Saturday, April 23rd, 2016
After almost a year since we last met up at Hollister, CA, My buddy Rich invited me and a few others to go camping somewhere in the Anza Borrego Desert. This would be a very new experience for me as I had always wanted to visit that neighboring southern desert. We met up at Pala Casino and it would just be Rich, myself and his coworker Matt. Unfortunately, the original date schedule had to be moved two weeks ago due to severe flash flood warnings in the area. The others couldn’t make it, so it looks like it would just be the three amigos for this desert run. We were all sporting CB radios so staying in contact was awesome, especially in some of the more desolate areas where cell phones can be so unreliable.
We traveled highway 76 eastbound until we hit a few junctions which would eventually land us on Montezuma Valley Road (S22) and the way that the scenery changed from luscious, green rolling hills to rocky inselbergs and desert terrain was wild. The grade down the bypass of Montezuma Valley Road is pretty steep, curvy, and taxing on the breaks so it’s best to drop gears if your driving a stick (Like Matt & Rich) or if you have an automatic like me, just switch off the Overdrive and you’ll use the breaks a bit less while preventing a catastrophic failure like flaming brake pads and the like!
“Rich called us over the radio and suggested a cool spot to catch a great view of Borrego Springs below.”
“This was the view of Borrego Springs and the sliver of blue in the distance is the Salton Sea.”
The Borrego Springs Serpent
The drive to the Coyote Canyon Trailhead was about another 20 miles (32.2 km) from the vista point and we made sure to stop in town at the Borrego Springs Market to stock up on water. It was a pretty warm day and didn’t want to take any chances. Along the way we got to see some pretty amazing metal sculptures crafted by the artist Ricardo Breceda based out of Perris, California. He was enlisted by the late Dennis Avery, who owned the land of Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs. He wanted some free standing art for his property and Breceda most definitely delivered. Currently there are about 130 free standing metal sculptures scattered across the area and the famous “Borrego Springs Serpent” is the most popular which at 350 ft (106.6 m) in length, is also the largest.
“The Borrego Springs Serpent stretches across the highway.”
“The head on this behemoth stands over 18 ft (5.5 m) tall.”
“A closer look at the rusted, metallic scales on this beautiful serpent.”
“Like steam emanating from it’s mouth, the clouds made for a really nice shot here.”
Coyote Canyon Trail
GPS Coordinates: 33.3252° N, -116.3675° W
When the gang finally reached the trailhead for Coyote Canyon, we parked ourselves alongside the start of the dirt road where the pavement ends and began the process of airing down our tires for better traction on the trail to come. Rich and Matt got down to about 18 psi, but I had to keep it around 28 psi since I was rolling heavy at just over 4 tons. From this point on it was pure off road delight as we blasted sandy embankments and charged through the waters at Coyote Creek.
“Aired Down and ready to make the 13 mile trek to camp.”
The Coyote Canyon Bypass, better known to some as “Boulder Alley”, is said to have a trail rating of 6, but I felt it was more of an aggressive 4 or moderate 5. The path is narrow and gets very tight in a couple of spots so there is definitely no room for opposing traffic. As with any other trail like this, it is always good to get out and see if any others are taking the trail in the opposite direction. Standard protocol for an inclined, one lane trail with no room for passing states that the vehicle facing downhill shall reverse its’s course until the vehicle going uphill can pass, except where it is more practical for the vehicle going uphill to return to a wider space or turnout below.
With trails such as the Coyote Canyon Bypass, this typical procedure may not apply so easily to the situation. Crawling over rocks uphill in reverse is a lot more difficult than crawling over rocks downhill in reverse. Right of way can also be determined by who has the longer and/or more difficult rock crawling journey in reverse to an area wide enough for safe passage of the other vehicle. Fortunately for us, we only encountered a squad of Jeeps as we cleared the top end of the bypass.
“Here’s a bit of footage from the way down the Coyote Canyon Bypass, (sorry about the audio quality).”
Sheep Canyon Campsite
GPS Coordinates: 33.3651° N, -116.4791° W
After playing in the dirt and crawling over rocks for a good while, we made our way to the campsite were we would stay for the night. We arrived there early enough to take our pick as no one was there… yet. Eventually we ended up having some neighbors including a group of five sweet toyota tacoma rigs. The location was perfect and the night couldn’t arrive soon enough.
“We found a pretty sweet little campsite and set up for the night.”
“Matt worked on a hammock, but unfortunately he couldn’t get it mounted high enough.”
“Rich had the sweet set up, his awning provides a peftect shade from the heat and right over the dinner table too.”
“Rich busted out his high powered stove for his late lunch.”
“I brought the wash station along for all to use, which turned out to be a very handy addition to the camp.”
After we got settled in, Rich left his Rubicon to mark our camp and he rode with me as Matt followed in his rig. We set off to explore some other areas of Collin’s Valley nearby. There are dozens of small trails and it’s easy to get your bearings screwed up if you get lost in the moment, so making a quick study of the surrounding mountains is a good idea for visual points of reference. It was surprisingly hot that day, so we made sure to stay hydrated and pressed on until we reached an oasis that Rich told us about on the way into Collin’s Valley.
We found a small place to park and got out on foot from that point onward. It wasn’t long before the well marked foot trail terminated at a wall of shrubs so dense that even the sharpest machete wouldn’t be effective. We tried to work our way around to see if we could find another path into the oasis, but there was no access at all from the direction we were coming from. By this point, we ascertained that the green shrubs were a recent overgrowth due to the flash floods two weeks ago along with previous rains combined in the previous months. The trail was overgrown by the foliage.
“This was the closest we could get to the Oasis.”
“There were plenty of other great things to photograph besides the oasis like the bountiful Occotillo plants.”
“Don’t get too close to these Occotillo, they’re nature’s pain centers with thorns over an inch long!”
“A cluster of Hedgehog Cactus basks in the heat, waiting for an unsuspecting victim in sandals…lol”
“The infamous, yet beautiful Teddy Bear Cholla should be viewed at a distance as they can really bring the pain.”
“This little bee was having the cactus flower all to herself.”
“There were hundreds of Agave Deserti (a.k.a. Desert Yucca/Century Plants) blooming around the area.”
Once in its lifetime, a Desert Agave, or Century Plant, sends a solitary stalk into the sky. Sticky yellow flowers emerge from large pods, attracting bees. A field or hillside full of these tall stalks with yellow flowers (they may look something like city traffic signals) is an impressive sight for a few weeks until the pollen is gone and the stalks dry up, fall over, and die. (source: ABDNHA)
The Desert Agave is drought tolerant but requires good drainage. The desert dwelling Native Americans used fibers from the leaves to make cloth, bowstrings, and rope. Young flower stalks (roasted), buds, and hearts of plants (also roasted) were eaten. Natives of southern California commonly harvested the “heads” using a specialized digging stick and roasted the leaves and heart alike. Food thus obtained often became a dietary staple, even into drought years. Alcoholic drinks were also manufactured from the sweet juices of this and other agaves. (source: Wikipedia) Contrary to popular belief, the Desert Agave (Century Plant) does not require 100 years to generate a stalk, but rather more like a few decades, about 10-30 years to be specific.
“The stalks of the Desert Agave can reach an astounding 26 ft (8 m) in height!”
“This short video montage sums up all the off roading we did that day.”
Back to Camp!
We drove back to camp and got ready for the sun to set. Rich and I felt a big hit as I was backing up to the campsite, and we both looked right at each other with that “Oh shit!” look on our faces. I stepped out to see what happened and apparently a granite rock snuck into my blind spot while I was backing into the space and “Bam!”, to my surprise, the rock broke… Now how about that huh?” Not even a ding or a reasonable scratch was left on my diff plate. Now I don’t feel so bad about shelling out the $300 bucks I did for that thick piece of aluminum.
“Usually, rocks are known for busting up differential covers, but it was the other way around…lol”
Matt grabbed some hot dogs and joined Rich in getting the fire started for the tasty Bratwurst and Potato Dinner we were about to have. In the meantime, I still had to make my sleeping arrangements with the Megacab section of my rig. Eventually I will get a roof top tent just like I’ve always wanted, but for now it was all about setting up my room for the night at the Hotel Starship!
“With the seats brought down and the front seats pushed forward, I had just enough leg room.”
I took a stroll to check out the ‘roofless’ vault toilets nearby and they were awful, I seriously do not recommend. Definitely bring your own porta potty for sure unless you are brave and have no sense of smell. I did however notice that behind one of the two stone vault toilets, there was a steel box with a California Parks and Recreation label on it. Inside the metal locker were two buckets and a broom along with other cleaning supplies.
Meanwhile, back at camp, Matt had unloaded a huge pile of firewood for the pit. The initial logs were very slow to catch a flame, but once they burned for about 15 minutes, the flames really started to heat up enough to finally get the marinade to boil. The fire pit was about 70% full of ash from many fire before, but this only meant that we didn’t have to pile as much wood in there to get the flames close to the metal grill. Rich sliced an onion in half and rubbed it along the grill for decontamination and then it was time to grill the bratwurst and hot dogs!
“Bratwurst grilled and soaking in a beer/onion marinade while the foil covered spuds roast in the pit.”
“It was a beautiful sight, one I had not seen since I was a kid, rocks lit by a campfire in the open desert.”
Dinner was most excellent and with the sun completely gone, Rich and I started to prep our gear for some night time photography. Matt got a crash course on photography that night and even helped us get some pretty sweet light painting photos later on. Our first round of night shots were all about capturing the stars before the bright waning gibbous moon was set to rise just behind the rocky ridge next to our camp.
“This was one of the cleanest star images I got with my aging 5D MKII.”
“I was quick to jump over to light painting and Matt snapped this photo while I painted.”
“I made a red neon man out of thin air!”
“Next on my list was a red glowing heart for a very special girl.”
“Then I tried a skull and cross bones, but couldn’t get that last cross bone in time…lol”
“Even managed to get a little Pac Man into the mix.”
After the night photo session, Rich whipped out the s’mores and we ate until we were content. By then we were all starting to feel the bite of the sleeping bug and so we slowly retired into our sleeping quarters for the night. The strange thing about this night was that we all woke up at about 3 AM for unknown reasons, perhaps it was aliens or just an increase in activity near the camp as the bats flew around above us snatching up all the flying insects out of the air, who knows.
Sunday, April 24th, 2016
We got up with the bright 9 AM sun as it rose over the rocky mountain that shaded us for the first few hours of the morning. It was going to be an even hotter day today and we wanted to get some more wheeling in before we started our way out of the valley. We packed up everything and eventually got to the off road fun. We started our way further into the valley and hit a dry wash with a pretty challenging series of rocky outcrops littered along the path. We all took turns leading the pack, but eventually the time to turn back was upon us. Everyone was getting hungry and Matt had somewhere to be so we all turned around and started our way out.
Heading back through the rocky wash was a lot easier than going in because we could follow the tire tread markings we left behind. We did have a couple of encounters with a nerdy kid and his lady friend who was driving a very stock, two door jeep wrangler at high speeds through the wash earlier. We let him pass and as he did, we were laughing because you could hear how much damage he was inflicting on his jeep’s suspension, undercarriage, and axles. He even passed us again on the way out of the wash. He’s going to have to buy a whole new jeep when he gets home, that’s if he makes it hom, lol. We nicknamed him “Speedy”.
“Heading back out of the wash, the three amigos ride again!”
Just before getting back to the main path and starting our way out of Collin’s Valley, we encountered two hikers who were looking a bit sun scorched. I lowered the window and asked if they needed any help. They did, so I got out and learned that they were hiking from a camp that was near the place we camped, they were looking for Desert Gardens. I was shocked when they mentioned that location, I knew they were many miles off course.
Apparently a gentleman they had spoken with earlier that morning steered them in the wrong direction which put them in hot water at this point. Their GPS had died and their phone was running on reserve power. The only chance they had to avoid heat stroke and a grueling 7 mile hike back in the opposite direction was to hop in, so I offered them a ride in my rig and they said yes.
“Bobby and Laura from Venice Beach, CA… Good people!”
We navigated the trail all the way to the Coyote Canyon Bypass. It was actually a lot less difficult on the way down even with all the giant rocks littering the trail to the bottom. Once we made it down the rocky path, we parked our rigs on the side to get a few shots in and make way for any others who wanted to take on the bypass.
“Here’s a bit of footage from the way down the Coyote Canyon Bypass, (sorry about the audio quality).”
“Rich tests out the articulation on his new lift and 35″s, very cool!”
“Matt gives it go and does pretty damn good too!”
“As we played on the big rocks, a fleet of some very cool buggies arrived to take on the bypass.”
“I suggested a group shot before we hit the trail again.”
“We ran through Coyote Creek and Rich snapped this sweet ass shot of my rig.”
“Naturally I returned the favor by snapping this sweet ass shot of his rig!”
“Then Rich grabbed another sweet shot of Matt’s rig making the water crossing.”
“End of the line…”
Once we reached Desert Gardens, it was practically the end of the Coyote Canyon Trail and so we parted ways with our new friends Bobby and Laura. Matt bolted for home while Rich and I stopped to get some air back into our tires. His compressor was really getting a workout trying to get 8 sets of 35″ tires filled up. We stopped short of a complete air fill to avoid burning out his onboard air compressor and set off to the gas station in town at Borrego Springs just a few miles away.
“Rich says, Dude, I think that’s all the compressor can do, we better get to the gas station for the rest…lol”
“With Rich’s air compressor getting overheated, it was time to get to the gas station for air and then lunch at the town of Julian.”
Once we got the full air pressure back into our tires, we drove about 30 miles (48.2 km) to the small town of Julian via Highway 78. It was a beautiful stretch of highway which changed from desert to green valleys to mountain pines. I had never been to Julian in my life, but I had known about it for years and always wanted to visit. I heard great stories about their Apple Pie and it was definitely going to be a cheat day for me. When we arrived, it was loaded with a bit of traffic. Julian is a very popular town you see and parking can be scarce, but when you find some, the walk to the shops no matter how far you parked is totally worth it.
“Rich suggested a place he had tried before, The Julian Cafe & Bakery.”
“We ordered similar platters, only he got the open face turkey/sausage meatloaf and I got the roast beef.”
“I had built up such an appetite from the morning that I actually had room for dessert, Apple Pie with Cinnamon sprinkled Vanilla Ice Cream.”
The food was absolutely amazing and the perfect way to bring an epic two day camping trip to a close. The entire region was new for me and inspired me to make some future visits here to explore a bit more later on. Thanks to Rich for all the hook ups and for setting up such a glorious trip. Will have to do this again very soon!
Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”
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