Tag Archives: Fish Creek

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.