Saturday, March 6, 2010

Land of Standing Up Rocks

After leaving Las Cruces, NM, we traveled to Willcox, AZ, and from the RV Park there, we visited a sky island.

This type of island is an isolated mountain range rising above the surrounding grassland sea. And in the case of this particular island, it is the rock pinnacles that the Chiricahua Apache called "standing up rocks" that identify it as the Chiricahua National Monument.

Located in the southeast corner of Arizona about 35 miles southeast of Willcox, the Chiricahuas can trace their origins to the Turkey Creek Volcano some 27 million years ago.

Superheated ash particles melted together, forming layers of gray rock called rhyolite. Cooling and subsequent uplifting created joints and cracks in the rhyolite. Eons of ice wedging and erosion enlarged the cracks and washed away the weaker material, leaving behind spires,

balanced rocks,

and other shapes. This brown rock formation is called Cochise's Head (profile, with the chin on the left).

Chiricahua appears to be a hikers' destination. Seventeen miles of trails wind through a portion of the nearly 12,000 acres and take hikers near the rock formations shown above along with a number of other sights not visible from Massai Point (alt. 6870 feet).

Chiricahua National Monument was established in 1934 to preserve and protect the pinnacles. The weather was overcast on the day we visited, so the colors are less brilliant than they would be on a sunny day.

Mount Harris is in the foreground. Behind it are the San Simon Valley and the Peloncillo Mountains in the distance.

Looking to the west, Sulphur Springs Valley is beyond the Chiricahuas, and in the distance are the Dragoon Mountains with Cochise's Stronghold in the center of the range. The Stronghold served as the fortress for the Apache Chief Cochise, when he was a nemesis to territorial settlers and the U.S. Army.

Not hostile to the whites at first, Cochise and several of his relatives had gone to an encampment of soldiers in order to deny the accusation that they had abducted a child from a ranch. (The boy was later proved to have been kidnapped by another band of Apaches.)

During the parley, Cochise and his followers were ordered held as hostages. Cochise managed to escape almost immediately, but the other Apache hostages were hanged. The embittered Cochise then joined forces with Mangas Coloradas, his father-in-law, in a guerrilla struggle against the American army and settlers.

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