Wildflowers, Desert Vistas, & New Friends ~ Anza Borrego Desert State Park, CA

The desert is waking from her deep winter slumber, the time of year when Mother Nature playfully splashes every color in her palette across the barren landscape. Winter is not quite ready to relinquish her hold, as cold winds and rain still find their way down the mountains, scuttling across the desert floor of Anza Borrego State Park.  But spring is gaining ground and the colors, textures and smells of the desert are wonderful!

We would find it shameful if we did not experience Anza’s wildflowers, given we are just an hour away from California’s largest state park.  Actually they are just now beginning to burst open from their underground rest, so the next few weeks should prove to be quite spectacular.

Just a few of the wildflowers making their colorful debut:

We had only a few days to spend so we wasted no time in setting up camp near Coyote Mountain, at Clark’s Dry Lake, one of the more popular boondocking spots in Anza Borrego.  We ventured down Rockhouse Road until we found a spot away from everyone else, with nothing to break the silence except the howling wind and coyotes late at night.  Once settled we headed over to the trailhead for our first hike.

Hellhole Canyon

Anza Borrego is known as one of the hottest and driest deserts in the U.S., so it might be surprising to learn that there is a place where palm trees, sycamores, and cottonwoods flourish.   And if you are persistent, don’t mind a bit of boulder-hopping and bushwhacking, and listen intently, you might stumble upon the tiny cascading waterfall known as Maidenhair Falls, for the lush ferns and moss lining the canyon wall. Welcome to Hellhole Canyon, a 5-mile trail out-and-back that keeps you on your toes as you try to determine which way the trail went, as it has a tendency to disappear within the vegetation-choked canyon floor.

Beyond the tantalizing images of the desert awash with color, we were looking forward to our visit with the birders Raven and Chickadeebetter known as Eric and Laurel. One of the perks of following other RV bloggers is finding out who is circling in the area. These two little birdies were not only circling but they had landed and we feel grateful to have spent two fun-filled days with them and their Ashland friends.  And, of course, another hike was on the agenda, this time an afternoon trek into Palm Canyon in search of the bighorn sheep.

Palm Canyon

Palm Canyon was once the most beautiful and lushest of the 25 palm canyons within Anza Borrego but a freak summer thunderstorm in 2004 brought a 20-foot wall of water rushing down the canyon, carrying with it hundreds of uprooted fan palm trees. These displaced palms, carried along by a massive mudflow, hit the state park campground, causing considerable damage and what some have dubbed a “thousand-year flash flood”.  This 3-mile out-and-back trail is still quite lovely, despite what she has endured.  We did not find the elusive bighorn sheep on our hike but when we returned to camp the Ashland crowd who stayed behind had seen them on the ridge above the campground…bummer for the hikers!

Although our time at Anza Borrego was short, our days and nights were packed with interesting conversation, lovely hikes, great food and drink, and entertainment.  It seems this Ashland bunch are very talented.  We can’t thank them enough for including us in their intimate group.  We had a blast and look forward to meeting up with them again later this summer. :)

Not Your Ordinary “Chip” ~ Mt. Woodson, Poway, CA

Recently our hiking club decided to tackle the Mt. Woodson trail, a hike that I suggested they add to their list.  This is a hike I had hoped to do with a blogger friend, but divergent schedules and car troubles resulted in a missed opportunity.  Soon after said friend boarded a plane and jet-set off to faraway lands.  I am dedicating this short post to that zany guy who is the talented author of The Sophomore Slump blog. Rommel, I carried you along in spirit up the trail. :)

Mt. Woodson has two approaches to the summit, the western approach a 5.5 mile loop with a 1500 foot elevation gain and the eastern approach, somewhat more aggressive at 6.8 miles and 2300 feet up the mountain.  Our hiking group chose the western approach but I must admit the eastern approach, which has its beginnings at Lake Poway, seems it might have the more diverse views along the way.  However, either approach has huge boulders strewn across the mountainside, making for an interesting hike.

And both approaches are steep climbing, but if you keep your focus on the reason you chose this hike, the journey becomes less arduous (mind over matter, yes?).  And the reason most choose this hike is to get their photo taken on the cantilevered flake of rock near the top known as Potato Chip Rock.  Many a hiker has stood in a long line to have their picture taken on the Chip, some testing fate with handstands, jumps, and yoga poses near the edge.  For me the bigger challenge was climbing the boulder to get to Potato Chip Rock.

If you decide you gotta have that photo of yourself doing stunts on a rock seemingly suspended in mid-air, plan a visit during the week, unless standing in line for an hour is your thing.  Your reward once down the mountain should be lunch at The Yellow Deli imho. ;)

Desert Sanctuary ~ Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, AZ

This past weekend we made a quick trip to Yuma where we met up with our new travel buddy, an Arctic Fox truck camper. After much research we decided upon this mode of travel as we begin our tentative plans to tour Alaska next year. We are also planning to take this little guy out when we hit the road in a couple of months just to see how living in it will feel for several months. This should be interesting. ;) Actually, it does have one slide-out so it is roomier than one might think. Put some solar on top and we are good to go!

Our cute little Fox!

Our cute little Fox!

Cibola National Wildlife Refuge was on my radar after reading the great post Nina had written on this desert sanctuary so we headed that way once our business in Yuma was complete.  With BLM land right across from the visitor center, it was the perfect place to enjoy our first night in the cozy confines of our little Fox.

Canada and snow geese still grace the ponds.

White pelicans, one of my favorites!

Cibola’s 16,600 acres sit in the lower Colorado River floodplain, a green swath of land tucked into the desert between Arizona and California.  This greenbelt is a major flyway for migrating birds, and many songbirds’ diets rely on the insects that are attracted to the flowering honey mesquite trees in the area.  Thanks to an arrangement with some of the local farmers, harvested corn fields draw many species of birds and other wildlife as well…plant them and they will come. :)  The sandhill crane population, mid-December through mid-January, can often number 2,000 birds.  They were rather elusive during our visit and reduced in number, off in a field not accessible to the public. We were content to be voyeurs and gaze from a distance, listening to their unusual vocal callings, since we had a close encounter with these beauties last winter near Fort Pierce, FL.

An adorable burrowing owl kept his eye on my every move.

A field full of yellow-headed blackbirds, a new sighting for me.

A field full of yellow-headed blackbirds, a new sighting for me.

It was fortuitous that this little adventure came together when it did, as we had wanted to meet up with fellow RVers and bloggers Rick and JoAnne, volunteers at Cibola through the end of February.  They were just as lovely as we had been told by others, and we enjoyed some snacks and a nice bottle of wine while getting to know them better.  The added bonus was meeting Joe and Murlene, also volunteers, who led us into the refuge as they found us sitting alongside the road planning our route.  Joe very kindly took us on a private tour, pointing out many of the local waterfowl and other wildlife that make this their winter home.  I learned through Nina’s post of Cibola and talking with Joe that he has an extensive background as a photographer, one that he refers to as a hobby but looks to rival most professionals imho.  Check out his website here and see for yourself the beauty he so artfully captures in nature.

The waterfowl are dwindling as they begin to feel the call of cooler climes but there is still much to seduce your senses.  Summer here in the desert can be harsh, when temps can soar to 120° F.  Soon the ponds will be quieted, where there was a cacophony of sounds just weeks ago, with standing-room only.

Cibola Cabin, home to Carl Bishop, until the river overflowed its banks.

Cibola Cabin, home to Carl Bishop, until the river overflowed its banks.

When you tire of all the colorful wildlife, just down the road from the ponds is the historic Cibola Cabin and Hart Mine.  You might just find a few wild burros foraging in the desert if you are lucky.

Peak time for visiting is mid-December through mid-January but we still found this little desert oasis delightful.  If you find yourself wandering in the desert between Blythe and Yuma, consider a visit to Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, a sparkling little desert gem. :)

Last rays against a desert mountain backdrop.

Nature’s History Lesson ~ Anza Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Carrizo Badlands

Carrizo Badlands

After an afternoon visit recently with friends Pam and John of Oh, The Places They Go, we decided hiking was in order, as they planned to spend time in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, just an hour away from where we are staying.

Anza Borrego is the largest desert park in America and California’s largest state park, a whopping 600,000+ acres.  It takes its name from the 18th-century Spanish explorer Juan Batista de Anza and borrego, Spanish word for bighorn sheep, of which there are between 250-300 in the park.  More than 500 miles of roads snake through the park, and 110 miles of hiking trails assure nature lovers ample opportunity to get their desert fix.

Pam and John decided on three combined short hikes in Blair Valley, familiar trails for them.  Our day was to be one of interesting finds, a day to revisit history.  The first leg of our hike was up Ghost Mountain to see the remains of Yaquitepec, the primitive, mountaintop home of poet, author, and artist Marshal South and family. For 17 years, Marshal, wife Tanya, and their three children lived a life of simplicity and isolation on the top of Ghost Mountain, a difficult life for even the hardiest of souls.  The rusted reflections of their time here are evidenced by the still-standing doorframe, dilapidated bed frame, and rain storage barrels.  For me, the 360º panorama from the mesa top was the best part of the hike.

From here we headed over to a trail where pictographs could be found, then into Smuggler’s Canyon, where a dry waterfall marks the end of the trail, with a spectacular view that slopes down to the valley below.  When walking back out, Pam spotted a sun halo, an atmospheric phenomenon introduced to us a few years ago by Nina of Wheeling It.

The last of our hiking for the day took us out to a canyon trail where a number of granite boulders contained morteros, grinding holes created by Native Americans as they ground their daily meals from the bounty nature provided them.

If we had ended our day here, it would have been a wonderful day reveling in nature, exploring with friends, but Pam and John wanted us to experience Font’s Point, gazing  out over the Carrizo Badlands, hopeful of ending the day with a breathtaking desert sunset.  We were not disappointed.

For a bit more history of the area,  check out John’s post here.  A former history teacher can say it much better than me. ;)