Red dust kicked up behind my wheels as I hugged the inner curve
of the dirt road. Through the passenger-side window on my right,
I could just make out the 1500-foot drop to the gorge below.
I was glad I had taken the advice of the old cowboy. Last
night, I stayed at the Portal Peak Inn, a rustic hotel that was
clean enough, though I was glad I’m not squeamish about lizards
At dinner, I struck up a conversation with Doug, a skinny,
toothless guy with four empty brown bottles on the table in
front of him. A pick-up drivin’, hat-wearing, boot-clad,
honest-to-goodness cowboy, he was a construction worker when not
out on the range and a self-proclaimed drywall artist.
I asked him what was good on the menu. “Beer,”
he said, as his gap-toothed smile broadened. Wanting something a
little more substantial than brewed barley, I pointed to the
faded picture of a steak on the yellowed menu when the waitress
came by. I included a bottle of cheap beer and winked over at
Doug. He grinned and held his bottle up. Greasy french-fries
rounded things out. The fluorescent lighting turned everything
gray. It didn’t matter much, since the grizzled beef, which
I struggled to hack through with a butter knife, would have been
gray in any lighting. Across the six feet of worn linoleum that
separated us, a friendly
banter with Doug drifted to more
serious talk about my travels. I told him I’d
through the Coronado National Forest on my way back to Tucson.
Portal, Arizona lies at the entrance to the wilderness area,
one road carves its way thorough the red rock. I
filled my tank the day before
in New Mexico since Portal
does not boast a gas station. The park beckoned with
funnel formed by the encroaching ridges, but this welcoming
embrace soon narrowed, and Cave Creek Canyon swallowed me whole.
Brilliant birches contrasted with the ginger walls, and a giant
coyote carved by the elements in a rock formation howled to a
My route took me over the mountain, and Doug had advised me to
leave by sunrise to avoid any vehicles coming in the other
direction. Now, as I maneuvered over the oddly-slippery dust and
scree at unguarded elevations, I thanked him silently. The
baked red clay was only wide enough for one vehicle, maybe one
and a half if they were small.
I had left Portal just as the onyx sky brightened to the shade
of faded denim. I met only two vehicles the entire time and,
thankfully, our meeting was on broader ground. My trip was
only eight miles as the crow flies, but it took me more than two
hours to navigate the winding switchbacks.
After I crested the mountain, the road widened. Here the
expansive vistas and steep drop-offs were replaced by the
embrace of Ponderosa Pines whose tops were level with the
roadbed. I stopped for a quick lunch in a deserted picnic grove.
I recharged in the solitude and cool air and resumed my
The rugged mountains soon gave way to open highway and flat
expanses of tall, flaxen grass.
I had a side trip planned to Chiricahua National Monument, and
the route snaked through terra-cotta canyons and Pinyon Pine.
For a while the drive to 7,000-foot Massai Point looked no
different that the previous forty miles of cliffs but, as I
crested the summit, the difference became obvious. Standing like
the Moai of Easter Island, the weatherworn rock formed sentinels
in this remote canyon of Arizona.
Rhyolite tuffs—vertical deposits of volcanic ash—had eroded
away and left columns of rock known as hoodoos. Hundreds of
these spires were formed
in this valley, and it was that
vista that I admired now.
Chiricahua National Monument
comprises 12,000 acres in the Chiricahua Mountains of
southeastern Arizona. These volcanic mountains rise above the
surrounding grasslands to elevations ranging between 5,100 and
American Roads and
Global Highways has so many great articles you may
search it for you favorite places or new exciting destinations.
Ads fund American Roads and Global Highways
so please consider them for your needed
If you enjoy the articles we offer, donations
are always welcome.