February 18, Saturday
It rains overnight, but not the heavy downpour that was expected. This morning the road into camp has a few puddles in the low spots, but if there was any flash flooding it’s past. The sky is a uniform gray, and low clouds shroud the tops of the mountains.
It’s a stay inside kind of day. I write, read, and peek outside on occasion. It drizzles on and off. In the evening I drive into Borrego Springs to get online since the Verizon signal is unusable where I’m camping (I don’t have a booster). Even in town with full bars it’s slow going, perhaps the tower is overloaded. The sunset makes the wait worth it though.
February 19, Sunday
What a pretty morning. It starts with fog.
As the sun rises the fog burns off, but then fluffy clouds roll in, painting the mountainside with abstract patterns of light. I love partly-cloudy days and could sit for hours watching clouds roll across mountains. Something about it just speaks to my soul.
I also love hiking days.
Two members of our camp moved on after the rain. The three of us remaining pile into Bertha. I retrace the route I took from Ocotillo Wells to get here, turning south at the traffic circle in Borrego Springs and getting on 78 and back into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We’re only on 78 for a mile or so before the turnoff to Buttes Pass Road, a dirt track popular with off-roaders that leads to several washes and points of interest in the park. It’s only one lane, but there are frequent pull-overs.
We’re not going that far in. At the first fork we take a left and stop at the parking area for The Slot, a short trail at 1.5 miles round trip through a slot canyon. Any type of vehicle can make it this far, but I think after this point it gets rougher. The parking lot is loosely defined and not very large, but I find a spot to squeeze Bertha in.
From the parking lot you can climb down into the slot canyon immediately, or you can go the other direction and follow along the top of the badlands first and leave the slot canyon for the end. We opt for the second route. My first summer on the road I worked at Badlands National Park, and this crumbly clay terrain still fascinates me.
Before long, the trail descends. The weather continues to be really nice, cool with clouds casting shadows on the landscape.
Ooo, my first wildflowers of the season. Desert Lillies down here at the bottom of the wash are just starting to bloom, the ones up top are still closed. If one of your camping goals is to follow nice weather, finding flowers in February means you’re doing something right.
We take a detour to what I later learn are called wind caves. From a distance it looks a bit like a honeycomb. These hollows in the rock are relatively small, only the largest are big enough for a person to crawl into. It’s hard to imagine the amount of time it must have taken for the wind to carve them out.
There’s even a tiny arch arch here, hidden unless looked at from the correct angle.
From there the trail enters a canyon between crumbly rock walls, too soft to climb. The way narrows gradually, and it takes me a while to realize we’ve entered the slot canyon.
In places the walls are so close that I need to turn sideways or duck to pass. The temperature down here out of the sun is cooler and it feels quite pleasant. It probably would not have been so pleasant a couple days ago when the rain was coming down.
The canyon ends more abruptly on the other side, and the trail climbs back up to the parking lot. It was a bit of a drive to get out here, but I’d say the trek was worth it for how pretty it was.
February 21, Tuesday
It’s great to be camping near a State Park with so many nice trails. Vanessa and I head west of Borrego Springs today to hike Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail, which is 3 miles round trip. The trail starts at the campground, or you can also park at the visitor center and walk from there which adds an additional 1.4 miles round trip. This is the route we opt for.
The northeastern side of the loop follows a wide wash past large boulders and litter from downed palms carried by rare but powerful floods. It’s an upward climb, but a gentle one.
After a while the trail meets up with a stream and parallels it. Water pours over boulders in waterfalls and stands in pools where the terrain is more level. The first palms show up not long after, smaller and scattered along the edges of the stream. The California Fan Palm is the only native palm in the western United States. An informational placard explains that they’re a remnant leftover from a cooler and wetter era when this area was a grassland dotted with clumps of trees. Today they’re mostly found near fault zones where springs provide a source of water year-round.
I’m guessing that the water level is higher than usual from the recent rain, as parts of the trail are muddy or under water. Other visitors out hiking try a variety of ways to avoid getting wet, and a group of us end up on the wrong side of the stream from the palm grove up on a rocky ledge. Well, we may have gone the wrong way, but this is a pretty good view!
Vanessa and I backtrack and find a way across the stream to the grove. The palm trees tower overhead, shading us from the hot sun. We enjoy a snack on a boulder while listening to birds call overhead and the wind rustling through palm fronds and cattails growing near the water.
The hike back on the southwestern half of the loop follows the curve of the mountains above the wash. Wildflowers grow rampant among the rocks, it’s great to see all the color. Spring has come to the Colorado Desert, or at least this part of it.
This half also offers a good panoramic view of the valley below. Ocotillo spread their green fingers over brush and rock. Borrego Wells lies in the distance beyond the campground.
Coming back to the theme of clouds and mountains, lenticular clouds are piling up over a peak to the north as we get back to camp. This type of cloud is unique to mountainous areas and isn’t real common. Sometimes they look like flying saucers, this stack isn’t that well defined, but still pretty cool. And I got to experience all of this natural beauty on a Tuesday, when in my old life I would have been stuck at work. Nope, I still have no regrets about becoming a full-timer!
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