Chiricahua National Monument reopened and ready for visitors

If a new year signifies growth, recovery and renewal, 2012 can’t come soon enough — especially to those affected by Arizona’s wildfires. Fortunately signs of growth and recovery are beginning to sprout up in some areas affected by the Horseshoe Two Fire, one of Arizona worst wildfires this past year. Chiricahua National Monument, 36 miles south of Willcox, is one location these signs are evident.

Chiricahua National Monument is best known for its unique rock formations

The Horseshoe Two Fire is the fifth largest fire in Arizona history. It began May 8 and ended with total containment on June 25. Officials determined the fire was human-caused and began about 15 miles south of the national monument, in Horseshoe Canyon. Although much of the park was burned, because the fire had varying degrees of intensity, many areas remained green. Three weeks ago, the park reopened its main roadway, Bonita Canyon Drive. Workers started the repairs on the fire-damaged guardrail back in October and finished in early December.

On the road from Willcox to the park, Dos Cabezas (two heads) towers above state route 186

Massai Point and Echo Canyon areas were also reopened with the completion of the Bonita Canyon Drive repairs. Now that the repairs are finished, the hikers’ shuttle operations have been resumed as well as the entrance fee collections. Now the entire park is back in business and visitors are welcome to return.

On our Dec. 4th visit to Chiricahua National Monument, we were greeted with snow showers and freezing temperatures. The wintry day provided a backdrop of snowy peaks, empty highways and low clouds. Although we came before the park drive was reopened, we were able to check out the grounds surrounding the visitor center and main entrance. The visitor center provided park history as well as information about the Horseshoe Two Fire. On display were many of the satellite maps showing the progress and coverage of the fire. To see the immensity of it was a bit overwhelming. Some of the same information can also be seen on the Incident Information System website, or inciweb.org.

Coues deer are returning to the fire-ravaged area

On the way into the park, we noticed a couple of Coues (Arizona white-tail) deer cautiously working their way through some brambles of pinon pine. A hawk soared over the trees. Gradually more wildlife will be returning to the park and the surrounding Coronado National Forest. Growth, recovery and renewal also will return to this park, also known as the “Wonderland of Rocks.” And, like the wildlife, it will be a welcomed one.

Visitor center at Chiricahua National Monument