Chiricahua (pronounced cheer-ee-KAH-wah) was named by the Apache who lived in the area. They called the pinnacles here "standing up rocks." About 27 million years ago violent volcanic eruptions blanketed the area with minerals and ash. Since then, depending on the quality of the minerals, some places have eroded away and some still stand high. Those who are poetically inclined call the remaining mounds, islands in the sky. If these formations were standing in water rather than in the desert, they would indeed look like islands. They were great spots for the Apache to hide as settlers passed through the area on their way to the California Gold Rush. Eventually the two groups clashed and after an eleven year war, the Apache headed by Geronimo, lost out just as the native Americans did in on the rest of the continent.
After the Apache left two families ranched in what is the national monument today. By the 1920's they turned their property into a guest ranch and took tourists through the remarkable landscape. In 1924 the property became a national monument and the ranchers supervised the Civilian Conservation Corps as they built the road and trails that we can enjoy today.
The CCC has a special place in my heart. My dad graduated from high school at the beginning of the Great Depression, an event that shaped and colored the rest of his life. The CCC gave him his first paychecks until he was able to find a "real" job. According to the statistics we saw in the visitor center today, 3.5 million men like my dad worked in the CCC with an average age of 18. Their first three months in the corps they gained twelve pounds and 40,000 of them who were illiterate learned to read. They built 125,000 miles of road and 13,000 miles of trails. They planted three billion trees and the value of their work in today's dollars is $21 billion. Nearly every national park and monument we have visited, especially in the west has lodges, roads, and paths built by the CCC - a powerful example to all the good a government program can accomplish.
Once again we forgot to pay attention to the elevation of the park and after driving over 6,000 feet up we found ourselves surrounded by snow. Park personnel had cleared off the road and some of the paths, but the snow pack and ice prevented us from hiking as much as we would have liked and we were not able to see all the eroded rock formations we had admired in the film showed at the visitor center. This remote park must be a local favorite in the summer when it is much cooler than the desert below, but we are ready to take off our parkas.