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*Our most read article from 2019!

 

CHIRICAHUA
A National Monument for Trail Riders!

With William Dean

 

Chiricahua National Monument lies in southeastern Arizona, thirty-six miles from Wilcox, on the western side of the Chiricahua Mountains. The Chiricahua Mountains are one of Arizona’s “Sky Islands” as well as one of the largest mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona.

 

The majority of terrain in southeast Arizona consists of a relatively flat, somewhat barren desert plain. The plain is separated into large valleys by abruptly rising mountain ranges such as the Chiricahua’s, Dragoons and Dos Cabezas.

 

As moist Pacific air masses sweep across the hot and arid desert lands, they are pushed to higher elevations where there’s cooler temperatures in the mountains, which condenses the moisture in the air into falling rain, creating lush forests. These forests have developed their own unique ecosystems which are very much biological and  visual “Islands” in the surrounding “Ocean” of desert landscape.

 

*Photo of Christine Dean on the Sarah Deming Trail surrounded by trees and green foliage. A stark difference from the desert below.

The Chiricahua Mountains contain a large layer of a solidified volcanic rock formation geologists call “Rhyolite”. The Rhyolite has been carved by water, wind, ice, and a plant known as Lichen, into an astounding array of spires, columns, canyons, and lanes.

 

This carved area, known to the native Apache as “The Land of Standup Rocks” is at the very heart of what we know as The Chiricahua National Monument.  The history of Chiricahua National Monument is rich with stories of the Apache, Buffalo Soldiers, Indian wars, homesteaders and ranching, both cattle and dude ranches.

 

There’s far more wonderful history that can be included here in the pages of The Trail Journal, but we’d be remiss in this article if we didn’t briefly mention a bit of history. It’s in this history that you can find truth in the title statement “Chiricahua- A national monument to trail riders!"

 

*Photo of the Upper Rhyolite Trail with the spires of rock above. You can easily see why the Apache gave the area the name of “The Land of Standup Rocks”.

The history of the Faraway Ranch and the creation of the Chiricahua National Monument in 1924 are inseparably intertwined, and in fact, are one and the same story. The story is also the history of two pioneer families, Erickson and Riggs, which homesteaded in or near Bonita Canyon, which lies at the western entrance into Chiricahua National Monument.

 

The Erickson’s were Swedish immigrants and had traveled to America on a separate journey from the Riggs, where the families eventually met on the Arizona frontier during the Apache Indian Wars. After Geronimo’s surrender, these two families married and filed on a 160-acre homestead, which would later become the Faraway Ranch.

 

*Photo is of the Faraway Ranch main house. This was the home of Ed and Lillian Riggs who were the driving force behind the creation of Chiricahua National Monument. The ranch was homesteaded by Lillian's parents, the Erickson's, who were Swedish immigrants.

The Erickson’s had three children, Lillian, Ben, and Hildegard. Ed Riggs was the son of Thomas Riggs and was born in the area. The Riggs family was an important regional ranching family and well known throughout southeast Arizona.

 

Lillian Erickson and Ed Riggs were married after both were relatively older in years than was the norm. Before the marriage Lillian and her sister Hildegard had established a thriving guest ranch business at Faraway.

 

Once married Ed and Lillian Riggs began to explore the upper reaches of Rhyolite Canyon after discovering the wonderful rock formations by accident while helping a guest track a wounded deer. The couple blazed and named the trails which would later be incorporated into the monument upon its establishment in 1924.

 

Ed and Lillian were the major proponents of establishing Chiricahua National Monument as they understood monument designation would be a boon to the family guest ranch and horseback riding business.

 

*Photo of the Hailstone Trail. Narrow but perfectly placed for the equine traveler.

After the Great Depression struck the country in the 1930s, President Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, as a “New Deal” works project to help employ out of work men. Our National Parks and Forests benefited greatly from the infrastructure projects of the CCC, and the Chiricahua National Monument was no exception.

 

Ed Riggs was hired by the CCC as construction foreman and trail designer at Chiricahua National Monument, and due to the family business at Faraway, he kept horseback travel at the forefront of his trail design. We’re able still to enjoy the wonderful “equestrian trails” which were designed by Ed Riggs and built by the CCC (you'll note in some of the photos the many rock staircases they created along the steap and narrow trails.

 

*Photo of Mushroom Rock Trail. It’s clear to see why it has this namesake!

Ed Riggs expressed hope that his Echo Canyon Trail would be considered his “Masterpiece” and stand as his legacy... and after having ridden it we must say it’s very impressive and amongst our favorite trail rides - after all, it was designed for travel by horse!

 

In February this year, we were blessed to enjoy several unforgettable days of riding in Chiricahua National Monument in which we covered every equestrian trail available for horse travel.

 

Our first ride into Chiricahua National Monument was one of the finest rides we've ever enjoyed, and our daughter Cheyenne and her husband Andrew were able to accompany us.

 

After unloading the horses at the equestrian parking near Faraway Ranch, we rode east on the Silver Spur Meadow Trail to the Visitors Center. From that point we took the Lower Rhyolite Trail into the Chiricahua Wilderness and across the heart of the Monument.

 

*Photo of Christine Dean riding through Echo Canyon Trail. Tuck in your toes!

After a steady climb up Lower Rhyolite Trail we came to the intersection of Sarah Deming Trail and Upper Rhyolite Trail. We then took the left fork onto Upper Rhyolite. Upper Rhyolite Trail was rougher, narrower and steeper than any of the other equestrian trails in the Monument.

 

The canyon bottom section has several washout area's but they're passable with horses. The climb up to Hailstone Trail is steep, narrow and rocky but we had no issues with it the three times we rode Upper Rhyolite Trail during the week.

 

Once we reached Hailstone Trail we decided to ride a loop which consisted of Hailstone Trail, Ed Riggs Trail, and Echo Canyon Trail back to Hailstone. We took a side trip to Massai Point where we enjoyed lunch with a view and the horses were celebrities with the automobile tourists. After riding the loop we returned to the truck via the way we rode in from Faraway Ranch.


*Photo at Massai Point Trailhead - 6,870’ in elevation — with our daughter Cheyenne Sayer, son-in-law Andrew Sayer and  my wife Christine Dean, along with their famous steeds.

On our second ride, in addition to Cheyenne and Andrew, we were joined by Gwen Johnson and Jim Ray from Michigan.

 

Once more the ride began at Faraway Ranch and proceeded up Lower Rhyolite Trail to the intersection with Sarah Deming Trail. For this ride, we took the right fork up Sarah Deming Trail and climbed steadily into Sarah Deming Canyon.

 

The final climb out of Sarah Deming Canyon to Big Balanced Rock and the Heart of the Rocks Loop has some impressive trail construction which we all marveled at (be advised the Heart of the Rocks Loop no longer allows horses).

 

At this point, we rode out the Big Balanced Rock Trail enjoying the wonderful vistas while heading to Inspiration Point for lunch. Inspiration Point has spectacular views of Chiricahua National Monument in all directions and is well worth the time spent there (*The top photo is at Inspiration Point).

 

*Photo on the trail aptly named Big Balanced Rock – you can see the actual big, balanced rock in the center of this photo.

 

We then backtracked out to Mushroom Rock Trail and descended into Hunt Canyon where we found water for the horses.

 

We were making good time on the ride so when we came to the next trail intersection, instead of heading back to Faraway, we decided once more to ride Ed Riggs Trail up to Echo Canyon Trail and enjoy it once more!

 

 

Echo Canyon Trail is the “Crown Jewel” at Chiricahua, and with it, Ed Riggs left us a wonderful trail to ride in the..

 CHIRICAHUA - A NATIONAL MONUMENT FOR TRAIL RIDERS!

 

 

If you’d like to have a glimpse of this trail ride check from the back of a horse, check out Williams great VIDEO!

 

And if you’d like to see a couple hundred more amazing photos from this trail ride check out Williams photo albums on Facebook!
Album 1  & Album 2

*

William (Bill) Dean is a current HTCAA Foundation member, married to his best friend and riding partner Christine. They live and work in the heart of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, employed by Telluride’s Town of Mountain Village, working on the Telluride Gondola. They ride almost every week, where they enjoy nearby red rock desert trails in the winter and Colorado’s magnificent high country during the summer. In the past 4 years they’ve ridden into 18 wilderness area’s to date, covering ground from South Dakota to Arizona. Bill and Christine are blessed with a passion to share the glory of God’s creation with others through their horseback adventures.

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