We visited with Anne and Mark in Oceanside, CA, and once again found ourselves the recipients of good friendship and generous hospitality. It seems everyone we visit cooks up some great meals. We enjoyed their company and Lar and Mark tried putting the kayak on top of Roadhaus to make sure it will fit next to the rocket box when we head to Baja. Looks like it’s a go. Maggie and Anne made trips to the Farmers Market, Sprouts, and Trader Joe’s. Our hosts also took us on a couple of trips to the beach and out to eat at a nice Japanese restaurant. Having been thoroughly spoiled, we left for Anza-Borrego on Sunday morning, February 17th.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park encompasses a vast area of approximately 600,000 acres. It is the largest desert park in North America. We covered as much as we could in the 9 days we were there, but will gladly return in order to explore even more. We arrived on Sunday morning and found the camp spot that Anne and Mark had described to us – on top of a hill overlooking the desert and with a view of mountains all around. We were delighted to discover the Ocotillo were in bloom even though it is mid-February.
It was a beautiful day and we set up camp and put the awning up. Within 30 minutes, the winds began to blow and got steadily more intense. We were forced to take the awning down, close up the bus and hunker down as 30-40 mph winds buffeted us for the rest of the day and during the night.
The next day gave us a temporary reprieve from the winds and we hiked a trail from nearby Mountain Palm Springs campground to three different areas where remnant populations of California Fan Palms still exist. Unlike the ones at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, these are accessible and we stopped in the shade of the palms for rest and a snack after a hike up the boulder-strewn wash.
With high winds again in the forecast, we reluctantly left our scenic view on the hill and found a sheltered spot in a grove of Tamarisk trees just to the east. Lar grilled some burgers and we had our one and only campfire in an abandoned wheelbarrow someone had left at the campsite for that purpose. Fires are not allowed on the ground within the park. The winds soon began to howl again and continued for the next couple of days. It rained that night and on Tuesday morning we awoke to snow on the the surrounding mountains. We opted to stay in the bus (and in our pajamas) and work on photos and writing since the wind was so strong you could not stand up in it when out in the open.
After another night of wind, Wednesday morning dawned clear and sunny. We packed up and moved on, driving up Carrizo Wash to try to get views of the badlands. The road was closed and we made our way down another 4WD road back to the highway. We took the easy way up the paved road to the Carrizo Badlands overlook and debated the wisdom of trying to drive through Canyon Sin Nombre. We opted to save that for another time considering road conditions and the need to keep Roadhaus in tip-top shape for the Baja trip.
In search of fuel and ice, we drove over to Borrego Springs where we treated ourselves to a taco at Jilberto’s and ended up staying at the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground in order to take advantage of the showers. Note to self: A cold windy morning might not be the best time to take a shower in a place that heats water with solar. Dang!
Thursday morning we spent a little time at the Borrego Springs library, utilizing their wifi in order to post a blog and check e-mail. We then set off for Coyote Canyon north of town, driving up some rough roads and ending up coming back down to Desert Gardens where we hiked a bit and then boondocked again for the night. These remote sites are so quiet that the silence itself is like a presence. The only disruptions – welcome ones – are the coyote fests that often occur near the bus.
Friday was a beautiful, sunny day that encouraged us to check out Coachwhip Canyon which had been recommended by one of the docents at the Anza-Borrego Visitor’s Center. We drove up canyon as far as we could and then set out hiking. The wash was clogged with rocks and boulders of all colors and sizes. The variety of types of rock in this area is amazing and Maggie found several she wanted to add to her collection. Lar refused to put them in his backpack and reminded her that collecting is not allowed in the park – so she took pictures of them instead.
After the hike, we decided to camp in a more open area, so began exploring some back roads near the Borrego badlands. The “bad” in badlands should be a clue, but sometimes one overlooks the obvious. After backtracking from the first dead end, we encountered a junction with “Truckhaven Trail”, described as a “rough 4WD road”. We made an ascent up a steep section and found an isolated spot on top with a view of part of the Salton Sea on one side and badlands on the other.
Saturday morning, after a quiet and peaceful night and a breakfast on our patio overlooking the badlands, a couple of dirt bikes went by. In a bit, 3 or 4 more raced by. By the time we had packed up and started on up the trail, a few dozen had made their way past us and it soon became apparent that some kind of rally was going on. Just up the road, a deep wash was encountered and the trail down appeared somewhat sketchy but doable (but Maggie walked down just for the “exercise”). After driving a good ways down the wash, with the dirt bikes all going in our direction as well, we encountered a nasty uphill section and a bottleneck caused by some inexperienced bikers stalling out on the way up. So we opted to backtrack. This put us going in the opposite direction of the dirt bikes and there was still that one narrow, rocky uphill to do. So Maggie walked to the top, hugging the bank to avoid the dirt bikes, and acted as lookout to prevent any bikes from tearing around the corner and encountering Roadhaus coming up. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide! After letting a few more bikers descend, she waved Lar on up and had to stop two groups of bikers at the corner until Roadhaus cleared the top. Mag had planned to video Lar’s ascent but was too busy directing traffic and only got video of the bikers! The bikers gave a cheer as Lar cleared the top of the incline and one was heard to remark “it’s a Volkswagen!”.
Once back on the pavement, we decided to drive on over to Salton City and have a closeup view of the Salton Sea. Although the sea looks quite pretty from a distance, our visit was short as the acrid smell of the sea burned our eyes and noses. Not a place we would want to spend any time. We drove on, via Ocotillo, and decided to camp at Tamarisk Grove campground which had very hot showers. No happy medium, but the heat is definitely preferred over cold.
Sunday morning we went back into Borrego Springs where we stopped to utilize the wifi at the library and get gas. Larry stayed at the library and Mag went to get gas. She pulled into a little 2-pump station and got out. Immediately, a couple came over and started talking about their Vanagon and asking about Roadhaus. Then the guy at the next pump came over and said he used to have one as well. While this very typical scenario was occurring, one of the guys noticed that the pump didn’t shut off at the other truck and several gallons of fuel had spilled out and covered the driveway. Mag opted to get gas later.
Back at the library, yet another fellow came over to us in the parking lot to talk Vanagons, and a Vanagon we had seen the previous day pulled up next to us. It was Don, another WetWesties member from Washington State. It’s a small world and everyone has a Vanagon story!
On the way out of town we stopped to take pictures of some of the metal sculptures that can be found all around the city. The artist, Ricardo Breceda, has approximately 130 of these in different locations around town. We will post pictures and story on our next blog.
We left Borrego Springs and drove back over to the west side of the park in order to access some trails to places of interest. We made our way in to Blair Valley on Sunday afternoon as many weekenders seemed to be leaving the area. We drove up to the Mortero trail and hiked in. Morteros are bedrock mortars and they were in an area where a Kumeyaay village once existed. Desert vegetation varies among different areas of the park and here we noticed a distinct increase in both yucca and agave which would have been important food sources to native people.
We drove further up the dirt road to the Pictographs trail with just enough time to camp for the night and enjoy the full moon rising. We had the place to ourselves among the boulders that dominate the landscape.
Monday morning was quite cool – in the 30s – as we set out after coffee to walk the Pictographs trail. Although the sign described it as a “20 minute walk” to the pictographs, we found that to be a significant underestimate. We spent more than an hour and a half walking among the boulders and enjoying the birds, butterflies, hawks and other sights and sounds of early morning in the desert. We were alone on the trail and finally reached the huge boulder containing the pictographs painted in red.
Back to the bus for breakfast and discussion about the day’s plans. Lar wanted to hike up Ghost Mountain to visit Yaquitepec, the site of one family’s experiment in living off the land. Mag isn’t too keen on heights, but agreed to go. We drove to the trailhead and started up the steep, rocky switchback trail. The sign said “1 mile”, but the mile wasn’t an easy one! It took 40 minutes to reach the top and begin exploring the abandoned home site. We will post the story and pictures on our next blog. We spent an hour or more at the site and were alone there. About half-way back down the switchbacks, we encountered a man coming up the trail. As we approached, he greeted us with “I know Bev, too!”. Yes, another of Bev’s many fans and a chance meeting in the desert. His name was Terry, from New Hampshire, and he had seen our bumper sticker and told us of how he had met Bev.
The hike done, we calculated 4-1/2 hours total of hiking for the day, so off we went to find a camp spot, throw out the camp chairs, and open a cold Corona. We parked up on an alluvial fan overlooking two valleys and settled in for the night.
Tuesday dawned cold but sunny with the promise of warm to come. We took a bushwhack hike across the desert and up a small wash. Alongside the wash was a roughly 12-15 foot diameter area of ashy-colored soil surrounded by the usual reddish-brown soil. Surrounded as it was by agave in all directions, we surmised that it was likely an agave roasting pit. Above this area were two spots that had been cleared of surface rock and which were ideally located as vantage points with views of valleys in both directions.
We put the awning out, set up the camp chairs, and waited for the winds to start. We took the awning down again and let the winds blow. Some things are so predictable! On that note, I predict we will return some day to explore more of this great desert park. There is so much to learn – so much history, geology, flora and fauna and more – and so little time.
For more photos of this part of the trip, click the link below;