This is a continuation of my post about our April 2012 tour of Southeast Arizona. On Day-1, we visited the ghost towns of Pearce, Courtland, and Gleeson east of Tombstone with a short side trip to Rattlesnake Crafts & Rocks. Then we continued south to the Slaughter Ranch east of Douglas. Then north, ending the first day at Portal Peak Lodge in Portal, AZ. Here we eat dinner in the cafe, slept in a small room, and most importantly, acquired a 25¢ map that showed the back road over the mountain to Chiricahua National Monument.
The next morning, we took the road from Portal west over the mountain to Chiricahua National Monument.
The road from Portal is paved as it winds along Cave Creek beneath high cliffs. Here, in Cave Creek Canyon, there are campgrounds among a dense forest of mature trees and several fine hiking trails.
Eventually, pavement gives way to Forest Service Road 42, unpaved, but well-maintained except in winter. This is a fine Southern Arizona back road: wildflowers and grand vistas. But we also saw the devastation caused by Horseshoe 2 fireof June 2011. Almost a quarter million acres carelessly destroyed. Over the two hours we were on this back road, we encountered only one other vehicle.
Faraway Ranch was established in Bonita Canyon by Swedish immigrants, Neil & Emma Erickson in the 1880′s. Their story is one of bravery, determination, & smarts and you can learn about the history of Faraway when you take the guided tour. Highly recommended.
Our guides were Debi & Bryan Waters who are bicycling their way across America.
They took a break from bicycling for a few weeks to volunteer as guides of the Faraway Ranch.
They gave an interesting and informative tour. You can follow their adventures on their blog.
When we completed our tour of the Ranch, we headed up the 6-mile paved road past the Visitor Center to the Wonderland of Rocks.
Here there are 17 miles of trails through amazing natural stone structures so familiar to the Apaches who once made this rocky fortress their summer home.
Bonita Canyon Wildlife
On our way down the mountain, just past the Visitor Center, Ms. Karen shouted, “Stop the car!”
I had no idea what she had seen, but she grabbed her camera, jumped out of the car, and I could see in the rearview mirror she was furiously taking photographs of something in the immediate forest.
That “something” was the elusive coatimundi, aka: Ringtail, seen here. We just got lucky. But photographing deer along Bonita Creek was easy.
Bonita Canyon Campground
Before we left the Monument, we checked out Bonita Creek Campground. Very nice. Right along the creek. Each of the 22 campsites has its own fenced area. I had never seen that before.
Bonita Creek flows in the spring as the snow on the mountain melts and again in the summer during monsoon season (late July to early September).
Also, no hookups, no campfires. Use the grill. When you realize that the Chiricahua Mountains lost almost a quarter million acres to wildfires in 2011, you can appreciate why our Forest Service restricts fires to the grill provided at each campsite.
The nearest gasoline and RV parks are at Sunizona 27 miles to the south and Willcox 37 miles to the north at I-10. So tank up before you start up the mountain.
As we left the beauty of Chiricahua National Monument, we paused at the Erickson’s family cemetery to thank them for helping to create the Monument for the pleasure of all who came after.
Then it was on to Duncan, AZ and our B&B for the night: the historic Simpson Hotel.
Lunch In Willcox
On the way, we stopped for lunch in ‘Old Town’ Willcox and ate at Big Tex BBQ. You can’t miss it. It’s the old red railroad car. The beans need work, but the ribs were superb. (I liked the beans, lightly seasoned… -kr)