Wild West Arizona – Willcox and Chiricahua National Monument

Wild West Arizona – Willcox and Chiricahua National Monument
Walking through the rocks of Chiricahua National Monument

New Mexico was a blast but like all good things, the New Mexico portion of our trip had to come to an end. As we bid adieu to New Mexico we said hello to Arizona. Our first stop was the small town of Willcox, a sleepy cowtown, bordering on ghost town. It seems like Willcox has seen better days. Still, I found it quite charming in a “Hey Dude” sort of way.

Downtown Willcox, desert wholesome

After four nights of being disconnected from hookups, we were in need of a good battery charge, water fill-up, showers, and dumping services. We decided to stay at the Cattlerest RV Park which featured it’s very own western style saloon. After arriving, I approached the dimly lit bar to inquire about site availability. Upon entering, I realized I couldn’t see anything due to the previously mentioned dim lighting and the fact that I only had my prescription sunglasses. Considering the fact that I can’t see without glasses I contemplated turning back to grab my non-sunglasses glasses. My pride got the better of me and I forged on. It was early afternoon and I walked into an empty bar (was it really empty or was the bartender hiding in the shadows?). I found an attached room where some hombres were playing pool, I asked if anyone was working and they looked at me as if to say “why is this guy wearing sunglasses?”. A couple of very nice older women got up and helped me procure a camping site, the last available as it turns out. By the time I walked out I was feeling like Mr. Ernst reincarnated. While we were setting up our campsite, the owner and Sam-Elliot-looking real life cowboy ‘Les’ introduced himself and thanked us for staying. Nice touch. The Kris-Kringlesque biker working on his Harley nearby could only shake his head in disgust at this city slicker.

John Wayne mural adorning the side of the Cattle Rest Bar

Our first day in Willcox was spent taking care of chores. The boys and I dropped Jackie off at the Laundromat and we continued on to the local park. They expelled some of the energy they accumulated on the long drive from Deming to Willcox. Burning off excess energy has become a major issue in our lives lately. Living with young boys in a small RV is akin to trying to live with two Cattle Dogs in a studio apartment. Bouncing off the walls takes on new meaning when the bodies actually start bouncing, and no amount of yelling, haranguing, threatening, or bribing can make it stop. Everyone gets so uptight when they hear news stories of parents keeping their kids in dog kennels. Hey, I’m not saying I condone it, but I’m starting to understand the rationale. Parks and other energy outlets have become necessary for everyone’s sanity.

One more sticker for the RV map, Arizona!

Luckily, the next day we headed for Chiricahua National Monument for some exploring and hiking, the ultimate outlet for “high energy” kids. Chiricahua is a hidden gem in the southern Arizona desert. I’d never heard of it until my former neighbor suggested it would be a good place to visit while we traveled through southern Arizona. It did not disappoint.

Oh that Rhyolite! The wonderland of rocks, Chiricahua National Monument.

Dubbed “the wonderland of rocks”, Chiricahua features hundreds of rock pinnacles composed of Rhyolite, a volcanic rock that has been worn down in a unique way to form the organ pipe looking formations. The first white settlers found the area populated with Chiricahua Apaches thus the name. Chiricahua was an easy hour drive from Willcox through sparsely traveled roads. On arrival, we found a nice visitors center where we stamped our National Parks passports, filled our water bottles and browsed exhibits. One of the exhibits mentioned some of the unique wildlife we might find, including Coatamundis (or Coatis). I very much wanted to see one but alas, it was not meant to be.

Down in the Grottoes

In the morning we hiked the Massai Point nature trail which offered a panoramic view of the monument and its spectacular spires. After lunch, we hiked the Echo Canyon Grottoes trail that got us much closer to the rock action, winding between the weathered Rhyolite chimneys. Each trail was only about one mile total, but there was plenty to be seen on each and with two little kids it was more than enough. The boys found pleasure in hiking around all the huge rocks, but as predicted Chiricahua couldn’t live up to White Sands. John was overheard saying “white sands are better” in reference to the current day’s activities. At least his jacket pockets were still full of that magical white sand so he could reminisce on better times.

The rocks never got old

On our way back to town we saw a dust storm in the distance and wondered if we were headed in that direction. Indeed, it seemed Willcox was the epicenter and we would endure our second dust storm in three days. We hunkered down for the rest of the afternoon and watched movies since we had the luxury of full hookup electricity.

The next morning we dumped our black and grey tanks, filled up our fresh water tank and hit the road for our next destination: beautiful and historic Tucson Arizona, birthplace of hot old lady Barbara Eden, and home to Arizona’s favorite non-party school, the Univerisity of Arizona.

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