And the road goes on forever...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Anza Borrego Trip, Part 2

Coachwhip Canyon
Given no hiking into the badlands due to the distance from us, we opt to go back to and across the highway, north to something designated “Coachwhip Canyon” which starts as a wide sandy wash from the highway. About a half mile in we pass a Class C getting set up in a wonderfully secluded spot hugging the cliffs and make note of it for our future use. We could reach this with the Dodge, but not the Freightliner due to all the sand. We slog northward, gradually gaining probably 500 feet in elevation during the course of our hike which takes us finally into the bowels of a slot canyon which snakes back and forth upon itself. Unlike the slot canyons of Utah, it is similar in character but not of rock as the topography here is eroded sandstone clay which mimics adobe. After a few miles, Marc has had enough so we turn around, losing hope this was a loop trail.

Salton Sea
We have one more night and two days so after a leisurely breakfast and start from Arroyo Salado we leave the park and head for the Salton Sea, about ten miles away. We are amazed at all the RVs parked along cliff tops overlooking canyons brimming with ATVs and dirt bikes. It’s like a festival with all the wagons circled as friends gather together amidst the rising dust. An intriguing spot for the far-off vista and lake views and canyon topography, but definitely not for us with all the hubbub and commotion. We keep going towards Brawley where we intend to then head east on Hwy. 78.

Imperial Sand Dunes
We happen upon the sand dunes almost by accident, noticing a constant stream of RVs in oncoming traffic. Soon we see a rest stop up a sand dune beckoning us to pull over. It’s a good thing too; we have a chance to exam the damage the rough roads have done to the rig—springing open cabinet doors and spewing contents and broken glass all over, including a liberal dose of sugar which now coats the entire kitchen and floor. Once again we marvel at the sheer number of large and expensive RVs and toys gathered in one ten mile segment—their numbers in the many thousands and thousands! All manner of sand toys dot the dunes like black ants in the distance and there is the constant hum of big machines roaring. It is truly a sight worth seeing at least once.

Tumco Mine Site
After a lunch stop to mop up the sugar damage, we turn south on Olgilby Road knowing we must find our last stop in the next 24 miles, when the road will then rejoin I-8. After a couple of false starts we happen across a few rigs parked on a desert pebble plain below the jagged Cargo Muchacho Mountains and a mine labeled Tumco Historic Mine. We pull in and find our own patch of gravel and settle in for indoor relaxation playing Mexican Train, as it has become fairly windy outside. Early the next morning I go mine exploring on my own but that story deserves its own blog so will follow this episode at a later date. We do find this spot much to our liking and figure that at less than forty miles from home it will make a good stay deserving of another visit. We are back home by noon and within a couple hours, the laundry is done, and the trailer is restocked, cleaned and ready for its next foray. Now we’ll know where to head back to for deeper exploration.

Just the Facts
Anza Borrego is little known considering its size. With free camping up to fourteen days, it merits serious consideration but be aware that you will also be competing with ATV usage in some areas. The visitor brochure lists twenty hiking trails but some, such as the slot canyon wash hike we did, aren’t even listed. There are two major badlands areas and some other areas of physical interest but most require four wheel drive. Dispersed camping is allowed throughout the park and there are also six campgrounds which charge $15-35 with some hookups. There are another eight backcountry campgrounds such as Arroyo Salado with no water and a vault toilet only and (usually) rough access. In a new twist to me (probably a California thing given the state’s abysmal budget status) you must BYOT (bring your own toilet tissue) when you visit the vaulted toilets.

This area gets less than 5 inches of rain a year and remains very hot June through September and even averages 90 during October so obviously winter is high season. We never felt crowded anywhere in the park despite the holiday however. I would imagine a weekday visitation would give a person miles and miles of empty spaces to explore. Apparently heavy rain years bring outstanding wildflower viewing in spring. The major town in proximity to the park is Borrego Springs with a population of about 3000. We didn’t see much in the way of restaurants (no fast food) nor shopping there, save for one small local grocery, a liquor store and an auto repair. But then, this isn’t the place to come if one is looking for town life.

Bring a four wheel drive vehicle if you can. Without it, much of the park will be off-limits. It’s not that the roads are necessarily so rough, but most sport deep, deep sand in spots.