Twenty seven million years ago a volcanic eruption of immense proportions shook the land around Chiricahua National Monument. One thousand times greater than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, the Turkey Creek Caldera eruption eventually laid down two thousand feet of highly silicious ash and pumice. This mixture fused into a rock called rhyolitic tuff and eventually eroded into the spires and unusual rock formations of today.
Life in the Mountains
Exploring Chiricahua National Monument is exploring a fantasy world of extraordinary rock sculptures that were created by the forces of nature over millions of years. Called the "Land of the Standing-Up Rocks" by Chiricahua Apaches and later the "Wonderland of Rocks" by pioneers, this northwest corner of the Chiricahua Mountains harbors towering rock spires, massive stone columns, and balanced rocks weighing hundreds of tons that perch delicately on small pedestals. Where hundreds of these rocks occur together, such as in the Heart of Rocks, the landscape appears as rugged badlands.
The story behind the rocks is not completely understood, but geologists believe that about 27 million years ago violent volcanic eruptions from nearby Turkey Creek caldera spewed forth thick white-hot ash. The ash cooled and fused into an almost 2,000-foot thick layer of dark volcanic rock known as rhyolite. The Chiricahua Mountains formed from this rock upheaval, and then the masters of erosion - water, wind, and ice - began sculpting the rock into odd formations. Erosion carved along weak vertical and horizontal cracks forming the fascinating rock forms preserved today in Chiricahua National Monument.
The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.
A geology photo album for this park can be found here.For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.
Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.
Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout
The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!
Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.
Information about the park's research program is available on the park's research webpage.
For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.
The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.
A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.
NPS Geology and Soils PartnersAssociation of American State Geologists
Geological Society of America
Natural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
U.S. Geological Survey
Currently, we do not have a listing for any park-specific geology education programs or activities.
General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.