What is Chiricahua National Monument?

Stacy C.

The Chiricahua National Monument is a part of the Chiricahua Mountains in the U.S. state of Arizona. The monument is made up of formations created by a volcanic eruption that occurred roughly 27 million years ago. Today, the area is a popular spot for hiking, climbing, and scenic drives.

Chiricahua National Monument is in southeast Arizona, which is located in the American West.
Chiricahua National Monument is in southeast Arizona, which is located in the American West.

Located in southeast Arizona, the Chiricahua rock formations were declared a national monument by the U.S. National Park Service in 1924. It is believed the landscape was formed during a volcanic eruption called the Turkey Creek Caldera eruption, a natural phenomenon that was about 1,000 times greater than the infamous Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980. It resulted in layers of ash and pumice 2,000 feet (about 610 meters) thick, which hardened over time to become the Land of the Standing-Up Rocks, as the Chiricahua Apaches called them. Pioneers referred to the formations as the Wonderland of the Rocks.

The original monument was just 4,238 acres (17,150,578 m2). Today, the site includes more than 11,985 acres (48,501,574 m2), including an eight-mile (almost 13 km) scenic drive and 17 miles (about 27 km) of hiking trails. Roughly 60,000 people visit Chiricahua National Monument every year. Some of the major attractions there include the Echo Canyon, a massive canyon located in the side of the mountains; Massai Point, a summit and viewing point; and Heart of Rocks, an area with interesting rock formations, such as Duck on a Rock, Balancing Rock, Thor's Hammer, and Kissing Rocks. The most common rock formations found in the monument are gray, column-like, volcanic rock monoliths that have been carved into their shapes by millions of years of erosion.

Since the Chiricahua Mountains sit higher than the deserts all around them, the climate is different and attracts unusual wildlife. This includes some rare birds, such as the Mexican chickadee, and animals not found elsewhere in the area, like javelinas and ocelots. Rattlesnakes and venomous coral snakes are not uncommon near the Chiricahua National Monument. Vegetation is also quite varied, from everyday pine trees to more typical desert plants, like cacti and yuccas.

The Chiricahua National Monument is so-named because the area was once home to a band of the Apache tribe called the Chiricahua, which included famous medicine man Geronimo. Some of their descendants still live in the area. Congress declared the site a wilderness in 1976, meaning no further development of any kind is allowed in the region of Chiricahua National Monument.

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