A volcanic eruption twenty-seven million years before had left behind layers of pumice and ash two thousand feet high. The ash and pumice fused together to create a rock called rhyolitic tuff. Over time, the rhyolite weathered into a maze of rock columns. The Chiricahua Apaches called the area “The Land of Standing-Up Rocks,” but surprisingly few Anglo-Americans knew of the area until the twentieth century. Lillian’s father had stumbled upon the formations, but it wasn’t until 1921 that Ed and Lillian began an extensive exploration of the area. They quickly realized the commercial potential inherent in the dramatic scenery and hired an amateur photographer to take several panoramic photos. Ed and Lillian sent the photos to the county fair and to the chambers of commerce of several local towns.
The photographs aroused interest in the rock formations, and soon a grassroots movement developed to have the area officially preserved. The Antiquities Act, passed in 1906, allowed the president to set aside areas of “historic or scientific interest.” Numerous national monuments, including Casa Grande, Chaco Canyon, and Tumacácori already existed in the Southwest. By the 1920s, the national monuments were becoming popular tourist attractions, particularly as the rise in automobile ownership allowed more people to reach the monuments, often located in isolated areas. When the governor of Arizona, George W. P. Hunt, visited the “Wonderland of Rocks” in 1923, he supported the creation of a national monument. On April 18, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the legislation creating Chiricahua National Monument.