A Portal to Paradise

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There is a comfort to coming back to a place that embraces you and fills you with a sense of calm and warm fuzzies. The area that no matter where you travel to on this big blue marble, it is always calling to you. I am lucky that I have roamed enough in my life that I have a couple of places that appeal to me. I am in one of those places, and after years of coming to the deserts of the southwest in the United States, its beauty never fails to leave me in awe. It is so much more than “hot and brown.”

Driving south on HWY 80 in Hidalgo County, NM, you would think it is just another desert road. The scenery is a bit unimpressive. Scrub brush and the occasional roadrunner breaks up the monotony. But then, you start to climb into a golden red pass – mounds of granite forced up from Earth’s crust. As you peek through, you see it—the Chiricahua Mountains, the wide-open valley that lies between you and Portal Peak. From HWY 80, you can take Portal Road to the West and head into Portal, AZ, and from there, you can explore the canyon, the mountains, old towns like Paradise. It is a hidden gem. You’d be forgiven for driving right past the valley and not paying it much attention. After all, from I-10, it doesn’t show a lot of promise, and if you aren’t looking for, it is easy to miss.

The skies here are so dark, not dark like a small town center at night, and not like a moonlit walk through a park; it is the kind of dark where on a new moon, you can step outside and not be able to see your hand in front of your face. A darkness that makes you lose track of your where your limbs are, and you get a bit of vertigo. It is so dark you get lost in the stars above. Where you can use the light from the stars to guide your path and the Andromeda Galaxy is not only visible, it is a bright point in the sky, shining like Jupiter or Mars.

The first night we camped here, I stepped outside to pitch blackness. The only other time I have experienced darkness like this was on a tour of Carlsbad Caverns in the King’s Room. When you first step outside at night, you can’t see anything, but after a few moments, the glow from the Milky Way was enough to see my path. It had been decades since I sat under a sky this dark. The last time I remember a night sky, this dark was in Floyd County, Virginia – sitting out on the deck with Mamma watching stars and enjoying the view of Hale-Bop Comet.

Portal to Paradise

In the daylight, this area can look as vast and open as the night skies. You can drive for miles without passing a single car. You have a 360-degree view, and the closest house could be miles away. The only sounds you hear are the birds and the wind.

The area sits at the intersection of two deserts and two mountain ranges, and it gives the space a greater diversity in fauna and flora. You have the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts and the Sierra Madres and the Rocky Mountains ranges. It is home to many species year-round and is on the migration track for many more.

While I am always up for exploring new areas, this place means so much to me that I scattered the ashes of Korkie, Cinder, and Dexter in the canyon. It will always be a home to me.

** There is a really interesting one long special about the area. It is from 1998 but still valuable information. **

Chiricahuas: Mountain Islands in the Desert