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,
A desert landscape is one of the most beautiful sights that one will ever see. The openness and feeling of adventure while backpacking the vast Colorado Desert can be an amazing experience. Wait a minute, Colorado Desert? I thought you were talking about Anza-Borrego! Actually, the Colorado Desert is part of the larger Sonoran Desert – over 7 million acres with some of the most unique plant and animal life ever. Anza-Borrego is the name given to the state park that encompasses 3 California counties and is the second largest state park in the U.S. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorado_Desert, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anza-Borrego_Desert_State_Park)
In our opinion, the best time to hike here is during wildflower blooms in the spring. However, a winter day hike provides mild temps and relatively stable weather. Winter is the rainy season is southern California, so you have to keep an eye out on the forecast to avoid dangerous flash flood conditions. If you ever have the opportunity to hike near the palm oasis at the state park headquarters, you will see the results of a previous flash flood. Palms over 4 feet wide were uprooted and washed away, boulders the size of cars were rolled around and thoughts of the great flood mentioned in the book of Genesis came to mind.
On this day, we would venture out approximately 20 miles east of the town of Borrego Springs on SR-22 to hike the Calcite Mine Trail. We parked on the north side of SR-22 and walked to the trailhead that was about 100 yds. away. You can actually park most vehicles in a dirt area by the trailhead. At times, a popular area for jeeps and dirtbikes, the road up to the old mine is a challenge for a good driver in an off-road vehicle. We would only see one vehicle coming down from the mine.
The landscape here was so different from the area around Coyote Mountain to the west; that’s one of the things that we love about this desert. The sandstone cliffs appear to be carved out of the ground by a majestic artist. As the sun shifts and passes in and out of the clouds, the colors constantly change. The contrast of the land with the sky and Salton Sea to the east present a palette for the amateur artist.
The Calcite Mine Trail, is an approximate 4 miles round trip. It is an easy-moderate hike up the jeep trail and the elevation gain is around 500 ft. Not much shade here, so hope for a cloudy day, bring lots of water, sunscreen and a nice hat. As we made our way up the rocky road/trail, we scrambled up the side to peer down into one of many slot canyons. Oh yeah, we just gotta check that out on the way down!
If you’re thinking that the calcite mine is intact, you will be disappointed. Filled in long ago, there are barely traces that it even existed. There are shards and chunks of calcite, but like most other parks it is illegal to collect souvenirs. An interesting mineral, it was actually used in Norden bombsight manufactured during WWII. It’s quite possible that the bombsight used on the Enola Gay had calcite from this mine. We would have lunch near the old mine marker, on a sandstone outcropping. As is our new tradition, we would have hot tea.
We enjoyed the solitude and the panoramic views from our lunch spot and began our way down to the slot canyon. It was exciting to enter the canyon as the sandstone walls rose to over 75 ft. Mary mentioned that this was not a good place to be during an earthquake. Within a week of hiking this canyon, a 4.5 quake would hit near Anza, about 15-20 miles from here. I checked the skies for signs of rain. A storm to our north could bring flash floods that would make our fate like the dinosaurs of old.
We made our way down, the walls closing in and the path as little as several inches wide. It was fun and one of the most unique experiences to date. We would stop to examine the cliffs and formations carved from repeated water flows. Sometimes, we would have to jump 5 feet or so to the next level.
Eventually, we emerged from the slot canyon into Palm Wash, one of many that had its’ own ecosystem. Other than birds, we would see mostly insects, beetles and huge colonies of ants. One ant colony was carrying the blossoms from an adjacent bush to their queen. Even in this sparse land, God sees fit for his creatures to survive. We would encounter a few motorcyclists on their way back from exploring the nearby trails.
As often is the case, I missed the turnoff if there even was one. My GPS indicated that we were diverging from our original track to the mine. A nearby cell tower was a good reference that indicated we were east of our goal. We cut over a hill and headed west as the sun rapidly sank low in the horizon. We were pushing 10 miles at this point, but the waypoint on my GPS indicated we were getting closer. In my rush this morning, I didn’t print out a local map. Duhh! We were ok though, on day hikes, we tend to carry more than we need and are usually prepared in case we have to spend a night out.
The walkabout ended uneventfully and we chalked up another successful day in the wilderness. I encourage you to get out my friends – regardless of where you live. There is so much to see….