Between Arizona and New Mexico-Portal and Rodeo-The Chiricahuas
Leaving Bisbee you stay on Highway 80 all the way to Rodeo, New Mexico a bit more than 76 miles, which lies right along the state line. To the North the Arizona Chiricahuas loom and to the East,New Mexico’s Peloncillo’s, which means little baldy in Spanish and to the South, hermosa Mexico. Historical battles, and Indian Wars caused retreats into these mountain regions, it was also access and escape routes into the safe haven ranges of northern Mexico.
These are both volcanic ranges. They are part of an “archipelago” of mountain ranges known as the sky islands that connect the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico with the Rocky Mountains. Bits of lava rock lay spewn about, a testament to the eruptive past here and cinder cones dot the landscape. It is a dry and somewhat barren landscape in the valleys between the two ranges. Rusty’s RV Park touts the dark skies which fall into the dark grey zone on the light pollution map, one step away from black which is the darkest.
This is not our first visit here, back in 2016 we came out this way but Mike was hampered by the wind, and this time the clouds and the wind. It may be dark but you need clear skies to do this astronomy thing and sometimes walls to protect you from the wind;) Dozens of daytime jet contrails also seem to seed high clouds that linger into the night. This must be a major flight path from LA-Dallas. Mike was a bit disappointed to say the least, the neighbouring astronomers were not into visual but astro photography and it was not what you would call a social group. They kept to themselves mostly. It was one of those times I longed to have a smaller trailer. The campsites in the Chiricahua Mountains are all fairly short, and the tree branches on the road in are VERY low. Losing an AC unit or hatch was not what we wanted to do so we made a few forays in Hagrid into the park to hike and drive about to get away from the barren valley landscape.
Cave Creek Trail is always a wonderful adventure. Something magical about water! Part of it once was a road but when Hurricane Odile dropped 6″ of rain in 2014 took out most of that and many of the park roads and campsites as well, some still remain closed. It has seen it’s fair share of dramatic events. The town of Portal and any homes and B&B’s close to the Creek suffered damage still visible today, how well we know that after living in the Sierra de San Pedro Martir!
Following the creek you criss-cross it multiple times, dipping into the creek or leaping from rock to rock eventually ending up in some meadow areas. It was very quiet bird wise, a bit too early for the locals to be back from Mexico;) The colourful rhyolite cliffs of Cave Creek Canyon smile down on you through the branches of the barren trees. The colours, yellow, red and gold are outstanding!
Don’t blink or you will miss Portal. “It’s actually called a town?!” a lady birdwatching at Cave Creek Ranch B&B exclaimed as she sat down…yup;) but then so is Paradise, a hamlet tucked further up into the hills. A new store/restaurant, The Sky Islands Grill and Grocery on the road into the park is a welcome surprise! With everything from Indian curry pastes and canned hummus and babaganoush to toilet paper and a few fresh items it is a delight. The restaurant serves up pizza and burger fare and their Gyro sandwich was a big hit! The Portal Store has beer and wine and a few bits of comida chatarra (chips, cheesies etc.) but not much else…it is not a place to come ill prepared food or gas wise. The closest pumps are in Animas, New Mexico 20 miles away.
We had to move spots to stay a week, not a problem, one is much like the other. They are very long, some have tables and fire pits, some don’t, just luck of the draw. Good room to set up the scope but we took it down after a few days with an incoming bad weather forcast. We took the 20 mile drive out to Animas for gas and some beer, but were informed someone had driven “into” the liquor storefront, and it was closed…hmmm….drunk maybe?
We did drive out to the Cave Creek Ranch B&B and donate a sum into their bird food fund to sit and watch the amazing Arizona and Acorn Woodpeckers. The very large (for a hummingbird) Blue Throated eluded me in the shade most of the time but put in an appearance as well as a male Broadbill. They are like little flying jewels! The Woodpeckers are my favourites, dressed in clown suits the Acorns steal the show, a whole family came and went.
A week was enough for us. The lack of any good seeing, clouds, wind and the social context for the astronomy made us ready to move on. Mike’s Canadian friends must be the most social astro geeks we know, compared to this bunch, it almost felt like we were not quite their type. We are still looking for our mobile astronomy tribe. In the meantime, we need to look for places to stay where people are interested in nature and the world above. Usually at the State and National Parks everyone is curious, here, no one even asked to look through the scope as they walked by. Sad indeed!
We headed back West towards Tucson, snagged a one night stop at Kartchner Caverns then back to the Desert Trails RV Park in Tucson. By the time we had arrived in Rodeo we’d noticed some very odd tire wear on the back two tires and had contacted a suspension shop-Arizona Spring- in Tucson as well as the insurance company, Progressive that had covered our bump with debris on the road back in January to get it looked at as we thought it may have somehow changed the axle alignment, but that, is another story…stay tuned my friends as we have leave our home for the dreaded “looking for a cat friendly hotel” escapade!