A Four Day Sampling of Anza Borrego Desert State Park

January 21, 2015 Joshua Tree NP, White Tank CG 46f

First on the agenda for the day was a shower and soak. Spurred on by our friends Julianne Crane and Jimmy Smith [click here] we visited Desert Hot Springs Hotel and Spa. This facility offers affordable day rates that include soaking pools of various temperatures, a swimming pool, as well as the shower room. Ah yes, the showers and the soak were just what we were looking for.

Passing Palm Springs and Palm Desert, we headed toward the Salton Sea and down the west side to S22, the Borrego Salton Sea Way, which carries the weary traveler west toward Borrego Springs. The road, S22, goes through some dramatic “bad lands” along the way which kept our photo-specialist (Dar) busy. Her trigger finger was vibrating and it appeared the camera was starting to smoke.

Since it was getting late in the day we found a campspot (33.304, -116.280, elev 630) among the boondockers at Clark Dry Lake off Rockhouse Road. It wasn’t our ideal, but it’d do for the night. We’ll get an early start in the morning.

January 22, Clark Dry Lake northeast of Borrego Springs

Drove through the little village of Borrego Springs and stopped for breakfast at Jilbertos. Then out to the Anza Borrego Visitor Center for a little orientation. Anza Borrego is the largest State Park in the United States. At 634,000 acres, it makes up more than half the real estate of the entire California State Park system combined. The largest established campground is near the visitor center. It has a full-hookup section and two no-hookup sections. We made note of the numerous shower facilities for future reference.

A volunteer in the VC gave us the “skinny” on a number of primitive/backcountry camping spots when he found out our vehicle was almost go-anywhere capable. There are over 400 miles of roads (mostly sand, rock, dirt) that traverse the park and as long as you follow a few simple rules, you can camp almost anywhere. Now you’re talkin’.

We explored Borrego Springs a bit more and then headed out toward an area called Hawk Canyon. It’s also near a feature called “The Slot”, a popular slot canyon hike that we think we’ll do tomorrow morning. Today we just wanted to get to a secluded campspot and take it easy.

The road into Hawk Canyon was mostly sand with washboard riffles and a few noteable inflections. The small canyon was a gorgeous display of rock and color that extended about a quarter mile. We found an agreeable spot to set up a quick camp (33.179, -116.204, elev 590), and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the canyon and soaking up the warm sun. A few other vehicles drove through during the afternoon, but as the sun set, we were all alone.

January 23, Anza Borrego - Hawk Canyon camp.

I should mention that all those 400 miles of roads and trails through the park are designated for highway-legal vehicles only. There is another area east of the park called the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area where all those 4 wheeler dune buggies, desert assault vehicles, dust bunnies, and Razor-like side-by-side thingys can go and knock themselves out making as much dust as they can and sending dirt flying in any direction they chose. The lack of these creations is just another feature that makes Anza Borrego a hit with us.

Once we got ourselves up and rolling for the day, we only had a short two or three mile drive over to The Slot, our hike for the day. This highlights a big benefit of our go anywhere, stay anywhere capability. If we had to base ourselves at a campground back in the Borrego Springs area, we’d have to add commuting time and expense to our day. As it is, at least here in this park, we can stay close to where we end the previous days explorations and be ready to explore right away the following day. It’s what the concept of linear travel is all about.

As we were preparing for the hike at the rustic trailhead for The Slot, we ran into a couple from Iowa, Leroy and Linda. As things developed, we made it a foursome and did the hike together. They were positively enjoyable and we had a wonderful time.

Yep... this is the trail.
The Slot itself was a neat experience. The trail starts near the top of the canyon and it becomes deeper and tighter, skinnier, as you walk down until it opens up into a much broader area. The hike itself was an out and back, and we walked something like 4 miles total. A notable side trip was a climb up a rock covered with wind or water carved caves, arches, and hollows. At the top we stopped for a quick snack and soaked in the views. Thanks Leroy and Linda for a good time.

After the hike we got back onto a hard road (asphalt) and drove toward an area called Blair Valley. Along the way we stopped and checked out the Tamarisk Grove CG, one of the handful of developed campgrounds in Anza Borrego. Met the camphost, Becky, and had a very nice long conversation with her. She filled us in on some Park secrets and lesser known facts. By the time we left we felt we had a new friend.

Continuing westward on CA-78, we then turned south on S-2. The first valley, I think called Earthquake Valley is mostly private land with a small community whose name escapes me at the moment. But you soon climb to a saddle on a ridge and drop down into Blair Valley, the site of our next adventures. After a little nosing around to orient ourselves we found the very small dirt trail (suggested by the volunteer at the VC) that led up onto the aforementioned ridge. Now in four wheel drive and at times adding some rather interesting “desert pinstriping” to the sides of the truck, we settled on a small clearing that became our camp for the night (33.036, -116.387, elev 2870).

A few nights ago I said something about our camp for that night being the most secluded we’ve ever had. This one beats that one, hands down. We were miles from anyone and anywhere, and we slept well.

January 24, Anza Borrego - somewhere on a ridge above Blair Valley.

Our battery issue is still looming. We’re just not driving enough the past couple days to bring the battery up to anything close to a full charge. Clearly, a solution is going to be found so we can stay out, unplugged, for extended periods. Even during the summer, with more hours from a sun that’s higher in the sky, we’ll still have cloudy days and we’ll still want to camp in forested areas. Thinking strongly about a small generator.

From our camp we took a rustic dirt road south through Little Blair Valley to the Morteros trail site. This is a self-guided short trail that winds through an ancient indian village site. Sited amid plentiful desert flora there are numerous grinding holes (morteros… mortars) in the rocks where the early people ground the seeds and nuts into meal.

From the Morteros, it was a short jaunt over to the trailhead for Ghost Mountain. In the 1930s, Marshal South and his wife Tanya, desiring a simple life and wanting to live off the land, built a homestead atop Ghost Mountain. Marshal, a tad on the eccentric side, cut a trail up the side of the mountain and then lugged most of their supplies and building materials the 1 to 1.5 miles up the hill. It had to be a rough life.

They spent 16 years up there and raised 3 kids, built a house from scratch, and eeked out a living by writing a few articles and books. It all ended bitterly when Tanya had enough of the eccentric Marshal, divorced him, and moved away with the kids. He died the following year.

Their place on the mountain, which they called Yaquitepec, was left to the elements and is in ruins today. A few partial walls are standing, a metal bedframe, the concrete water system, some other things. It won’t be long and it’ll all be gone.

We had a snack and a small bottle of wine; toasted old Marshal and Tanya with hopes that the memory of them will linger a while longer. It was an entertaining and rewarding hike up the hill.

So, we headed back to “civilization”, thinking we might stop and camp at Becky’s Tamarisk Grove CG, if they had electric power at the sites… so we could give our battery a good soaking charge. Alas, no power at sites in Tamarisk, so we drove up to Borego Springs and the Park’s Borrego Palm Canyon CG. Unfortunately, their full hookup sites were fully occupied, so we reluctantly took a regular site. Battery won’t be happy, but I will be with a good hot shower.

January 25, Anza Borrego - Borrego Palm Canyon Campground

Broke camp and headed for home… back to North Ranch near Congress. Appears the weather is coming into an unsettled spell, cloudier and rainy the next few days. On the drive back we took Box Canyon Road which is a scenic shortcut between I-10 (at the southern entrance to Joshua Tree NP) and the northern end of the Salton Sea. A very pleasant drive. We also stopped at the General George Patton Museum just off I-10 at MP173 to check out how old George’s reputation is holding up. It’s safe to say his reputation is in better shape than the rusting collection of old war machinery parked around the museum. An OK stop.

Arrived back at the bushouse at sundown and toasted a very successful and enjoyable trip with the camper.

Atop Ghost Mountain


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