot of plants and animals to see.
This is an Alligator Juniper…
Nearby are several world-famous birding locations. The Chiricahua Mountains themselves are home to the Elegant Trogon, a bird that I’d love to see. The Ramsey Canyon Nature Conservancy is close by and so is the Willcox playa (a great place to go birding in the winter when the Sandhill cranes and the raptors arrive).
Willcox has preserved many of its old buildings along Railroad Avenue and is the home of the Rex Allen Cowboy Museum.
To the west, just off exit 318 on I-10, is the Amerind Foundation . As they say, “A Museum of Native American Archaeology, Art, History, and Culture.” Their collection ranges from the prehistoric to the contemporary, and from a wide range of tribes.
For more information, you might want to visit the official site for the park: Chiricahua National Monument