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The Tiny Historic Town of Portal AZ in the Chiricahua Mountains is a Fine Place for Birding & Hiking

Updated on May 24, 2016
mactavers profile image

I've lived in Arizona for 68 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, books, and travel.

Portal Arizona Post Office

Where is Portal?

Portal Arizona is an unincorporated town located in Southeastern corner of Arizona in Cochise County. Cochise County was named for the famous Chiricahua Apache Chief Cochise who lived in the Chiricahua Mountains. Portal is located on the eastern side of the Chiricahua Mountains which is also called the Cochise Stronghold and The Wonderland of Rocks. The area has been, and still is known as an area of cattle ranching and mining, but during the last twenty years, Cochise County has also become known for excellent birding and other wildlife watching as well as a good camping and hiking recreational area.

To reach Portal from Northern or Central Arizona, travel on I-10 east of Wilcox. Then, if you don't mind traveling about 20 miles on a dirt road, before crossing into New Mexico, take the exit marked Portal. If you prefer a paved road, take the exit at Road Forks NM that is marked Rodeo Portal South. Alternate travel would be to visit Bisbee AZ to Douglas and then drive north on 80 through Rodeo NM to Portal. Another forest road travels from the west side of the Chircahua Mountains to Portal'; but we were told that the road was dirt, curvy and narrow.

Portal was supposedly named for a prospector named Duffener who discovered a cave at the mouth of Cave Creek Canyon. As with many settlements in Arizona, wherever there was a good source of water, the population grew. While the buildings in Portal mostly date before 1940, there are new homes being built in the surrounding area. What's the attraction to visit Portal? Cell phone use is spotty and the Portal Lodge and Cafe doesn't have television. (Not sure about the cabins or Bed and Breakfasts in or near Portal.) Gas isn't available, although the old gas station is really neat. To me the biggest attraction is the beauty of the canyon area, stargazing, watching the birds and leaving the bustle of the big city behind. Not to mention the friendly people that make their home there.

Portal Lodge, Store and Cafe Arizona

Portal Lodge, Cafe and Store
Portal Lodge, Cafe and Store | Source

Birding and Wildlife near Portal

Birders who visit Portal and the Cave Creek Canyon are looking to view the Elegant Trogon, the Mexican Chickadee, burrowing owls, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, warblers, hawks, golden eagles and other varieties of birds depending upon the time of the year. The Southwest Research Station of American Museum of Natural History in the area provides opportunities for scientists, conservation biologists and wildlife researchers to attend seminars on how to preserve environmental biodiversity. In addition to studying birds and animals, seminars are given on ants, butterflies, moths, bees and, herpetology, Sometimes, individuals are permitted to stay at the Research Station. Naturalist Journeys is a Portal based company that offers birding tours through the area. During our visit, we were treated to view a diligent woodpecker that was hard at work drilling holes into a tree trunk.

Looking West of Portal

Looking West from Portal Lodge
Looking West from Portal Lodge | Source

Relaxing in Portal

We took a walk up the Canyon road and ate dinner at the Portal Lodge, Store and Cafe. The store was built in the 1920s and still remains a true "general store." The merchandise included, basic food staples, wine and ice cream, snacks, books on the area, souvenirs, and stuff. The cafe, has 8 tables, the menu had a variety and the prices were reasonable. The food was good. In the morning we enjoyed a walk along the creek and looking at several stone houses, the Myrtle Kraft Library and we enjoyed a visit with Joan at the Portal Post Office. She was a wealth of information on the area. Reading, walking and napping were a treat to us.

We visited the Chiricahua Desert Museum close to Rodeo New Mexico which is a "sister" town to Portal. The museum offered a huge selection of Native American jewelry, and an impressive variety of books on the wildlife and history of the area. The Museum has the odd combination of an art gallery and desert reptiles.

On the way home, we visited the Rex Allen Museum in Wilcox which houses a collection of the memorabilia of both Rex Allen the singing cowboy and of his son Rex Allen Jr. We enjoyed a fine lunch at the local favorite the Big Tex BBQ housed in an old railroad dining car (on Railroad Ave.)

I've crossed off Portal from my Arizona "Bucket list" but I'd love to return next fall or summer to view the surrounding beauty in another season

Once Portal's Service/Gas Station

Old gas station in Portal.  Note Shell sign and gas pump
Old gas station in Portal. Note Shell sign and gas pump | Source


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    • mactavers profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thanks Eiddwen, Portal really is one of those out of the way charming places, that most people would enjoy

    • Eiddwen profile image


      8 years ago from Wales

      Thank you so much mactavers for sharing this true gem which I vote up and bookmark into my Armchair Travelling slot.

      Take care and enjoy your day.



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