April 2, 2015 Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

Chiricahuas
Chiricahuas

Exploring the Chiricahuas

After an afternoon and night of being not so gently rocked in the motorhome ( my impression of this area is that it tends to get a little breezy ), I loaded up the Prius and headed west towards Portal to see how far up in the mountains my no clearance vehicle could climb.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Chiricahua Dawn
Chiricahua Dawn

Just a beautiful blue sky morning as I drove west on Route 533 ( Portal Road ) towards the small town of Portal, Arizona, reported to be a birding hotspot.

Chiricahuas Afternoon
Chiricahuas Afternoon

( Just throwing in this image taken on my way home in the afternoon, from pretty much the exact same spot, to show the atmospheric changes over 7 hours of climbing around in the mountains. Very different sky, still an absolutely gorgeous day ! )

Chiricahuas
Chiricahuas

Turns out the town of Portal is really just an assortment of small buildings scattered over several miles along Portal Road. A few lodges here and there, a small Post Office and Library located at the end of a short dead end street. I as yet have not discovered where folks around here shop for groceries or even fill their gas tanks. I seem to be a long ways from anywhere out here.

Heading Into the Chiricahuas
Heading Into the Chiricahuas

Stunningly dramatic scenery as you drive along this road and start heading up into the Chiricahua Mountains.

Rugged Chiricahuas
Rugged Chiricahuas
Rugged Country
Rugged Country

The terrain suddenly gets quite vertical on both sides of the road as you start the climb.

Rugged Country
Rugged Country

The road slowly passes through a canyon following the edge of a stream with a lot of evidence of some pretty serious flood damage. The canyon walls are steep and one side is bathed in the morning sunlight …

Fallen "rocks"
Fallen “rocks”

… while the other is in deep shade. These interesting “rocks”, obviously fallen from above for they don’t resemble anything in their immediate surroundings, are gigantic. Just look at the trees behind them probably 80 – 100 feet tall. This is some very dramatic country ! The flood damage has actually closed a couple of the side roads and campgrounds here.

Rugged Chiricahuas
Rugged Chiricahuas
Rugged Country
Rugged Country

You have to notice the oaks and pines in these images to begin to grasp the sheer verticallity and height of these canyon walls.

After exiting the narrow canyon, I stopped at the Southwest Research Station and checked out their hummingbird feeding area and saw my first Blue Throat, one of the largest of the North American hummingbirds. For some reason, all the nectar feeders here are protected by what all but looks like sheep fence cages making photography impossible.

Since the gravel road to this point was in pretty good shape I decided to continue on up the Mountain Road and see how far I could make it towards Rustler Park, located at 9000′ elevation. Though the road got a little rough in places, and you do have to ford a couple streams, the Prius had little trouble handing the road all the way to Rustler Park. A forest fire blew through the campground at Rustler park, and what once must have been a very pretty campground nestled in tall pines, now looks like a barren, charred war zone. While the burned pines remain standing on the slopes above the campground, all the trees have been chopped down within the campground for obvious safey concerns, leaving  only chewed up blackened earth throughout the grounds.

9000' Turkeys
9000′ Turkeys
9000' Turkey
9000′ Turkey

On my way back down the road from the campground, I was a little surprised to see two foraging wild turkeys picking their way through the woods at 9000′ elevation, must be a pretty hardy race of turkeys.

The View from 8000 Feet
The View from 8000 Feet

As I headed back down the mountain, I took this one shot to show the potential grand vistas that would be seen from this road if only there wasn’t so much air pollution killing such distant views, something I have noticed seems to be prevalent everywhere I have been in Arizona. What a shame.

Arizona Cloudscape
Arizona Cloudscape

Back on a much lower elevation, there was a very different look to the skies as I headed back to my campsite at Rusty’s RV Park. I took the dogs with me today to give them a change of scenery and tomorrow I plan to head back into the mountains without them so I can hike a few of the trails and perhaps get some bird shots.

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April 1, 2015 Rodeo, New Mexico

Route 80 Heading for New Mexico
Route 80 Heading for New Mexico

Turning North

Left the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area and headed south to Douglas, AZ. to pick up Route 80 east, that actually mostly travels north to New Mexico. Once through Douglas the scenery takes a dramatic turn and the bleak dry desert becomes a little greener as you approach the Chiricahua Mountains.

Spring Color
Spring Color

I wish there had been room along the road to stop on this leg of the journey, as there were several spots with some nice patches of wildflowers.

Airzona Open Range
Airzona Open Range

All I could capture were some vague shots out the window of the moving motorhome, but there is a definite indication of spring having finally arrived.

Spring Color
Spring Color
Chiricahuas Come into View
Chiricahuas Come into View

This is a shot of the Chiricahua Mountains just before entering New Mexico. My plan is to spend a few days here and drive into the mountains around Portal, Arizona and check out some of the birding hot spots before continuing north.

Rusty's RV Park
Rusty’s RV Park

I arrived at Rusty’s RV Park in the early afternoon, and although the temperature was up in the low 80’s, this was nothing like the heat that forced me out of Whitewater Draw. Mainly because there was a nice “breeze” of about 25 mph keeping a lid on the heat.

Rusty’s is a pretty nice spot to stay. They are a Passport America Park and my 3 night stay cost me $ 48 or $16/night for a full hookup with 50 amp electric. They have very long double pull through sites, one rig facing one direction, the other facing the opposite way. Turns out the sites are sufficiently long that my neighbor and I really don’t intrude on each another’s privacy. The double sites are separated from the adjoining sites by 30 or more feet of desert landscape with some young trees interspersed. My site has a nice distant view of the mountains to the west. Don’t ask me why, but with the park essentially empty, I was placed in a double site with just about the only other person here.

The woman who checked me in could not possibly have been any more helpful, providing me with tips on birding and sites to explore. I would definitely have to give Rusty’s a thumbs up.

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