Just 300 miles SW of Phoenix,AZ, in Southeastern CA is this largest state park in the continental USA! Before moving to AZ in 2004, I lived in North Inland San Diego County for 12 years, just a 1 hour and 30 minute drive from this most diverse desert state park. I explored this vast 600,000 acre park over this 12 year period, enjoying endless remote camping, hiking, and 4x4ing opportunities.
Last August'07 I was asked by some of my AZ friends who were interested in visiting ABDSP for the first time, if
I would plan and lead a trip back. In Sept'07, I decided that it would be a great idea to revisit and "relive great memories" of many of my favorite spots and also have an opportunity to introduce others in a 10 day trip to what it took me 12 years to discover in this huge CA desert state park.
: 2/26 to 3/4 at Borrego Palm Canyon Campground
in Borrego Springs, CA;
: 3/4 to 3/6 at Agua Caliente County Park
off Hwy S-2(21mls South of Scissors Crossing & 26mls North of I-8 from Ocotillo,CA);
Here is what I planned and what five of us enjoyed on our 10 day stay at ABDSP:
3/6/08..with the 1st & last day being driving & camp set-up/down days);
Just a little background & some comments before details of our 8 full day outings
Due to the sheer size of this huge park(600,000 acres extending into three CA counties- San Diego, Riverside, & Imperial), once you complete seeing all the "lookie-lou" things that one should plan to see on a first trip here, it then takes a while to drive from point A to point B and back to do some of the many enjoyable & more remote day trips. For this reason & to get your money's worth, I would suggest planning at least 4-5 full days here. For this period, a reliable, high-clearance vehicle(truck/SUV) is recommended with 4-wheel drive preferred. For my 10 day trip I underestimated our vehicle capability needs but it all worked out fine in the end (Last year in ABDSP they measured a total of .75inches of rain for the entire
year period. For this measured year period through Feb'08, they measured 4.75inches of rain..this additional rain amount did a real
number on some of the more dicey off road areas which made for a few "white knuckle moments" for some of my less experienced off-road drivers). Our main base camp at Borrego Springs,CA, was at an altitude of 780ft & our day trips ranged from an altitude of close to sea level to not higher than 3500ft. Regarding the weather for our trip, it could not have been better. The days were all sunny, with little wind, no rain, and day temps ranging from highs in the 70's to low 80's and low night temps between 47F to 41F. We used two 4-wheel drive vehicles for our day outings: My highly modified '92YJ Wrangler & a stock 2007 Nissan Xterra. Also, I want to apologize now for not taking a camera to capture in pics what I can only express here in words. There were a million "Kodak moments" on this trip, and there were many pics taken by my trip friends, but none to post on HAZ by me.
Day#2(2/27)- This was "get acquainted with the local area day":
First we hiked the .6ml path from our campground to the ABDSP Headquarters & Visitor Center where we then walked the .5ml path(the Indian Nature Tr) around the Visitor Center to view labeled examples of many local ABDSP flora which included nice wildflower viewing too!; then we went inside to view a 20 minute video on the origin/history of the park; then of course we had to buy books, maps, DVD's, and tee-shirts, etc..; then we hiked the .6ml path back to the campground which include another nice area for wildflower viewing; then after lunch, we hiked the scenic 3ml R/T Borrego Palm Canyon
to the popular stopping point at a perennial oasis with numerous Washington Palm Groves; then about half-way back to the TH, we were the lucky ones to see not just 1 but
6 male Rams- Big Horn Sheep perched on a rock ledge outcropping just above us posing for pics!!! First time in my years of hiking in this park that I had ever seen a live, BIG HORN SHEEP, and here were 6 large horned, 5-6yr old Rams not more than 30 yards away from us..a very
special moment indeed!(we talked to a park ranger who was hiking this trail with us who noted that the month of late Feb into March is the birthing season for the females, so she was hiking the area to try to locate some of the females up this vast canyon; I asked her how many total Big Horn Sheep they now estimated were in the extended park and she said approx 300); We ended this day with a wonderful group dinner out at an excellent restaurant-Assaggio Ristorante Italiano located next to the local Borrego Springs airport; Not a bad start for our first full day out!
Day#3(2/28)- "Slot Canyon hike & visit to historic World War II Calcite Mines" in the NE part of ABDSP-East on Hwy S-22(at MP38.2) not far from the Salton Sea:
During the early 1940's, a very high quality grade of Calcite was discovered here, mined for only a couple of years during World War II. The "high grade optics & clarity" of this mined mineral was such that it could be used in the bombing site mechanisms on our U.S. Airforce bombers like the B-29. This 2nd day we took a 4x4 drive into this more desolate(little vegetation, mostly mud hills & rock slot canyons) area of ABDSP. Because of the rough, very narrow, & up hill climb on this old mining road that ends 2.5mls in at this Calcite mining area, I decided that we would only drive about 1ml in, park, then hike the rest of the way to this mining area and back. Also, about 1.5mls up this same road from S-22, is truly one of the best ~.5ml in/out "slot canyon" hikes in this entire park(kind-of a much shorter version of our AZ Antelope Canyon, but not quite!). We first hiked this enjoyable & much cooler slot canyon, then headed up the road on foot to its end at a high point where the old calcite mine holes were trenched-into the mud hills. Here we had lunch with a nice 180 degree view of near and distant sections of ABDSP & the Salton Sea, and for those of you who are familiar with this area, we had a good pic opportunity just above us of Locomotive Rock(looks like a chu-chu train engine) and the surrounding Wind Caves. On our drive back out on this mining road, we took a more scenic loop route by going down into Palm Wash & after a few miles then looping right & back around an unnamed spur wash to the Calcite Mine Road. This little loop trip turned-out to be a real winner for Spring Wildflower pics!! On our way back to Borrego Springs on Hwy S22, we took both the off road trips to "Fonts Point" 3mls in & to "Inspiration Point" 4.5mls in for excellent near & distant views of what is called the Anza-Borrego BAD LANDS(mile after mile of mud hills ranging in age from 800,000 to 40 million years old(so the sign says!). We met some local residents at "Inspiration Point"(trying to get away from tourists like us) who were very nice to next direct us to "Henderson Canyon Road" (just outside of Borrego Springs) where all the Spring wildflowers were in full bloom! I had to leave my group here due to their need for an extended picture taking session as I just could not get them to leave! Later, we all shared a huge Trader Joe's quality ordure's dinner
together at our campground with a nice cozy campfire and a bright starry night sky for entertainment..
Day#4(2/29)- "Coyote Canyon 4x4 up the Turkey Tracks then thru Collins Valley to hike into Cougar & Sheep Canyons":
This lush, scenic, & very
remote canyon area of ABDSP is without a doubt, my favorite spot for primitive camping, hiking, and for sheer mystical solitude! It has it all
: thick desert vegetation, rugged & scenic Cougar, Indian, & Sheep Canyons all with perennial creeks running, waterfalls, big horn sheep habitat, sycamores, cottonwoods, numerous Washington Palm Oasis', and much Native American history. All three of these mostly off-trail popular but very rugged hiking canyons have their upper source at Los Coyotes Indian Reservation and their lower ending source here. When I was an active backpacker, I use to hike to these canyons from what is called Lower Willows water crossing(on the maps this is called the 3rd water crossing). This was as far up Coyote Canyon as one sane person with a stock vehicle could safely drive. From here it was another 3.75ml one way hike to the entrance for Sheep Canyon, and an additional 1.25ml hike to the mouths of Cougar & Indian Canyons. In 1995 while still living in CA, I was finally able to purchase my present '92Jeep Wrangler, but I had to spend some serious 4x4 modification money on it to be able to safely negotiate what is known above as the "Turkey Tracks" which is a serious to
very serious(changes fm year to year) three-tiered .75mi large rocky, rutted road with step sections to negotiate, starting just past the Lower Willows water crossing area & continuing to the beginning of the 3mi drive through sandy Collins Valley. For this 2/29 trip, we parked the Nissan Xterra at Lower Willows (which to this point is a ~5.5ml off road drive into Coyote Canyon), and everone but me started hiking at this point. I had never seen the "Turkey Tracks" so technical to drive as it was this trip(probably due to the 4.75" of rain this winter), but I needed ALL I had on my '92YJ to safely make it over & later back down this 4x4 w/front & back lockers, 35"x12.50 tires(for you mechanical types, my low range 1st gear is "118 to 1" and if I had had it, I could have used lower for some parts of this .75ml section!). After I topped out, my four hikers hopped in my 2 seater Jeep, and we headed out across the 3ml stretch of Collins Valley, first for a lunch hike into the mouth of Cougar Canyon where we stopped at a waterfall area with a nice grove of Washington Palms as our backdrop, then
we hiked out and over to the mouth of Sheep Canyon for a nice view up this canyon of some large groves of Washington Palms. It took us a while to drive out, but needless to say, there was not another vehicle in sight during our entire stay here on this busy Friday-Spring Wildflower Viewing Day until we arrived back at the Lower Willows water crossing...SWEET IT WAS having so much privacy in this very
special spot of ABDSP!
: See HAZ- Hoffmaster's ABDSP pic album, dated 12/22/07: http://hikearizona.com/photocodeZOOM.ph ... 8&TNI=1304
Day#5(3/1)- "Rockhouse Canyon off road trip with Hikes up Rockhouse Canyon to Hidden Springs, then up to Jackass Flats, & a hike over to an Ancient Native American Winter Home Site":
This 15 mile off-road day trip up Rockhouse Canyon proved to be another wonderful Spring Wildflower tour as well as a very scenic, but slow and tricky 4x4 drive to the Canyon's road end with great views along the drive of Clark Dry Lake, Villager Peak, Rabbit Peak, and dominant Toro Peak to the North in the Santa Rosa Mtn Range. On this drive, we "broke-in" my friend Kevin from Canada with his new '07 Nissan Xterra 4x4. Once we arrived at the road intersection with Butler Canyon/Rockhouse Canyon(about 12mls in), the high-clearance only changed to 4x4 & high clearance only! The next 3mls were fun, but a slow process, with me stopping to need to "spot" Kevin over numerous rough, rocky areas, but he later felt good that he had learned a lot on his first real 4x4 trip with his new Xterra. Our short .5ml hike to Hidden Springs was pretty uneventful as the Springs really isn't anymore. During the time when the Native American's inhabited this area, I am sure this Hidden Springs was a sure source of reliable water, but now it is simply overgrown with high grass with no obvious wetness and only a sign indicating its location. From Hidden Springs is a very
faint hiking trail(probably used by the NA's) that goes up the West Ridgeline about 250ft & .35ml to a huge Flats know as Jackass Flats. Within the perimeters of this large flats are a number of Ancient Native American Winter Home Sites. I have previously located two sites in Jackass Flats(one published and one unpublished). I took the group along the North Ridgeline for .25ml to the closer published Site. In this area, we saw numerous Morteros, Rock Slicks, and Pottery Shards. There were no visible signs of any ancient resident dwelling in this site area. After having a lunch break in this area with what I do believe was the highest concentraction of Ocotillo I have ever seen in one area, we reversed our route and headed back to our Borrego Springs basecamp to relax and regroup for our upcoming Day Outing#6!
Day#6(3/2)- AM: "Alcholic Pass Trail Hike; PM: Road Trip to the historic & popular mountain town of Julian,CA":
This morning we planned a short(2 hr), but fun exercise hike on the "Alcoholic Pass Trail" which is located about 2.5mls up Coyote Canyon Rd. This ~1.5ml one way hike with a 500' gain to the pass high point would help to set us up for our afternoon trip to Julian, CA, for a planned dinner-out with fresh apple pie for desert(one thing that Julian is most known for). Some history of the Alcoholic Pass TR:
"it was originally a Cahuilla Indian trail. The route offers access from villages along Coyote Creek to sheep country, particularly in the high ground south of the pass. There are places beside the pass where hunting parties could have camped. It is possible to see sheep tracks or even sheep here. The Alcoholic Pass route also offered the Cahuilla quick access to the mesquite that grew (and grows) so abundantly around what today is Clark Dry Lake(on the other side of the pass). Mesquite was a vital food source and mesquite beans could have been taken to the Cahuilla near the Salton Sea and traded for fish". Hiking up this trail, there are some great views looking back (south) along Coyote Canyon at all the large & numerous citrus groves(orange and grapefruit) that are grown in this Borrego Springs area. After our hike, heading back into town, I stopped at a local grove-fruit stand and I purchased a huge bag of fresh oranges for $3.00 only...they were very sweet & juicy and lasted me the rest of the trip.
After cleaning up, early afternoon we departed from our Borrego Palm Canyon Campground for Julian, CA. We took the scenic loop route by first going up the switch-back climb on Montezuma Grade(Hwy S-22) to Hwy S-2 down Grapevine Valley to Sissors Crossing(at 2k') on Hwy 78 then up the switch-back Banner Grade to the beautiful & historic mountain town of Julian, CA at 4800' in the pine and oak trees. Some history of Julian,CA:
Julian was founded in the mid 1800's as a very
active gold mining town and apple orchard growing area. When the gold rush ended, the apple orchards continued and prospered. Today, Julian is still famous for growing apples and for its fresh apple pies which are sold locally and shipped all over southern CA. Also, today Julian is known as the "Bed and Breakfast" capital of Southern CA. With its higher elevation at 4800', it is a nice weekend escape from hotter summer temps and/or a nice retreat for those who enjoy a little winter fun with snow during the colder months. The one main street in Julian is always busy with many local merchant gift shops selling everything imaginable, which of course includes fresh apple pies and
fresh apple cider too! After roaming in and out of numerous gift shops we bought a fresh Julian Apple Pie for desert to have back at our campsite later that evening. We decided on a local Bar-B-Que Restaurant for dinner in Julian before heading back to Borrego Springs. Another fun and enjoyable day we had and topped it off that evening with a slice of fresh Julian apple pie and vanilla ice cream around a roaring campfire.. SWEET IT WAS!
Day#7(3/3)- "Day outing to BLAIR VALLEY(2500'elev)- Hike to the old Marshall South Homestead at Yaquitepec(Indian for Ghost Mtn.); Hike on Morteros Tr to view Ancient Kumeyaay Indian Winter Campsite with numerous MORTEROS; Hike down Pictograph Tr; Hike to 50ft dry waterfall drop-off to view into Smuggler Canyon":
For all these areas we visited, the above caption descriptions kind-of speak for themselves as to what we did except for the old Marshall South Homestead at Ghost Mountain
. In my opinion, this is really the "highlight" reason to visit Blair Valley- Back in the time of the Great Depression of 1932, this eccentric & rugged idealist named Marshall South convinced his wife(Tanya) to move to this remote desert mountain top(3200')to persue a simple back-to-nature lifestyle. His plan was to be completely self-sufficient by growing vegetables and the such to truck via Model-T Ford to the local markets in Julian, CA, to make enough money to continue to maintain the old homestead for the long term. The hiking path from the bottom to the large rocky mountain top is about 1.3mls one way and 700' elevation gain. Once they trucked their needed store bought goods to the bottom, they had to hoof-it-up to the mountain top. The family consisted of Marshall South, this wife, one dauthter, and two sons. They build an abobe style home, a pretty ingenious water collection system, and utilized the few flat areas for vegetable gardens. The Old Homestead is now almost completely down to the foundation with only one partial wall standing, an old metal bed, a partially intact sun dial, and some parts of the old brick fireplace & cooking area. A lot of the old water collection system is still there to observe. He did use cement to seal this water collection system. It must have been a real exercise to haul that cement up the hiking trail to the top, but I suppose they might have had a mule or horse on the property to help. His wife Tanya lasted up there with him for sixteen years where they raised their four kids, after which having had enough of that lifestyle, Tanya took the kids and bid ado! History has it that soon after, Marshall South finally gave up and headed South
..leaving their years of hard labor & home at Ghost Mountain to the sun and the wind.
Day#8(3/4)- Goodbye breakfast at wonderful "Kendall's Cafe" in Borrego Springs for my four guests who needed to head back home to AZ this day; I am now headed for my 2nd campground at "Agua Caliente County Park" for an evening in their wonderful "hot mineral-spring fed" indoor therapy pool before my final and very special day outing #8 on day #9!
Day#9(3/5)- "Indian Hill" cross-country day hike, then to the "Old WW-I Railroad Camp" via cross-country, then to the "Old WW-I San Diego & Arizona RR" via cross-country; then shame shame I did an illegal "hike down these San Diego & Arizona RR Tracks"(through two original Carrizo Gorge-RR wooden tunnels), to hike a loop back to my vehicle at the TH parking area; then a "drive & short hike into Mortero Palms Canyon"; then a final drive and short hike at the end of Piedras Grandes Wash"
Day#10(3/6)- "Time to departed Agua Caliente County Park Campground for home" ..