Trip Report - Anza-Borrego Wildflowers, ‘07
By Allan Schoenherr and Alan Romspert
Allan and Alan arrived at Palm Spring in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, about noon on Thursday, April 5. Christine Urbach and her nephew Jon Lawton arrived a short time later, followed by Pat and Emily Murphy. We had a quick lunch and set out to scout our route for the following day and to search out those elusive wildflowers. According to reports from park personnel, this is one of the driest years on record. Contrasting with last year’s two -inch torrent which fell during our wildflower trip, this year the park received, so far, only 3/4 inch of rain all year.
Fortunately, half of that fell a week ago, which caused some of the perennial plants, such as Ocotillo to leaf out and bloom. We returned to camp, set up for happy hour, and the other participants began to arrive. It proved to be a pleasant evening, perfect temperature for sleeping or staring at the sky.
The next morning we walked about the camp. Alan talked about deep-rooted Honey Mesquite, drought-tolerant Creosote Bush, and alkaline-tolerant salt bushes. Allan discussed the endangered Desert Pupfish which has a refuge at the spring near our camp. Allan showed a photograph of the original tall, but non-native, Mexican Fan Palms that were removed by State Park personnel. Today they have been replaced by native, but much younger and smaller, California Fan Palms.
Our intrepid group of 10 vehicles, 16 persons, and one well-behaved dog were all packed up by 9:00 AM. In addition to those named above, the following persons set out in a caravan for Canyon Sin Nombre: John Page and his friend Paul Ferry, Malcom and Jean Roode, Marion and Neal Johns, Leonard Friedman and his daughter Hannah, Allan Wicker, and Joan McGovern-White. We traversed down the scenic Canyon Sin Nombre, stopping to view the spectacular display of rocks, ancient black and white banded metamorphics with granitic intrusions, overlain by million-year-old sedimentary rocks, both marine and freshwater, left over from what was once the Colorado River Delta. The Elsinore Fault that passes through the canyon had pushed the sediments into large spectacular folds. Where the canyon joins Vallecito Wash we stopped to view and talk about the Smoke Tree “forest” and Mesquite thicket; why they grew there and how intense desert storms carry the seeds along with gravel and rocks which cracks the seed coats and enhances germination only when the soil is wet. Alan talked about the huge root systems that follow the water as it sinks in the ground.
Crossing Vallecito Wash we progressed up Arroyo Tapiado, marveling at the amazing slot canyons and the violet-colored Borrego Asters growing along the walls. We took our flashlights and explored one of the “mud caves” that opens up into a chamber with a skylight in its roof. We found a mass of welcome shade along a cliff where all 10 vehicles and 16 people could relax and enjoy lunch. Malcom Roode took a group picture.
After lunch we motored up the arroyo and headed to the top of the badlands where there was an impressive grove of Ocotillos, all leafed out and blooming, the result of the previous week’s welcome rainfall. We approached the infamous Diablo Dropoff with some trepidation, but everyone went down without mishap. While some of us knew there really were two dropoffs for the price of one, there were no problems. Joan nursed her brand new Honda CRV down the second drop as everyone listened to her heart race. Meanwhile, John Page walked all the way down. The worst part was the boulder crawl in the canyon down below as we worked our way out to Fish Creek. Of course we encountered one vehicle that was going the wrong way on a designated one-way road. He was not happy, but he had to pull off and back up a slope at a precarious angle and let all of us pass. We continued down Fish Creek and stopped to photograph the pretty violet flowers of Desert Willow, and view the awesome geology of marine sediments pushed into an anticline at Split Mountain gorge. Back to pavement at the mouth of Fish Creek, we headed north to Buttes Pass Road and scenic Hawk Canyon with its red and gray clay sediments. Grateful to find it vacant, we pulled into the shade, set up camp, and had our traditional potluck, marked by cheese and crackers, humus, various chip and dip combinations, two kinds of potato salad, mixed green salad, yummy meat loaf, and capped it off with burritos that were sliced into rounds, heated, and covered with salsa. White-throated Swifts and Little Brown Bats flew madly about chasing insects. We had a cheery camp fire that cast a fantastic light show on the colorful cliffs and we enjoyed various quantities of potable liquids. The next morning we woke to the humming of 100s of Honey Bees that were flying about the camp. Alan’s large bowl of ice chest drippings and Allan’s wet wash cloth were targets for the thirsty little critters.
After breakfast we caravanned out of Hawk Canyon, and stopped to view blooming examples of Indigo Bush, White Ratany, Burro Bush, and Desert Lavender. After the flower discussion we headed up the Goat Trail, a narrow ridgeline traverse to a view point that showed us how East Butte and West Butte were displaced along the San Jacinto Fault. For a short time we were joined by a HumVee (H-3) sporting two giant American Flags. We allowed the super-patriot to pass and headed back down to SH 78 and then to Ocotillo Wells to stock up on ice and candy bars. By this time three carloads had headed home and we, the remaining participants in seven vehicles, aided by maps and GPS units, worked our way up and down across the woven trail system through the badlands, across the Ocotillo Wells OHV playground, dodging motorcycles, tricycles, ATVs, and “sand rails.” Ultimately we reached the Pumpkin Patch which is now surrounded by a fence to protect it from thieves and vandals. The Pumpkin Patch is a field of large round sandstone concretions, that have been shaped by the erosional forces of wind and water.
After the Pumpkin Patch we worked our way northward along Tule Wash. Here we were relatively free of the incessant wasp-sound of unmufflered internal combustion engines. We visited Five Palms Oasis and marveled that water-demanding vegetation did so well on a hilltop. We stopped to eat lunch in the shade of Seventeen Palms Oasis. After that, on our way up Arroyo Salado to Highway S22, our leader (the Good Allan) got disoriented and led the group up the old Truckhaven Trail. Fortunately John Page and Paul Perry had been there two years ago and after only one sojourn to a dead end they directed us to the highway. On the way we traveled through another picturesque steep-sided canyon bordered by colorful sandstone.
Turning westward on S22 we headed to the Rockhouse Canyon turnoff and made our way to a large Mesquite grove on the north side of Clark dry lake, with the idea in mind to make camp where the trees would provide shade and protection from the wind. The Bad Alan felt it was too muggy there. Leonard was concerned that the blooming Honey Mesquite trees would harbor too many Honey Bees. Marion said it was only 3:00 O’clock and too early to camp so lets go on to the end of the road and see Hidden Spring. The Good Allan suggested that it would be about an hour in, and another hour out, on a pretty bad road, but Neal, always ready with the GPS advised us that it was only three more miles. So, we abandoned the protection of the Mesquite grove and headed on up the road. After traveling three miles, Neal announced that it would be another three miles to the spring! Ahem! So, we crawled along over the boulders for another couple of miles when Allan the leader said, “I’m tired of this road; let’s turn around and go back to camp.” NOBODY COMPLAINED, although rather than go all the way back to the protection of the Mesquite Grove, at Marion’s suggestion, we chose a flat, scenic location in a grove of Smoke Trees. At this point it should be pointed out that Smoke Trees are leafless at this time of year and provide no protection from the wind. Yes, boys and girls, the wind did blow. Nevertheless, we had a delightful happy hour, a pleasant campfire, and slept the night away charmed by the murmur (roar) of wind in the Smoke Trees. Of course Marion and Neal slept in their camper. The next morning, Easter Sunday, folks packed up and made their way back to the highway and homeward.