Tag Archives: Arroyo Tapiado

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.