Tuesday, March 17, 2009



We had heard from several people that it was a nice drive from the Chiricahua National Monument area up & over the mountains to the wee town of Portal on the other side. Signs say 4 wheel drive vehicles are recommended but someone said we would be fine with our 2 wheel drive 5 speed Santa Fe.....and we were. Rosanna from Paws & Hooves had offered to drive us over but I don't like to bother other people to drive for several reasons. To-day for example we probably made over 40 stops just getting through the mountains because I'm always looking for photos & stopping to look at stuff. Driving in the mountains is exciting so I like to be behind the wheel, shifting the gears, & making the driving decisions. I'm not a very good passenger at any time. We also meander up side roads, down back roads, & just generally poke along exploring things. It is the main reason we don't like going places with groups of people. We just like to do our own thing & it's much easier for my peace of mind if I don't have people walking in & out of the photographs I'm trying to take. We generally try to get a feel for whatever area we are in & sometimes that just requires a whole lot of quiet. I know there are some people out there who will understand that & some who won't. YES, THESE MOUNTAIN ROADS ARE VERY STEEP IN PLACES

We got ourselves an early start this morning & were actually out the gate by 8:15. An hour later we were into the Chiricahuas. Always amazing how fast the landscape changes in just a matter of a few miles. On the valley floor we humans are taller than most vegetation but within gaining a few hundred feet in the mountains we are suddenly dwarfed by towering Pine trees, Sycamore, Juniper, & Oak trees plus a whole host of other greenery like Mesquite trees, Agaves & Prickly Pear Cactus just to name a few. Within a few miles exist two different worlds. I remember parts of British Columbia being like that when I lived in the Okanogan Valley back in the early 70's for a few years. SNOW ON THE CHIRICAHUA MOUNTAIN TOPS AHEAD

The gravel road was very washboardy when we first entered the mountains but as we climbed it smoothed itself out. Saw some great camping spots in the forest alongside the road. Only accessible for small Class C's or B Class vans. Great for truck campers & pop up tent trailers though. Forded a few shallow creeks along the way & saw a couple of deer on the road. Stopped at what we presumed was the mountain summit because we could see the road headed down from there. Hauled out my thermos of coffee & took a picture of the sign which said we were at Onion Saddle, elevation 7,600 feet. Scouted out a side road but it was too rough for our Santa Fe. If we continue to come here to the southwest we are really going to have to get ourselves a 4 wheel drive jeep. Nothing wrong with our Santa Fe but so many times we have wanted to go places that we knew our beloved little Santa Fe couldn't go. CASTLES IN THE AIR

Began our descent down the east side of the Chiricahua Mountains making many stops & marveling at the beauty surrounding us. I was continually out of the car with the cameras. Not so good for my sore leg but no matter, it's just the way it has to be & I'll rest it up some more on Tuesday. It is improving anyway. Saw a sign saying Paradise so we took a bumpy little side road 3 miles down into a sleepy little place with a few houses on either side of the road with people living in them. Just kind of rolled right through & continued on to Portal. Passed a sign that said, Paradise Cemetery so wheeled in to take a picture of the cemetery gate which had a sign saying it was indeed the Paradise Cemetery. Just goes to prove that when some people die they do actually go to Paradise. HEADING FOR CAVE CREEK

The closer we got to Portal the more spectacular the mountain ranges became. Large stone bluffs & formations began appearing atop mountain ridges. Towering rocks looking like "castles in the air." Don McLean has a song entitled that. We knew we were in a very scenic area. PORTAL ARIZONA

The little town of Portal can hardly be called a town. I would say it's about 4 good stone throws long by 3 stone throws wide. Has a Post Office & Library but our main destination was the Portal Store Cafe & Lodge. Kelly had heard they had great Mexican food there so in we went. I had a grilled chicken burger with chips & Kelly had a great big plate of something Mexican I couldn't even pronounce. In the long run my grilled chicken burger turned out to be the best of the two. Took a drive around Portal which lasted all of about 60 seconds & then headed 3 miles back into the Coronado Forest looking for a little place called Cave Creek southwest of Portal. It was on this road that the scenery really took off. Towering mountains on both sides, mountain streams, waterfalls, & forests. This area has it all. It's a bird watcher's paradise & people flock here from far & wide looking for the rare & elegant Trogan bird. We saw birder's to-day along the roads with their binoculars & scopes. We saw beautiful mountains riddled with caves & hiking trails everywhere. Came across a great little campground with awesome views. Check our web album. http://picasaweb.google.com/stargeezerguy/ About 15 well spaced sites & a campground that we could bring our motorhome to. We have mentally bookmarked this area & this campground as a place for us to return next year. And I'm being a bit uncharacteristically optimistic here in saying...."we will return to the Southwest!!!!"

Not too much in Cave Creek but we did stop at a Forestry Building & ask for directions to another camping area we had heard about. Some nice private lodges in Cave Creek. Headed back down the winding forest road, past the jagged rocky peaks along botanical road & out the highway back to Portal. Stopped at the Portal Store for a coffee to go & rolled east out into the San Simon Valley. It was 2:15 as I watched the Chiricahua Mountains fading in my rear view mirror. Within minutes we crossed the New Mexico State line, turned right onto highway 80 for a few more miles & then passed the Arizona State line right back into Arizona again. Hardly any traffic on this scenic highway as we headed southbound through the dusty little town of Rodeo. Put the hammer down on the Santa Fe, took a short cut around the north end of Douglas & we were back at the ranch before 3:30. Just another super terrific day trip in the good old American southwest.

New Mexico, Arizona, California, & a few areas in southern Texas are by far the greatest scenic areas to escape old man winter. So much to see & do. So much perfectly great weather. So many great times. So many memories..........................................................

OUR PHOTO ALBUMS http://picasaweb.google.com/stargeezerguy/