Members of the Fort Huachuca community frequently seek out free, Family oriented places to visit during their leisure time. The National Park Service, or NPS, operates three parks in Cochise County, Chiricahua National Monument, Coronado Memorial and Fort Bowie National Historic Site.
All together, in Arizona, NPS operates 22 national parks. The National Park System includes 401 units, and 268 of those never charge an entrance fee, according to their website, www.nps.gov.
Chiricahua National Monument is among the Arizona national parks that charges a fee. However, Families should take note — the NPS is offering free admission on selected days this year as part of a nationwide initiative to encourage people to visit and experience the many wonders of national park sites across America.
Chiricahua National Monument and other NPS fee-free days include: Feb. 15 – 17, President’s Day weekend; April 19 – 20, National Park Week opening weekend; Aug. 25, the National Park Service’s 98th anniversary; Sept. 27, National Public Lands Day; and Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
Chiricahua National Monument
Explore a “Wonderland of Rocks” at Chiricahua National Monument. Next weekend is an opportunity to visit for free. The 8-mile, paved scenic drive and 17-miles of day-use hiking trails provide opportunities to discover the beauty, natural sounds and inhabitants of this 11,985 acre site. Visit the Faraway Ranch Historic District to discover more about the people who have called this area “home.”
Chiricahua NM was established in 1924 to protect the rhyolite rock formations known as “The Pinnacles” for which the park is famous. In addition to the hiking trails, the park features a visitor center that is open daily and the first-come, first-serve, 25-site Bonita Canyon Campground.
Chiricahua NM is home to many species of birds, including Mexican species not commonly found in the United States.
The monument also protects remnants of the area’s history. Guided tours of the Faraway Ranch house are currently offered most weekends at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. From its humble beginnings as a single family homestead in the 1880s to a popular 20th century guest ranch, the house and furnishings are reminders of days past.
Winter is often considered a perfect time to explore the monument. Cooler temperatures and clear skies make for ideal hiking weather. Photographers and those seeking spectacular wonders to explore marvel at the rock formations they can enjoy while hiking.
Chiricahua NM receives an average of 12 inches of snow from November through March. Although the monument generally remains open, the upper portion of the scenic drive may be closed while snow is cleared from the roadway and parking areas. Call the visitor center before heading out for information and current travel conditions. Visitors should dress in layers, and be prepared to encounter snow and ice on the trails during the coolest months.
“Wow! This place blew me away. [It] is a must-see if you like beauty and hiking. Few camp sites, but that just means you may end up all alone. … Call ahead for information because it may also fill up at a moment’s notice. … Have fun and take your camera,” wrote Robert “Bert” Visor in his TripAdvisor critique.
The monument is located four miles east of the junction of Arizona Highways 181 and 186. There are no services such as gas, food or drinks available at the monument.
For more information, contact the visitor center, 1.520.824.3560, ext. 0 or www.nps.gov/chir.
Coronado National Memorial
Coronado National Memorial is the closest national park to Fort Huachuca, and there are no entrance fees. It is open year-round from dawn to dusk. Visitor center hours are 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily, except for Thanksgiving Day and Dec. 25, when it is closed. Because of its nearby location, about 20 miles from post off State Route 92 in the Hereford/Palominas area, Coronado NM offers members of the Fort Huachuca community a convenient destination for the upcoming President’s Day holiday weekend. There, Families can learn about the area’s history in addition to exploring the outdoors.
Inspired by rumors of vast quantities of gold, 339 soldiers and more than 1,100 Indian allies embarked on an epic journey through arid deserts and rugged mountains. They brought traditions and new technology into the southwest, forever changing the lives of the native peoples and continuing to influence the area today.
Coronado NM is the only unit in the National Park System that commemorates the Francisco Vásquez de Coronado Expedition of 1540 – 1542. Its creation was not to protect any tangible artifacts related to the expedition, but rather to provide visitors with an opportunity to reflect upon the impact the Coronado Entrada had in shaping the history, culture and environment of the southwestern United States and its lasting ties to Mexico and Spain.
It was Grace Marion Sparkes, known as the “Mother of Coronado National Memorial,” who almost single-handed, transformed an inherited mining property, the State of Texas Mine, into a memorial which was acquired by the National Park Service in the late 80s, according to the National Park website, www.nps.gov/coro/.
The location was chosen for the panoramic views of the U.S.-Mexico border and the San Pedro River Valley, the route believed to have been taken by Coronado as well as its rich biological and geological diversity.
Outdoor activities include auto touring, hiking, birding, nature walks, wildlife viewing and picnicking. Explore Coronado Cave, either on your own or on a guided tour. The diverse bio-regions in the park, including grasslands, oak woodlands, and pinyon and pine forests, provide what is considered excellent habitat for a variety of birds and animals, and wildlife viewing opportunities abound.
A number of Family friendly activities at Coronado NM make this an appealing destination for members of the Fort Huachuca community. At the visitor center, youth can learn about and register for the Junior Ranger Program.
Dress up like Coronado; Try on clothing and armor as if you were on Coronado’s expedition, and watch a short video to learn about it.
The conveniently located park, with its variety of activities including easy hikes and accessible visitor center, provides Fort Huachuca visitors with opportunities for multiple visits.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site is not covered in this article but will be covered in a future edition of The Fort Huachuca Scout.