From hard to soft, canyons to badlands

we found the Clark Lake Beds Wednesday was all about hard granite, steep canyons, rugged mountains and wide alluvial valleys formed on the western edge of the park in beautiful granite full of quartz, mica, and sparkling fools gold. Our extra day of exploration at Anza Borrego led us into an entirely different environment of barren dry lake beds, and badlands formed in soft sediments, riddled with complex arroyos, and washes, and sudden surprise overlooks.

and the famous boondocking site at the Oven The skies were clear when we left in the morning, with just a slight breeze in Borrego Springs.  Even with our 9am departure, we weren’t early enough to catch the early morning shadow light and by the time we rolled onto the Clark Lake area the winds were blowing hard.  Right away we found the oven Al mentioned last month and Laurie and Odel wrote about.  I had just started following Laurie’s blog when she wrote about camping here and building this oven, so it was with a special fondness that I took a photo of the well known boondock site.

through the deep sand in Font's Wash We continued east on Highway S22 to find Font’s Point.  Even with the recent rain the wash was filled with deep sand, enough that we were glad for 4 wheel drive.  We wondered about the suggestion to come here for sunset, since driving back in the dark might be a bit challenging.  I think someday I might try sunrise instead. The view was worth every moment of the drive through the sandy wash.  Each of the geologic formations are immediately distinguishable and I wished for a good geology book to remind me of what I had read in the park visitor center.  “Hmm, bottom tier clams. Top tier mammals. Wonder if that one has the horses and camels?  Miocene?  Sure is lots of stuff around the west that is Miocene era formations…yadayadayada….”  Mo just said, “Pretty!”

badlands Anza Borrego (7) The cliffs are extremely steep and the drop offs sudden on the soft barely coherent rock.  Abby was all excited, and since we were alone, we didn’t leash her up.  Next time we will.  She rarely unglues from Mo’s side, but for some reason the expansive views got her all excited and she kept getting way too close for my comfort. 

We continued along Fonts Wash to another turn east on Short Wash looking another  viewpoint ahead.  The map  I bought from the visitor center was excellent, and we were both impressed with the small and simple, but effective signage out there in the middle of nowhere.  In just a few more miles of sand, and one major drop off that required a bit of maneuvering, we were at Vista Del Malpais.  The view from here was a bit different, not quite as high, but more from a vantage point within the badlands rather than completely above them.  Here again I wished for a good geology book to ferret out the details of the formations.

badlands Anza Borrego (21) Another examination of the map showed our wash continuing farther east to the 17 Palms Oasis. “Wanna try for it?” “Sure, lets go”  It would be an in and out trip, past the primitive campsite at Arroyo Salado, but who knows what we might find.  We haven’t seen an oasis palm yet. We hadn’t read anything about this site previously, and were surprised to find that it had a great little story.  It was an historic stopover for weary badland travelers, and sometimes people would leave glass jars of water sitting about since the spring wasn’t always reliable.

There was also the “Oasis Post Office”, a wooden barrel wedged between two palms, where travelers could leave communications and notes for each other, a tradition that has continued.  We found the “post office”, filled with journals and notes, and three bottles of water.  We added our own little note to the journal, and noted that Libya was exploding, Fukushima was radiating, and the palms were still here, safe in the desert.

badlands Anza Borrego (41)We reversed our route to the highway and continued east on pavement to Salton City.  Ugh.  Salton City  was all the ugliness of the desert that we have seen too many times.  Dirty, brown, with some new housing developments of low flat ugly houses surrounded by telephone poles and wires and no vegetation.  It was the worst of the desert very close to the best of the desert.  We didn’t bother to go down to Salton Sea, since we knew about the smell and the dead fish lying around. 

All along the route south back to highway 78 the desert looked dry and barren, with no sign of flowers anywhere.  To the west of us, stretching all the way to Anza Borrego was the Ocotillo Wells recreation vehicle area.  Another word for 4-wheeler heaven.  I have nothing against 4 wheelers, in their place.  I have used them for soil survey, I totally get it, they are indispensable for farmers and ranchers with large acreage to manage and animals to care for.  Tearing up the wilderness with a vehicle is another story.  I am truly grateful for places like this huge area of Ocotillo Wells for 4-wheeler folks to play and have fun with their toys.  It’s great.  There should be more places like this, where I can stay out of their way and they can stay out of mine.  Perfect. 

badlands Anza Borrego (38)As we continued south and then west, I noticed on the map that we were 175 feet below sea level.  Looking a bit closer I saw a fine line called “ancient beach line”.  38 feet.  A bit more research led to the fact that we were in what was once the Gulf of Mexico, the Sea of Cortez, extending all the way north, creating the Imperial Valley with all it’s rich alluvial soils.  Rich and fertile, but still ugly at the moment.  Once west of Ocotillo Wells, however, we breached the old beach line elevation and the landscape filled with gorgeous desert, unscarred by ORV tracks, and covered with the red haze of blooming ocotillo.  Anza Borrego State Park is huge.  We had only tapped the northern half and very little of the mountains.  What an amazing treasure this park is to the state, the country and to the world.  I’m so glad the powers that be haven’t let it be destroyed or lost to temporary budget troubles.

Once home, we were fairly worn out after all the bouncing around in washes, and just settled in early for a good spaghetti supper (from home again) and a movie.  We decided to dump the tanks and get ready to go for this morning’s departure so it would be quick and easy.

Borrego rainbow (5)This morning we were up early enough to see a magnificent sunrise punctuated by rainbows over the mountains and we were on the road by 7:30, heading for Tucson.  A lucky break for us, however, that we didn’t leave earlier.  Just as we started around the Christmas Tree Circle, we noticed that the Farmers Market mentioned by Kelly had already begun.  It was so simple to pull over and park on the circle while we walked across the lush green grass to the vendors.  I had read about the 3 buck bags of grapefruit, and the farmer from just north on Borrego Springs road was happy to give us a taste of his sweetest. Of course we bought a bag, along with two kinds of hummus and some soft pitas from a Moroccan man, and some local orange blossom honey.  Yay for the Farmer’s Market!  On to Tucson and a new experience camping at one of the Military Family Camps at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on the northeastern heart of the city.  We have friends and family to visit in the Tucson area, so this should be a good central location, and cheap! 

desert vista At the moment we are crossing wide, open, rather boring land between Yuma and Tucson, and the air is thick with smog or smoke or what they try to pass off in the West as haze.  It could be dust from all the recent storms, or it could be the sad state of air quality around Phoenix, but either way, I am especially grateful for the extra time we spent in the pristine world of Anza Borrego.

Anza Borrego State Park and Coyote Canyon

As expected, I took nearly 200 photos, if you want to check them out here.

morning from the MoHo Our rig faces northeast, with an open view of the mountains past the low lying, almost invisible buildings of Borrego Springs.  Watching the morning sun stream in the windows, listening to all the birds, sipping morning tea in all that desert light was delightful.  The day stretched ahead, with predicted temperatures in the 70’s and clear skies until late afternoon, when a bit of wind and showers could appear. 

We knew that the park was huge, with miles and miles of dirt roads, some we could manage, and others maybe not.  We also knew hiking is something we love but not sure where we could go with Abby.  So first stop on the agenda was the main Anza Borrego State Park Visitor Center, just a hop up the road from where we are staying here at the Holiday Borrego Mobile Home Park.  After a couple of nights near freeways and truck stops, the silence and darkness of Borrego Springs makes for amazing restful sleeping.  In fact, Borrego Springs is listed as one of only two “dark sky” communities, and one of the ten best places for viewing the heavens in the United States. 

Anza visitor center (5) The visitor center is beautifully done, with interesting displays, excellent volunteers providing information about where flowers are blooming, what roads are passable, where the sheep are located, and yes, where we could walk with Abby.  All park roads, dirt or paved, but no trails.  I especially enjoyed the geologic maps and prehistory of the area.  There is so much to see here, and after buying a hat for Mo and a tee shirt for me, (oh my, will it end up in a quilt someday?  I just can’t seem to resist those gorgeous park tee shirts.), we walked around the lovely naturally landscaped grounds before embarking on our chosen journey.

Anza visitor center (10) Coyote Canyon seemed to be the best choice, with many flowers in bloom right now after the rains.  There were several people in the center, many of whom had only two wheel drive vehicles, but with our little Tracker we thought we could manage at least some of the 4 wheel drive routes.

The road north from Borrego into the park is straightforward, that is until the prehistoric animals start to appear.  I recently saw photos of these critters on another blog, but it still didn’t prepare me for the surprise.  With the sponsorship of Dennis Avery, a Borrego Springs philanthropist,  the Mexican artist Ricardo Arroyo Breceda has created amazingly intricate and detailed iron sculptures that appear as though they just emerged from the landscape as it was a couple of million years ago during the Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Miocene eras.  We hope to explore other areas of the park where fossils of this time period have been found, but today our journey was into the granite batholiths of the San Ysidro Mountains along Coyote Creek.Mar 23 Coyote Canyon1 

When the park says 4×4, high clearance, they mean it.  Although that can mean two different things.  We saw sedans crawling along the sandy wash road with success, and then we saw them turn around at “first crossing”.  The Tracker made quick work of that one, and on to “2nd crossing” without a hitch.  Good little Tracker.  We saw a few Jeeps, real ones, not the SUV kind of Jeep, with explorers heading for the deeper reaches of the canyon, but when we reached “3rd crossing”, we decided it might be prudent to check it out and walk.  We wanted a good hike today anyway, and this was perfect. 

Coyote Canyon (13) Park volunteers warned of soft sand, but it wasn’t a bit of a problem for the Tracker
Coyote Canyon (25) This was second crossing, still no problem for the Tracker, even though there are some good sized rocks hidden in that foot deep water
Coyote Canyon (27) We started walking at third crossing, where the road followed the creek, but had no real clue just what was ahead of this part

Coyote Canyon (32) Third Crossing was a bit of a surprise, since it followed the path of Coyote Creek, quite full after the recent rains.  As we walked (and Abby swam) along the road, we came upon a young man walking back checking for parts that might not be as deep as others.  He had driven across, but it was up to his tail pipes and he wanted to avoid an engine cutting out.  We watched him plow back through the water and thought, “Good Luck!”

Continuing on with our hike, we noticed a trail of oil running down the center of the road.  UhOh.  Wonder if he knows he broke something.  Then as we hiked up a couple of very steep very rocky grades, we knew that 4×4 definitely means something other than even a little 4 wheel drive Coyote Canyon (37)Tracker in some parts of this park.  We hiked high enough above the Lower Willows area to look down into Collins Valley and up the wild open distance of Upper  Coyote Canyon.  We didn’t make it as far as the hike into Sheep Canyon or Salvador Canyon with it’s hidden palms.  In fact when we looked at our excellent purchased park map, it looked as though we just barely tapped into the wild distance of Coyote Canyon.  The best part about all this was the perfect hiking temperatures, and the fact that Abby could be with us, and enjoy the refreshing stream.  Not often you see and hear burbling water in the desert.

Coyote Canyon (40) Once back to the car, and driving out, we saw many more vehicles, some parked having picnics, another big rough jeepy tour thing with six folks hanging on for dear life as he dropped down into third crossing.  We wondered just how it might feel for those folks bouncing around in the back of the open jeep when they started up the steep bouldery road into Collins Valley. 

This park whetted our appetite for a lot more.  Like many others who come here, we looked at each other and said, “This place calls for at least a month in the winter” .  We want to come back and explore so much more.  Before settling in to our home, we drove around some of the neighborhoods around town.  There is a stillness here, even in town, that is so rare in the desert any more.  It  reminds me of the California desert I knew as a kid, before the sprawling thing happened to Lancaster and Palmdale and Palm Springs.  The buildings are low, there are no stop lights, no big box stores, very few stores at all, although we did find the ice cream store on the way back to camp. We loved the way homes here are scattered about the desert in a pleasing manner, that feels as though they emerged naturally.

It’s much different than the overgrown trashy desert rat kind of desert that is becoming the rule rather than the exception.  Looking out over the landscape here, we saw no trash, none anywhere.  From the quiet dirt roads around town, the desert vistas expand all around in all directions, clean and clear and silent.  It is all that I dream of when I dream of desert in winter.  It’s a place to soothe the soul and quiet the spirit.

Mar 23 Coyote CanyonAfter putting together a great supper with some of that pulled pork I made before we left, we enjoyed sitting out behind our rig on the edge of the park watching the light play on the mountains.  Our plans were to leave for the Tucson area Thursday morning, but that just seemed silly.  “What is the rush, I said? Why don’t we stay here one more night and take some time tomorrow to go find some of the places we couldn’t see today?” Mo was up for that idea, and we went to bed with the great feeling that the next day would be relaxed and fun, and we would have time to go find all those “points of interest” that we saw on the park map.