For those that love the outdoors, living in southern California has a few advantages. The beach, deserts, and mountains are all within a couple of hours of each other. As the slight changes in weather occur, you can shift your activities to another ecosystem. In the fall and winter, the deserts in California are simply amazing.
In this article, I’ll be speaking about the Colorado Desert which is actually part of the larger Sonoran Desert. While not necessary, a four-wheel-drive vehicle can transport you to more interesting places to hike.
Why hike in the desert? Many reasons, but here are a few:
- The solitude is prevalent. Living in an area like SoCal with its millions of people can give you the feeling of being surrounded. The desert with its wide open spaces is like being transported to another world
- The flora is astonishing. There is always something blooming and growing in the desert. The variety of chaparral and cacti will bring out the botanist in you.
- There is wildlife, you just have to look for it. Hummingbirds, chuckwallas, roadrunners, foxes, jackrabbits, and hawks. Some days you will see many, some days – none.
- The terrain can vary. The desert isn’t all flat and sandy. The Peninsular Range in SoCal brings some variety to the landscape, especially in the Anza Borrego area.
We combine hiking with off-roading and exploring. Using a local guidebook named Afoot and Afield: San Diego County we copy a couple of pages from the book, stick it in our packs and head out. This resource is loaded with amazing hikes providing detailed explanations of the surroundings. There are slot canyons, wind caves, and fossil fields all over the place. We have seen palm oasis’, desert streams and the strangest geological formations.
A few precautions on desert hiking. Trails are often not well-marked or maintained. There are no trees and very few references on the horizon. It is a great way to develop and improve your land navigation skills. We have been turned around on more than one occasion. The compass and GPS are great companions. While the weather doesn’t change quickly in the Sonoran desert, the winds can be strong and blowing sand is annoying.
Look for upcoming desert hikes on my blog. I’m excited to share some of the more interesting ones with you all. A good resource for the Anza-Borrego region is listed in the link below,
Bloggers have various reasons they write. For some, it is to share their thoughts. For others, it is a release or an outlet for the passion that they may have for a particular activity. Many are amateur photographers and enjoy posting their work. This episode is dedicated to a recent overnight camping trip to one of my favorite places and a quirky area of photography that is fun.
Anza-Borrego State Park is about 75 miles from my home in North County San Diego. From late fall to early spring it provides a variety of activities due to the milder weather. This mid November day found us heading out to an area a few miles east of Borrego Springs to hike and camp. One of the neat things about this state park is the freedom to move about and explore, including free camping. Free? In a state park? Sure, just stay outside the park campground and you can pretty much pitch a tent or park an RV without paying a dime.
While researching camping in Anza-Borrego on the Internet, I stumbled on a blog that discussed “boondocking”. A strange word, the last I heard anything close were the boondockers – black chukka boots that we had in the Navy. However, boondocking is basically free camping in remote areas or private property – with the owner’s approval. At times, there is probably a fine line between legal camping and trespassing, but I’ll only go where it is legit.
So a boondocking we went down Rockhouse Canyon Rd. near Clark Dry Lake. It’s a nice valley located between two mountains – Coyote Mtn to the west and Villager Mtn to the east. Rockhouse Canyon is a dirt road located approximately 5 miles east of Borrego Springs on SR22. You can usually see a cluster of RV’s near the highway as most don’t venture too far down the sandy road. During the week, you can drive a mile or two and find a secluded campsite. There is one rule in the state park: you must use a metal container for fires. However, we noticed there is an abundance of homemade fire rings throughout this area. We pulled in, looked around and noticed the nearest neighbor was almost a 1/2 mile away. Yes, this will work.
We would stay in the valley and hike north toward Clark Dry Lake on the jeep road. Overall, the road was in good shape this time of year. We ended up walking out on the lake bed, passing Coyote Mtn on the left and came up on a quarry. It was a good opportunity to have fun with some levitation photos.
If you look up levitation photography, you will find some very creative shots of people seemingly flying or floating through the air. I’m not very good at it, but it is fun to try and will make for a good laugh a few years from now. The trick is having someone take the pics or to use a remote. The auto settings on the DSLR usually work, but if the light is low, you may need to play around with the the shutter speed and ISO to prevent blurring. Anyhow, this is just another offshoot from being outdoors. You see, hiking opens up all sorts of possibilities. Just use common sense and don’t try levitating in front of a busy highway or railroad track. 🙂
The real visual treat in the desert occurs after the sun sets. You just have to experience it. Tonight, it was nearly a new moon and the stars almost outnumbered the grains of sand on the beach. Next time, I must bring a telescope.
In my opinion, a campfire is an absolute necessity for a night in the desert and knocked the edge off the rapidly dropping temps. The forecast called for 43 degrees, but we came prepared with several layers of clothes and some 3 season sleeping bags. By the morning, it would drop to 33 degrees. The animals were most active around sunset and we observed many jackrabbits. Several desert foxes ventured within 20 ft. of the campsite – curious little creatures with bushy tales. The coyotes began their yelps and would call out from the east and west. Once in the tent, the silence of the desert lulled us into a gradual sleep as I dreamt of the Bighorn Sheep jumping over Coyote Mountain.
Huddled in our sleeping bags, the dawn began to faintly illuminate the tent. I scrambled out and encouraged my wife to come out to see the sunrise. The air was dry and cold, but the sky was beginning to blossom with various hues of light. After watching an amazing display, we made our hot chocolate and enjoyed a nice, hot breakfast. My wife’s first car camping experience turned out very well. I think that she might try it again. Hopefully, next time it will be a little warmer at night. I encourage you to try camping in the desert – it will be a real treat.