Sunday, April 08, 2007

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

My view of the desert from the Mt Laguna gave me an indication that this park would be very diverse in terrain, and that it ceratainly was. The park is part of the Colorado desert. This is the largest of the California state parks, and is comprised of 12 wilderness areas, has over 500 miles of dirt roads (unfortunately, most are 4x4 only), and its elevations range from mountain peaks to 0 elevation as it drops into the Salton Sea basin.
The entrance from the south is typical looking desert terrain, but within a dozen miles the road starts hugging the western mountains while an ever changing array of land faces the east. Faults and erosion were in dramatic evidence as I made way north. I stopped for lunch at Carrizo Badlands, and wondered if they may be associated with Carrizo plains north of LA (they aren't). The badlands are site of archelogical digs, and the richest grounds for mastodons in the country. As I continued north, the washes became chasims and canyons! I got off of the road early, and spent my only night in the park at a developed campgrounds, at Bow Willow. I had not done enough homework, and it was the next day before I discovered that A-B SP is the last remaining state park that allows "dispersed camping".
I met a very interesting women at camp, Joani and her dogs. An artist, she spends seveal weeks a year here. She provided me with a lot of inside info on the park, and was good company.
After hiking the surrounding hills in hopes of seeing bighorn sheep, I hiked up the wash of the canyon a ways before sunset. Beautiful sunset and as seems to be the case whenever a full moon is near, the moonrise is just on the heels of a sunset. Think it was the Eagles that sang about the desert in moonlight. They got it right :)
The next day I started out with a hike out to desert palm springs. The fan palm is the only species native to California, and they take on a very neat appearance with how their fronds lay down their trunks as they go through their life cycles. And since the park pratices letting nature follow its course, the piles of dead fronds is at times, absolutely impressive! I ran into several scout groups on the hike, and an adult in the group I returned with told me of a hike back south that leads to the longest curved woodn RR trestle in existence. Sounded cool, but it was a 7+ mile hike which I did not want to undertake today... Instead, I made my way further north towards Borrego Springs, which is where I keep hearing of sightings of Bighorns.
On the road north I kept seeing older model motorcycles. Indians, BSAs, Harleys, Triumphs, some dating way back pre-ww2 vintage. While stopped in a pullout, an old Harley and a Triumph pulled in, so I found out they did indeed have a ralley taking place in Borrego Springs. The Harley was a 1930 model, and the rider had bought it in 1939! 83 years young and still out riding. He also is the owner of the Yucca Valley dealership, which includes a musuem of sorts. Pretty cool. After a side trip to the town of Julian, which is a tourist destination pioneer town, I made it to Borrego Springs just in time to see them lock the doors at the visitor center:'). Oh well, tomorrow...

After a quick stop at the visitors center, I set out on an early hike to Borrego Springs Palm Canyon, thinking I'd be off on other hikes before lunch...
And while I'd been told of the possibility of seeing the bighorn sheep, I was not prepared for what the hike brought. After a mile and a half or so, I picked out a comfortable boulder off-trail and settled for a snack. I had come out of open desert and across washes, and was now making my way through rock "scarps" along a ridgeline as I neared the canyon entrance. I took a seat with the ridges as my vista. As I was about to finish my break, I caught movement on the ridges, and into view came a family of sheep. A ram, an ewe and three lambs. I watched in awe for a minute as they scrambled the mountainside, before getting out the camera. They are so gracefull and adept in their movement through the rocks, it was really mesmerizing to watch them. I noticed that the adults would stop and strategize their routes every dozen yards or so, but the lambs were just fearless! They were the most fun to watch. At times they'd hold back a ways from the ewe, and then just take off in wild abandon to catch up, barley touching the tips of the scarp as they bounced along. Cartoonish in the way they would "boing a boing" along. The ram of course, carried itself in a most majestic manner, leading the way and taking up posts to watch us down below until the family was regrouped. If you can imagine an outdoors type of family on a wildnerness hike, where the parents allow the kids to really be kids in discovery, but always reeling them in before they get too far out of bounds, that was what this was like. They rounded the ridge into the canyon, but it seemed as if parts of the group would come back around and scope things out. The ewe came out onto a flat rock outcrop and posed for a minute for pics. Awesome! After they were out of sight, I looked around and noticed another group on the highest ridge starting a decent. I sat here for a good half hour watching various groups make their way through until a couple hiking out said that the herd was gathered at a water hole just inside the canyon.
I packed up and moved around, and goodness, what a sight! Dozens of sheep at waters edge, and various groups coming down and going up the ridge. There were other groups staged at various heights, seeming to be waiting their turn. But, there were just as many hikers along the trail as there were sheep. This was certainly precarious for the sheep, and I saw more than one close encounter where I just had to either shake my head in disbelief over the ignorance of some people towards wildlife, or turn away because I did not want to witness the potential bloodshed : {. A man who had told me he was associated with the sheep's recovery program finally packed up his gear and left in disgust. Luckily, no blood was shed today, but... I spent a good deal of time watching one particular shy lamb who could not deal with the crowds. It had made it all the way down the ridge to the side of the trail, when someone tried approaching and it spooked. I cannot believe the speed of which it ascended back up the ridge! A good 150' elevation through the rocks in less than ten seconds. It was amazing to watch. The poor thing then paced along the rocks, wimpering and making other assorted sheep noises, as several different ewes ascended and tried to pursued it to descend back down. It would have none of that, and so, no water today!
I had perched atop a ten foot boulder (safe and out of their way) and alternated between the passings on the ridge and the sheep at waters edge. I found that as long as I made no quick movements, they were comfrtable with me and would graze quite close. One ewe was collared with a transmitter, and I don't know whether it was introduced, or captured and tagged.
The remainder of the hike to the oasis was nice, and there was quite a bit of water moving from the springs. A good 15 degrees cooler in the palms, it was a picnic hotspot. The palms are majestic! All in all, it was a great hike :).
Afterwards, I took a driving tour of "erosion road". This drive encompasses the most dramatic landscapes of the park. Unfortunately, there was an inversion and the pictures I took just could not capture the awe of it all :(. I also could not drive out to Font's point, which is a "must see" in the park, due to the carving of erosion, multi colored layering and overview of Borrego badlands. They had enough signs posted about the soft sand and 4x4 only vehicles that I was convinced not to attempt the 7 mile drive in. Still, a lot of awesome scenes. I will post a picture of Coyote mtn, even though it is not the best shot. It does illustrate the fact that this mountain, which is part of the Santa Rosa range, has shifted a half mile or more out of the range. It sits opposite of the range on the San Jacinto fault. There are several faults running through this part of the park, and the uplifting, and erosion effects are dramatic.
After another night of "dispersed camping" out in the desert, alone except the company of howling coyotes :'), I drove south and east, making stops at the "narrows" and the "slots". This is the southern view of the terrain that Fonts point highlights, only not as good a view. I am amazed by the jeep trails that run in the bottom of the canyons an crevices. This would be an awesome park to tour by jeep, no doubt. I had to be content with the above views.
I finished my visit to the park with a drive out to "split mountain". An awesome area, but again, limited decent pics... There are "wind caves", sandstone formations that have been hollowed by erosion. I passed on the hike in as it was already in the mid 90's by the time I arrived...what a wimp.
This is a great park and I highly recommend it. I traveled north in all of my desert visits. Unfortunately, the parks had a southerly direction in mind, so the visitor centers are on the north end. However, if you are doing a one day visit, the northerly route allows you to take in the lower elevation areas in the the morning, and gets you into higher and cooler grounds in the pm...

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