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Tuesday March 4, 2014
One more place on my list of things to see here in southeastern Arizona is the Chiricahua National Monument, a place that is steeped in history and also a wonderland of nature. Places like this are called Sky Islands- a mountainous climate so diverse from the desert floor, that animals and plants that exist here could not survive in the desert below. The separation from other "sky islands" by sheer physical distance means that there is no interaction with other "islands" so the flora and fauna here are stranded.
Marla and Kermit picked us up at the RV park at 10 AM. We had packed a picnic lunch and were ready. The Monument is 95 miles distant, and we decided to take all back roads, which probably added a few more minutes to our drive. We talked Marla and Kermit into taking AZ 82 across to Tombstone and then Davis Road to the tiny town of McNeal, where we turned north on AZ 191 passing through Elfrida and turning onto AZ 181 which took us to the visitors center.
As far back as the 1400s this place has been home to the Chiricahua Apaches. Fierce warriors, the Apaches learned from the Spanish invaders, stealing horses and weaponry. Horses are not native to the Americas and their introduction to the Southwest by the Spanish transformed the Apache culture. The Apaches soon became masters of this new technology. Later when the US settlers, miners, and cavalry came to this area the Apaches found that they could strike out from this and other strongholds and retreat to safety when needed.
The road to Massai point is 6.4 miles long and rises in elevation from 5400 feet at the visitors center to 6870 feet at the Point.
The Road starts out in Bonita Canyon- Spanish for Beautiful, and it sure is that. The rock palisades crowd the road making you fee small in their presence. The rock here is from an ancient volcano that spewed hot ash 27 million years ago. The Turkey Creek Volcano eruption here was 10 times the size of the Mt. St. Helens eruptions in the 80s. The hot ash melted into layers of rock known as rhyolite. Weathering and erosion has left it looking like this.
In April of 1924 the "Land of the standing up rocks" as the Apache referred to it was designated a National Monument.
Later in the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camped here and performed major improvements. Between 1934 and 1940 the CCC reconstructed the Massai Point road, built trails, campground structures, and the visitors center shown in the first picture above.