I’ve been coming to this park for years, partly in a park this big there’s always an opportunity to see something new—if you just make the effort to look. The rangers and volunteers who staff the visitor center, and the people you can find camping in the less-traveled areas, are a great source of tips.
Yesterday I pulled Alex away from his computer to get out for “an adventure.” We decided to do a little off-roading near 17 Palms, a palm oasis that’s a couple of miles off S-22, starting at the primitive Arroyo Salado campsite. The roads are always sandy, potholed, and occasionally a bit “technical” requiring some driving skill to avoid getting stuck. None of the roads I’m going to talk about are passable with a 2 wheel drive vehicle, or any vehicle that doesn’t have high ground clearance. I mention this because we still remember the Tale of the Sinking Dutchman, who thought that a Subaru Outback constituted a suitable conveyance on the local trails. It has become a favorite campfire story among the 4WD owners.
The Mercedes GL is a remarkably capable off-road vehicle. I know that probably 99.9% of owners never take them off pavement, but they should give it a try. We’ve off-roaded with ours in many places over the years, and it has always been surprisingly good it, despite its bulk and street tires. I’m selective about where we go because I don’t want to strip the paint off by rubbing a piece of sandstone, and I sure don’t want to get stuck.
17 Palms was very nice, but I’d seen it before and after a few minutes of marveling at this strange palm oasis (the result of an underground water supply) we decided to press onward to a place we’d never been: the “Pumpkin Patch.”
This is an area of “concretions”, which are basically like pearls made of natural cement. Wet sand sticks to a “seed” object like a pebble, and becomes cemented to it. Wind erosion shapes the concretions as they gradually become exposed to the surface, hence the pumpkin shape.
Pumpkin Patch is in the adjacent Ocotillo Wells Off-Highway Recreational Vehicle Area, which is a long way to say that it’s where the ATV’ers and motorcyclists are allowed to ride. We met up with a few of them and they tipped us off to a hidden spot where supposedly there were “statues” made of rock. They weren’t sure where exactly they saw it, and sent us on a wild-goose chase down the Pumpkin Patch Trail.
I can now attest that this trail is passable by cars … but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really like off-roading in tricky conditions and have the right vehicle. It’s really Jeep country. Since Alex and I were, uh, “rather concerned” by the conditions as we slowly drove through, we didn’t stop to take photos, but we probably should have. If you drove this trail in a Jeep you would not believe that we’d done it in a Mercedes GL.
Of course we never found the rock statues, but by the time we escaped Pumpkin Patch Trail and settled into the relatively flat washes, we didn’t really care. It about another 90 minutes to work our way out of there and back to the pavement of S-22, plus time for a stop at another spot we’d never seen before: Vista Del Malpais.
Alex called Vista Del Malpais “the best view in the park,” and I think he might be right. It’s a lot like the view from Font’s Point but even more panoramic. The Salton Sea is visible to the east, badlands spread out in front in Technicolor beauty, and mountains ringing three sides. It really can’t be fully captured in a single photo. Going to Vista Del Malpais is mandatory if you really want to appreciate it, like seeing Grand Canyon in person.
After all that, it seemed like a good idea to head over to the Palms At Indian Head Hotel for a burger by the swimming pool.
Just as the sun was setting behind the mountains, Alex & Charon put on a show for all the RV’ers in their encampment (about 1/4 mile from my site) and for anyone else who cared to show up. This is the same show they’ll be doing at Alumafiesta next month in Tucson, full of sword swallowing, fire breathing, and other specialties of the sideshow arts. I’ve seen it probably eight times and I still love it. From the reaction of the crowd (from age 3 to 60+) it was clear they loved it too.
Today’s plan is much like yesterday’s plan: no plan. We shall see what happens. It’s another beautiful day in Borrego Springs CA (sorry to all of you trapped by the snow & cold right now), and probably it is my last day before heading homeward, so I’m going to try to make the most of it.