Anza-Borrego days

Our little journey west brought us next to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a favorite place.   It is at first glance a desolate place, but Anza-Borrego hides its best features where the casual visitor can’t find them.   We’ve been hooked on it since our first visit in the mid-1990s, when Eleanor and I drove over from San Diego with a tent and slept beneath a tamarisk tree.   After many visits, it feels like home to come back to the little village of Borrego Springs.

The goals of this trip were rather vague.   We knew the desert wildflowers had bloomed, and hoped to see some of those.   The hiking conditions were ideal, so we expected to do some of that.   But really, it was a true “R&R” week, deliberately left unplanned to allow anything to happen that might seem like fun.

dsc_8549.jpgWe had alerted a few friends to our planned visit, and we were traveling as a caravan of three Airstreams.   Two more Airstreams just happened to be there, and by the time all were counted we had six Airstreams camped together in the Palm Canyon campground, plus Bill and Larry camped 30 miles away in another part of the park.     I was fearful that the get-together might turn into a rally, with commensurate expectations that would cramp our style, but everyone present was happy to just explore the park more or less independently.

dsc_8560.jpgMonday’s plan was to hike Hellhole Canyon, which is just a couple of miles from our campsite at Palm Canyon.   Despite the ominous name, Hellhole Canyon is a beautiful place, loaded (this time of year) with desert wildflowers and a pair of perennial waterfalls up at the very top.     The ocotillo are particularly colorful, each tipped with gorgeous red flowers, but there were also indigo bushes buzzing with bees, pink flowers atop cactus pads, chuparosa, and many others.


Unfortunately, it was just not Emma’s day for hiking, and not long after we started, she and Eleanor headed back for a quiet day.   Sometimes that happens.   That left Adam, Susan, and myself to do the hike, which progressed from a gentle upward climb on an alluvial fan to a scramble over granite boulders.   We hiked back to the campground rather than calling for a ride from the trailhead, so our total mileage was 7.5 for the day.

Sun protection and water are the key considerations now that we are into the spring season.   I drank my 100 oz. (3 liter) water sack completely dry, and needed more water in the evening after the hike.   For sun protection, I covered myself completely with SPF 55 sunscreen, plus the usual sunhat and polarized sunglasses.   Even still, I missed a small section on my neck and got a small sunburn there.

We developed a ritual for the next three days.   We’d arise early, get some work done (in my case only, everyone else was on vacation or retired), load up with sunscreen, pack the backpacks with snacks and water, and go hiking.   In the late afternoon, we’d return to the Airstreams, shower off all the sunscreen and sweat, have dinner, and get to bed early to do it all again.   With perfect weather and dry air, needless to say, it was great.

dsc_8577.jpgTuesday was our day for a group hike.   Roger & Roxie, Adam & Susan, Ken & Petey, and the three of us all piled into two vehicles to hike the narrow Slot Canyon, and then hike to Wind Caves.   Both of these trails are accessible only by high-clearance vehicle.   The final stop was Font’s Point for an afternoon look at the badlands.   Total hiking distance was about 2.5 miles, with perhaps 50-60 miles in the car and about 5 miles of off-roading.

Wednesday we picked up Bill and hiked Ghost Mountain, the site of Yaquitepec, the 1940s home of Marshal South and his family.   Bill has done a far better job of documenting the life of Marshal South, and our hike, than I could do, so I will simply refer you to his blog for the details.   However, I’ve posted photos from the entire week on Flickr, which give a few clues to how beautiful and inspiring our days in Anza-Borrego were.   It was, as Eleanor pointed out, exactly what we needed.   We just didn’t realize it until we got out on the road again and started feeling the freedom.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that we had stacked the deck a bit by having friends traveling with us.   We are happy to travel just as a family, since we’ve become used to it, but once in a while it feels good to wake up near good friends and share the day with them.   The days in Anza-Borrego were prime because every day we enjoyed the company of friendly people.   On Monday Ken and Petey had us all over to their trailer for a noshing party that turned into dinner (at least for me, since I was snarfing up all the goodies on the table.)


On Tuesday Roxie and Roger hosted the occupants of all six Airstreams for a potluck dinner.   On Wednesday we enjoyed a fabulous Chinese repast lovingly made by Larry.   It was all great.   I can’t think of many days better than those, with outdoor activity in the sunny southern California desert followed by evenings with friends and family.   Those are the kinds of days that remind us why we got into this RV’ing thing in the first place.

Painted Rock Petroglyph Site, AZ

It has been two months since we towed the Airstream anywhere, so it was clearly time to break out for a road trip.   Fortunately, our friends Adam and Susan were heading west from Tucson and wanted companions, so we had a good excuse.   Then I mentioned the trip to our friends Ken and Petey, and then I mentioned it to Roger and Roxie, and pretty soon it was turning into an event.

painted-rock-petroglyph-site.jpgWe met Adam and Susan, and Ken and Petey, in a lonely part of southern Arizona off Interstate 8.   When a place is described as “20 miles northwest of Gila Bend,” you know it’s pretty far away from population centers.   Gila Bend is a blip on the Interstate between Yuma and Casa Grande.

Our real destination was Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, but it’s 300+ mile drive from Tucson and nobody was in a hurry.   For years we’ve passed signs on I-8 pointing to a place called Painted Rock Petroglyph Site, and thought, “Sometime we should detour up there to see what that’s all about.”   So I told everyone it was somewhere off I-8 west of Gila Bend, and to figure out how to get there, and they all did.

(Painted Rock Petroglyph Site is indicated by the “H” symbol on the map above.)

dsc_8524.jpgPainted Rock was once a state park, but its status changed when the Gila River was declared polluted, and access to the water was closed.   Now it’s administered by the Bureau of Land Management.   Apparently without water it has become much less of a draw, so the campground was almost entirely deserted except for us.   We thought it was spectacular: quiet, starry, and mysterious because of the hill of ancient petroglyph-covered rocks directly adjacent to the campground.   Eight bucks a night, no hookups, no dump station.

The night at Painted Rock was a great warm-up for our next several days.   We explored the hill of petroglyphs, and then grilled vegetables outside and watched the stars fill the sky at dusk.   We talked about our plans and our recent experiences, and then retired to our three Airstreams for a quiet cool night.

The drive along I-8 and up the Imperial Valley has been the subject of several of my Tour of America blog posts, but still this trip fascinates me.   You pass through vast tracts of the Sonoran desert, skirt the very border of Mexico, cross major canals shunting water to grow Imperial Valley vegetables, traverse the tall Imperial Sand Dunes, dip below sea level, and then roll north to the Salton Sea.   There you’ll find acres of swaying palms, dust storms, an unnatural salt lake, miles of irrigated vegatables, and a Border Patrol checkpoint.   That last roadside phenomenon tied up traffic for about half an hour, but as usual we were waved through once we finally reached the officers.

Our next several days were spent in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California, and I’ll write about those experiences in the next blog.