Tag Archives: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The Elephant Trees Trail of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

IMG_8973On our drive leaving Fish Creek’s wind caves Katie and I found another small trail, the Elephant Trees Trail off Split Mountain Road. There was still some light in the sky and we weren’t quite ready to leave the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park so we decided to see what the 1 mile nature trail was all about.

We turned off Split Mountain Road and quickly bounced down the 1 mile dirt and rock filled road to the trailhead. I believe a high clearance vehicle is best, but a lower vehicle could possibly make it if you went slowly. On the day we were there we had only seen 2 other cars in the park so we knew we wouldn’t run into any other cars leaving the trail. Good thing because the road is only about the size of one vehicle, very narrow, and is lined by stones to prevent vehicles from driving off the path.

After our short laughter full jaunt down the road we parked the truck right by the entrance to the trail. The same stones outlined the round-about at the end of the road as there really is no parking lot. We grabbed our packs and a nature trail pamphlet from the trailhead and started off on our self-guided nature walk.

There is basically no shade on the trail, not a problem if you go later in the day before the sunsets, but if you plan to go mid-day in summer be sure to bring your hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and some loose light clothing. The trail is very easy and is great for people of all ages. It is clearly marked and easy to follow with only a couple questionable spots that can be distinguished if you just keep moving a little farther down the path.

The  first stop is to welcome you to the trail. The following couple are very close together and include a catclaw plant, a creosote bush, and a desert lavender plant. You learn a little about each plant at each stop.

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The trail tends to get farther and farther between each point as you continue. An indigo bush which developed light-colored bark to reflect the sun’s rays, a brittle bush which leaves brittle stalks behind after producing bright yellow flowers, and an ocotillo which drops its leaves and grows new ones up to seven times in a year. After reading about each plant’s flowers and leaves I can only imagine what it would look like in the flower blooming season, February thru April.

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The smoke tree was the next to see along the trail. Apparently their seeds need a flash flood before they will sprout in the newly moist sand to grow into seedlings with big green leaves.

Number 9 is the plant the trail is named for. The Anza-Borrego  Desert is the only place in California that the elephant tree grows. We finally reached the only one along the path with its trunk that stores water and its gummy sap that bleeds when it is injured.

The desert trail ended with barrel, fishhook, prickly pear, and cholla cacti. This last stretch is your chance to observe all the different cacti and see if you can locate a few plants that were pointed out along the trail. The desert is an amazing place with plants that have adapted to the conditions around them.

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With one final look at the desert trail we headed back to the truck as the sun set behind the mountains of Fish Creek. The sky lit up on fire as streaks of red, pink, purples, and blues colored it just above the horizon. I absolutely love desert sunsets in Anza-Borrego. They are something that everyone should see at least once in their lives.

Off Road 2-Wheel Driving to Fish Creek’s Wind Caves

IMG_8973The weekend at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was one of the best and most fun weekends ever. Ranger Don at the Arroyo Tapiado mud caves was one of the reasons it was so much fun but my visit to Fish Creek’s wind caves were also a major part of it. If you ever head to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park be sure to visit Fish Creek. You won’t be disappointed.

After much discussion with the Ranger Station, the Visitor Center, and Ranger Don the reviews were mixed. One ranger from the station had said we would be fine with our 2×4 high clearance truck, while the visitor center could only advise us that we needed a 4×4. Ranger Don seemed confident that we wouldn’t run into any trouble, but then a completely different ranger at the station would tell us she couldn’t advise us on Fish Creek conditions because it was not her section of the park. Finally Katie and I decided to head over to the dirt road that leads out to Fish Creek and make an educated decision as to whether we thought our truck could make it or not once we got there.

We drove east on Route 78 and then south down Split Mountain Road until we arrived at the dirt road. We immediately knew we would head out to the Fish Creek Campground. The road centered in a sandy wash was an easy 1.5 miles of packed sand due to the rain storm of a previous weekend. It was so easy we almost completely missed the campground, barely noticing the small sign to our left quickly continuing to the narrow passage between Fish Creek Mountain and Vallecito Mountain. As we rounded the corner and came to the iconic raise fossil reef we stopped the car to take a look at our first section of tricky large rocks. We chose our route, a slight bare to the right and a hard left and we were through. We stopped several times along that section of the route to make sure we were picking the best path to drive. We wanted to make sure no large rocks would sneak up on us and any loose sand was avoided.

30 minutes later we finally arrived at a large fork in the road. To our left was a tiny sign that read, “wind caves” the start of the trail. We were the only ones there so we parked near the entrance, packed our camel packs, put on our sunscreen, and started up the rugged path.

The trail is relatively short, about 1.2 miles total, with an incline to begin that gradually levels out. Eventually you reach a small rock where the path splits. Either way will bring you to the wind caves the question only is do you want to start at the bottom or the top of them. We chose the left path and were brought to the top.

I have to say the wind caves are amazing. They are so much fun to crawl around inside, through, and over. Many of them are large enough to stand up straight and tall inside. They reminded me of where the Flintstones would have lived. The caves are made as the wind whips through and around the sandstone wearing it away over time.

If you climb on top and look under your feet you can see lines and grooves where the sand is wearing away. If you look up and across the creek you have this unbelievable desert view of the Carrizo Badlands. You can see the road you drove in on and miles and miles of sand mounds. If you look closely you might even be able to see the imaginary eyes and nose of a person on the mountain side.

I have to say that out of all the places I’ve been the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has been one of my all time favorites. Once you reach the wind caves it is so quiet and peaceful. Maybe it’s different on a weekend, but our Monday in December was perfect. All we could hear was the wind and birds for miles. We could have stayed there all day, however, knowing our trek back to the main road wasn’t going to be easy we left with enough time to reach the paved road before the sun set.

Borrego Palm Canyon’s Panoramic Overlook Trail

IMG_8973After Katie and my fun day with Ranger Don in the Arroyo Tapiado mud caves we headed over the the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s Visitor Center to ask about the road conditions in Split Mountain for our plans for the next day. Two days prior I heard that it was do-able in a 2×4 truck, but every day after that everyone kept telling me we needed a 4×4 vehicle. While we were there we decided to take a walk to a short trail out of Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, the Panoramic Overlook Trail.

From the parking lot of the Visitor Center in Borrego Springs we hiked .5 miles along the paved path to the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. It’s kind of cool and has the planets in our solar system placed along the way so you can somewhat see how far apart they all are in terms of a .5 mile.  Once at Borrego Palm Canyon Campground we quickly turned to the left and easily found the start of the Panoramic Overlook Trail, a one mile hike with great views of the Borrego Valley.

The first part of the hike is through the desert valley floor with small shrubs a desert plants along the pathway. Though I tend to feel as though most desert hiking is a little confusing, this trail is pretty straightforward. Basically, just keep walking straight through the sandy ground.

After a short walk you come to a trail marker at the base of a hill. Yep, you guessed it, Panoramic Overlook Trail goes up to the top of that hill. In order to get great views you usually have to be up high overlooking something below. The trail narrows to one person wide and zig zags in small switchbacks all the way up to the top. Take a moment to check out the way the hill was formed. It looks like layers of rock that once laid flat have been pushed up to now lie diagonal across the ground. The colors of the rocks are amazing too, from bright red to dark, almost black colorations.

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As you go, stop occasionally to check out the valley below. The view just gets better and better the further you go. The path stops and there is only one choice left, a short climb up through a narrow and almost no existent path. Once there you are at the top. A collection of big black rocks lay there marking the end of the trail. It almost looks like a fist cheering you for making it to the top.

From the top you can see the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground below. It’s dark paved roads stick out like a sore thumb against the mountains that surround the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail. You can also see Borrego Springs, a green thriving town in the middle of a vast brown land scape. If you go in the late afternoon you can watch the sun set on your way back down the hill. I have to say that the sunsets in Borrego Springs are one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. As the sun falls below the mountains to one side it lights the other mountains across the way with brilliant pinks, oranges, and bright reds that you won’t see anywhere else. Pictures can’t seem capture the true essence of the beauty, but I still try every time.

We headed down to the valley floor before the sun had begun to set, but once you are done taking in the view head back down the hill the way you came up. Finding the route you came up on is probably the trickiest part of the whole short hike. It seems like no matter which way you choose you are setting yourself up to fall off the mountain, but once you find it again you will see the narrow path and be able to follow it back down. Once you reach the bottom head back the same desert trail you followed out. Be careful not to veer off it. Usually there is a rock in the center of the path to tell you not to go those ways.

The Panoramic Overlook Trail is a great walk for people of any age to explore. It’s short, easy and everyone will feel comfortable on this gorgeous hike. The views are bound to having you telling all your friends about it time after time.

Giddying Up To Mud Caves with Ranger Don

IMG_8973Katie and I went to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park just a little under 4 hours away from Los Angeles for a weekend getaway. We arrived late in the evening at my friend’s place in Borrego Springs, super close to everything that we wanted to see. I have to say that I absolutely love the Anza-Borrego Desert. Only having been there once before I couldn’t wait to start exploring the desert again.

The next morning we woke up early and took a quick look at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s Interpretive Activities. We headed out to Mt. Palm Springs Camp Ground to meet with Ranger Don for an Auto Tour to the mud caves of Arroyo Tapiado. Along the way our phones went in and out of service, but the route was very straight forward and clearly marked except for the final camp ground turn off.

Ranger Don was late due to some kids that were digging a trench in order to film a desert scene in their movie, but once he was there he was ready to go and so excited to show us the mud caves and his section of the park. He spoke to us for a few moments letting us know that we could ask him anything about the park or his job or anything related. Then we all jumped in our cars and followed Ranger Don to the dirt road that led to the mud caves.

Since Katie and I were driving her 2×4 truck we opted to stay right behind Ranger Don. He headed out of the camp ground and didn’t waste any time reaching the dirt road that takes us to the Arroyo Tapiado mud caves. He pulled off the road and let everyone else catch up, then headed down the dirt road and out toward the caves. Pretty much every path reconnected with the original path except at one main turn and then once in the canyon there was only one way to go. It was so much fun!

Being that we were keeping right up with Ranger Don and the rest of the group was falling behind, occasionally Ranger Don would stop his jeep and come talk to us while the others caught up. He reminded us that since we didn’t have a 4×4 if we felt like we were gonna get stuck we should just step on the gas and “giddy up through it.” He also pointed out a little campground Hollywood and Vine that we might camp at sometime this winter and the cave where the young man had recently gotten trapped inside and died. Even though it doesn’t seem like it, the mud caves really are very fragile. They might look intriguing, but it is advised not to go exploring these caves as they can collapse at any time making rescue difficult to impossible. It really was an unfortunate event that they were unable to rescue this young man.

Eventually, we reached the main Arroyo Tapiado mud caves. The first mud cave we saw Ranger Don chose not to have us explore inside. It was right beside a plaque that told us all about the caves which are just walls of dried mud. Over centuries water has been sculpting these canyons and caves and rains and flash floods continue to form and change the tunnels today. Ranger Don told us that according to Google there are about 22 mud caves in the area. He took us to a three that he hadn’t explored in a few years.

The first mud cave that we explored had a small opening about 4ft tall to 4ft wide. We ducked under the low ceiling and came out into a tunnel that was pretty tall. As we followed the tunnel the path it became pitch black. Good thing we had borrowed Ranger Don’s flash light or we would not have been able to see anything. The cave become narrow in some sections and wider in others. Some places you had to climb over, duck under or scurry around to continue into the darkness. It seemed to go on and on forever. We eventually decided that the others were waiting for us so we headed back to the beginning of the tunnel.

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Ranger Don told us that some of the mud caves go straight through the mountains and come out the other side in complete darkness while others end up on the top of the mountains and have openings along the way. It all just depends on which you explore. He took us to the next cave which the entrance had been blocked by a huge chunk of stone that had fallen from above. I squeezed underneath and came to a short pathway that led back into a big open room with a large opening at the top. If it wasn’t just dried mud it would have been a rock climber’s dream. I could only think that when it rained water might run down the wall similar to a waterfall. There was one small tunnel to the side, but the slit was so small no one of our group could fit through it.

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The last mud cave we explored had extremely high walls and many open ceilings. It was beautiful. We left the group for a moment and followed the path back where dried mud walls would slant across the path and we would dip beneath them for a few moments and soon be in another open section. It was interesting to see how the mud sat in layers within the walls and bubbled in others. Realizing we had been gone for a while we hurried back to the entrance to say our goodbyes to Ranger Don. I got a picture with him and his truck and then we followed him back out to the main road.

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I have to say Katie and I had a great time that day and for not having had much desert driving experience Katie did an awesome job driving and following Ranger Don. By the end of our tour we had ear to ear smiles and Ranger Don was a big party of it! I am so grateful that the Rangers at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park make time for visitors and truly enjoy showing guests around the area.

An Oasis in Borrego Palm Canyon

IMG_8707I swung by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Foundation Store and Visitor’s Center in Borrego Springs and asked about another hike that my little Honda Fit would be able to drive me to. I was told to check out Hellhole Canyon or Borrego Palm Canyon. Since I was by myself I chose the one with more foot traffic just to be on the safe side. I headed over to Borrego Palm Canyon Campground and drove towards the back where the trailhead is. It was around 3:30pm, so I had about 2 hours before dark to make the 3 miles.

I grabbed a pamphlet at the trailhead which marks different plants, rocks, animals, and waters throughout the trek and started my hike following the clearly marked trail. I took note of two signs posted about bob cats and rattle snakes to my left and quickly made my way to the first point. I stopped to read my pamphlet about the cacti at this location, thinking to make sure I stayed clear of any cacti. I don’t need to be pricked by anything along my journey.

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I continued to point 2, 3, 4, and 5 quickly and thought to myself how this hike was going to be very fast if I kept coming upon the points at this rate. I got a false sense of distance and time spent on the trail as the map I had looked at made them all look  relatively similar in distance from each other.

The sun dropped below the mountain tops around me and after point 5, the points seemed to get farther and farther apart from each other. I was a little nervous I would not make it to the oasis in time to make it back before the sunset, but I continued on. I kept a careful eye out knowing that the cooler temperature might bring out snakes.  Little creatures, like lizards had started to scatter across the path in my way. The last thing I wanted was to come across a rattle snake.

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I picked up my pace a bit and continued to the next points. 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Bees buzzed pasted my head, and more little creatures scattered across my path. My intuition had been right, I came around a bend in the trail and there was a snake. I froze, not sure what to do. I can only imagine that it was as fearful of me as I was of it. It was a dark grey color with a long nose. I didn’t believe it was poisonous, but I had no way to move it off the path. I tossed a stick at it, hoping it would cause it to clear the pathway, but it just stayed where it was. I slowly walked around the backside of it, keeping my distance and made it past without incident. Thinking back to it now, I should have stopped to take a photo of it, but that was the last thing on my mind.

I continued onto point 11. Right before I reached it I could hear the first signs of the oasis being near, running water. I came to where the stream dies out and to my right I could see it, far off in the distance, about a 1/2 mile away, the oasis. A small patch of palm trees peaking over the rocks in the valley of the mountains on each side of me. The excitement ran through my body and I hurried on my journey.

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I came across two elderly couples as I climbed up and down rocks, moving closer and farther from the stream. They said they were the last people that had been up that way, but that they didn’t reach the oasis. I feared there was no one behind me, so I picked up the pace even more, closing the gap between me and the small paradise in the desert. Every bend watching the palm trees grow bigger and bigger.

When I finally reached the paradise there was a small family there getting ready to head back. I observed the small waterfall, palm trees, and beautiful stream. The green lush plants and cool shade made it all worth it. I could have continued another mile or so to a bigger waterfall, but I didn’t have the time. I decided to turn back, quickly catching up to the family that had departed about 5-10 minutes before me.

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On the way back to the trailhead I scanned the mountains for the ever popular and desert animal, bighorn sheep. The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park gets its name from 18th-century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish word for bighorn sheep. I thought it would be an amazing and nice ending to my trip if I was able to spot one. Unfortunately none were around that day so instead I settled for some beautiful tiny flowers once the trailhead was back in my sights.

I made it back to the trailhead before the sunset, got in my car and headed back to LA. As I drove up over the mountain I watched the sun’s rays stretch across the desert in an amazing board of breath-taking colors. As the last light of the sun left the sky, the stars started to scatter across the sky. I can’t wait to go back and explore more. Maybe spend a night camping under the stars there too.

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Slip Into The Slot

IMG_8613I started by driving to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in my little Honda Fit. Not the best choice for many of the dirt roads in the area, but workable for the one leading out to The Slot, a small hiking trail inside a canyon crevice.

The road leading out to The Slot is so small that I literally drove past it, had to turn around, and find it the second time. Luckily, not many people travel that way so a U-turn was completely safe on the 78. It was a dirt road and was a little unsure about taking the turn off the pavement. I had heard that driving on packed dirt was ok, but anything loose and soft could cause me to get stuck if I had to stop since I did not have 4-wheel drive. One car wide, I slowly made my way down the bumpy packed dirt. It got looser as I went and I hoped no one would come down the other way. Luckily for me any cars I came across were nice enough to pull off the road and allow me to pass on the firm dirt. My heart was in my throat by the end but I arrived at my destination safely.

The road opened up to a small undesignated parking area where I saw a few other vehicles. I pulled off and parked and I spoke with a man standing by his car. I asked if I was in the right spot, if there were other people he passed while inside The Slot and where the entrance was. Yes, yes, and as for the entrance it was straight ahead. Yes, down that big drop off.

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The entrance wasn’t at all what I had imagined after reading about it on so many different websites. It was a barren land that stretched out to some mountains miles away with one specific crack to be explored. There were no visual markers of any kind accept the road and other cars in the area. It was deserted, like a desert of course.

IMG_8623I slowly slid down into The Slot, the gravel was loose near the top and I struggled to find secure spots to place my feet. Once near the bottom the ground became more rigid and easier. Going down is always harder so I wasn’t too concerned about getting out. Once at the bottom I noted the stone marker for the exit. Yes, you could definitely lose track of where you are going in here and completely miss your exit point if you are not aware of your surroundings. I hoped there were no turn offs or if there were any they were clearly marked and started my journey.

The Slot was totally worth every effort to get there. I journeyed down the path and it slowly got more and more narrow, the rocky edges squeezing in on me. At times the were spaces only shoulder width wide and some were angled funny. I slithered through them and continued on my way. Rocks hung above in some sections and I hoped the wedging and gravity tricks of the world held strong as I passed underneath. The formations were amazing and I closely examined the sandy sides. The tops of the rocks were completely smooth, carved by the cool breeze that occasionally ran through The Slot. The undersides were often scattered with tiny ridges that might have been where water droplets washed away the looser sand. At least that is what I imagined.

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I reached the end and it opened to a wide jeep trail. I continued down the path, knowing that I could follow it to make a 3.5 mile loop. I heard a loud rumble coming from the path behind me. I hoped it was the wind or a passing plane. To be honest, I never found out what it really was. The jeep trail was hot with beautiful views, but once you saw one part it was the same all the way through.

I turned around, cutting my hike down to about a mile, and headed back to The Slot trail ready to explore it for a second time. It was just as amazing as the first time. I reached the end, saddened that there was not more to explore, and climbed out of the gap. Wow, what an adventure. This has to be my best experience yet!

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