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.

–Samantha Mozart


14 Responses to Chiricahua Wonderland of Rocks

  1. Pat Garcia says:

    These pictures bring back so many beautiful memories of my trip to the USA in 2008. I took six weeks to drive across the country from the west coast to the east coast and it was beautiful.

    Visiting from the A to Z Blog Challenge.

    Patricia @ EverythingMustChange

  2. susan scott says:

    This is a beautiful piece of writing thank you Samantha. Such a vivid appreciation of land and rock, stone and plant. The spirit of Geronimo came through to me. What a tragic story, and sad that he died while still a POW. What a striking man.

    I loved also to try to say the names – Chricahua – like the wind somehow … and others too. Thank you for this slice of life. It’s spiced up my morning 🙂

    • sammozart says:

      I thought of you when I wrote this one, Susan. I thought you’d like it. Chiricahua is pronounced “cheer-ih-cah-wah” with a mild accent on the third syllable. And, yes, it does sound like the wind, I think, too. Cochise is “co-CHEES.” Maybe you and Susan can visit there next time you are in the States. And, wouldn’t I love to join you!

  3. Very scenic. – Joy Brigade Minion

  4. Red says:

    Such cool views! I love the ocotillo cactus.

    • sammozart says:

      Yes, wide open spaces and fascinating rock formations, Red. I just had to get a photo of that ocatillo.


  5. So interesting, Samantha, reading about settlers, Geronimo, down to the elevations and climate. Arizona sure seems to have it all. In summertime, the heat, in most places, chases the residents out of the state, and you give a good example of the winter status in the elevated areas. Wide open roads hold such an appeal to me, still, even after all these years in CA. Having grown up in Europe where everything is so crowded, I do appreciate wide open spaces. Thank you for sharing your trip with us.

    • sammozart says:

      I asked some Japanese once why they came to live in California, Silvia: “Because it’s big,” they said. I agree. Crowded as L.A. and Orange counties are, and up around San Francisco, California still has its beautiful coastline and wide open spaces. Lots of Westerns have been filmed up in the Sierra, as you probably know — Gene Autry movies, the TV show “Bonanza,” and Clint Eastwood movies, to name a few — and Roy Rogers in Arizona.

      At least it’s a dry heat on the Arizona and California deserts; nevertheless, too hot for me — except up around Mammoth — that’s OK.

      I’ve never been to Europe. Still hoping to go someday. The parts I see of it are so clean and ordered and beautiful.

  6. Gwynn Rogers says:

    Arizona does have a phenomenal history. I loved seeing the cliff dwellings up outside of the Flagstaff area. I enjoyed the Native Americans’ baskets and jewelry too… so beautiful. It is amazing that peoples could live in such a bleak area.

    • sammozart says:

      I’ve seen some ancient Indian dwellings but have never been to Canyon de Chelly, Gwynn. The cliff dwellings fascinate me. I imagine those people were in pretty good shape. I do own some Navajo jewelry, and, I think, some Hopi, too. The Navajo, Hopi and Havasupai and probably other tribes still grow crops in Arizona. So does white man. The state isn’t as totally bleak as you might imagine.

      You know, as Turquoise Roo, I have to own some turquoise.