Chiricahua Wonderland of Rocks

Driving south from picturesque Wickenburg, Ariz., and Phoenix, I headed down to Sunizona, down near the Mexican border, southeast of Tucson, and the Sunizona Motel where I stayed for a couple of nights. The photo below shows the view from the motel, looking west at the Dragoon Mountains. The husband and wife motel owners were friendly and went out of their way to accommodate my wishes. The wife was a writer and we agreed to write a book together one day. We haven’t yet. I was eating breakfast there one morning when a guy in a white pickup pulled up in front, nose in. He climbed down out of the cab, sauntered into the cafe, moseyed over to the breakfast bar and sat on a stool at the counter, gun in the holster at his hip. To the locals, such an assemblage must have been commonplace, for no one took special notice. He ordered his breakfast and I finished mine and got out, wondering whom he had a hankering to shoot.

AZ018W Sunizona

Outside, I climbed into my Hyundai and from the motel drove a short distance southeast to the Chiricahua Mountains. I was tracking Geronimo.

Into the Hills 1

Into the Hills

I headed into the hills towards Faraway Ranch and the Chiricahua Wonderland of Rocks.

AZ001W Sign

Road Into Faraway Ranch

I encountered deer as I walked along this road into Faraway Ranch. I shot them in photos but the photos are not very good. I couldn’t get a closeup.

Marker & Ranch House 1

When I visited Faraway Ranch this day in 1994, I knew little about its origins and history. I do recall reading that Lillian Erickson Riggs and her husband arranged horseback tours for the guests into the Wonderland of Rocks. This image, below, I copied from the Internet tells more of the story:


I did photograph this marker:

Marker & Ranch House

Yes, Tucson and surrounding Southern Arizona range from about 4,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level, not counting the higher mountain elevations. So, if you visit in winter, don’t wear shorts. It snows — not deep, but a good dusting.

Small House & Chiricahua

AZ006W Corral & Ocatillo

Above is an ocatillo cactus growing against the fence with the overgrown corral behind it.

Balancing Rocks

In 2008, eighty percent of the Chiricahua National Monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, called The Chiricahua National Monument Historic Designed Landscape, consisting of Faraway Ranch and within the Chiricahua Mountains hoodoos (alternating layers of hard rock protect the soft rock from the elements) and balancing rocks, formed from volcanic ash and pumice.

Small House & Chiricahua 1

This is the land of the Apaches. Mexicans and Americans tried to claim this land as their own, and their tactics were equally as barbaric and brutal as those of the Apaches. This is the home of Geronimo. This is Cochise County. Cochise (c. 1812-74) was a Chiricahua Apache chief. Geronimo was born here into the Chiricahua Apache tribe June 16, 1829. In 1851, a Mexican militia surprise attacked an Apache camp. Geronimo was away at the time. He returned to find his mother, his wife and his three children, his family, dead, killed by the Mexicans. For the rest of his life, Geronimo and his band of followers waged revenge, especially against Mexicans, but against Caucasian Americans, too. Geronimo and his band often hid out in the Chiricahua Mountains and the Sierra Madre of Mexico. Yet, he was captured and was held as prisoner of war. He broke out three times. The Apache prisoners were sent to Florida and then to Fort Sill, Okla., far from their homeland. Geronimo became a celebrity in traveling Wild West shows. Ultimately, Geronimo rode horseback with five Indian chiefs at the 1905 inaugural parade and days later he met with President Teddy Roosevelt and asked that the Apaches be relieved of their prisoner of war status and be allowed to return to their native land in Arizona. The president refused, citing continued animosity in Arizona for the civilian deaths resulting from Geronimo’s raids during the prolonged Apache Wars. Geronimo died on February 17, 1909 at Fort Sill Hospital, still a prisoner of war. He was buried at Fort Sill Indian Agency Cemetery. Geronimo is said to have held supernatural gifts. He could see things happening far away, as they were happening; and he was a healer. I hiked around this land on a still, warm October day, and a ways up into these Chiricahua hills. I sensed the spirit of the Apaches around me, ostensibly Geronimo, free to roam, free to live off the land, watchful. And that’s when I spotted the deer watching me. I snapped some photos. Up in the Chiricahuas a mystical, transcendent quality pervades the trees, the scrub and recesses among the rocks. It enveloped me like an incense. I could envision one hiding out in those mountains for a long time. For a long time, in the scrub of my nature, in the recesses of my spirt, still, the spirit of Geronimo abides, like a musical suspension, a prolonging of a note of one chord into the next.

Geronimo. Photo by Frank A. Rinehart, 1898.

Geronimo. Photo by Frank A. Rinehart, 1898.

–Samantha Mozart