Friday, December 23, 2011


Evening colorOf course, there are WAY more than just four fun hikes in Anza Borrego State Park!  These are fresh in my mind, though, since we have hiked each of them in the past few days: a short, steep hike to a great view; a diverse loop to a palm oasis and the chance to encounter bighorn sheep; an historic site with an interesting story; and a serpentine wiggle through Anza-Borrego badlands. 

THE PALM CANYON OVERLOOK:  Short (under a mile) but steep, this rocky trail switchbacks up a hill adjacent to the Palm Canyon campground, where we were parked.  It was perfect for a quick burst of exercise when I’d been sitting too long, and an enjoyable viewpoint as the sun dropped below the higher mountains to the west in late afternoon (top photo).  This would be a fun trail with kids – though both Odel and I were happy that we were the only hikers up top on each of the three times we visited.

Bighorn in Palm CanyonTHE PALM CANYON OASIS LOOP: Also easily accessible on foot from the Palm Canyon campground, this trail features an oasis of palms and the chance to encounter bighorn sheep (Borrego).  Around three miles (longer if you walk from the campground), the trip to the oasis is frequently done as an out-and-back, but we like to take the “alternate” trail in one direction – it is a little steeper, a bit more of a workout, but offers much better views than the main canyon route and a wider diversity of flora.

Our preferred route is to take the “alternate” (really, that is what the sign says!) trail from the trailhead parking lot (the docent at the trailer can point it out to you, on the south end of the lot) to the junction with the main trail (after you have climbed and traversed the rocky slope).  At the junction, turn left to visit the palm grove (you will return to this junction), or continue across the palm trunk bridge to return to the parking lot via the canyon trail for a shorter hike.  We’ve been told there are two more palm groves beyond the first; rather a scramble to reach them.

In 2008, I had a close encounter with bighorn sheep in Palm Canyon.  As we walked through the canyon wash heading back to the car, a bighorn posed on a rock above my head.  While I took photographs, a few more bighorn appeared, and began moving quickly in my direction.  Our friend Jim had startled a small herd when he hiked behind them, and they suddenly scampered (seemed more like a stampede!) down the bank of the wash in my direction.  I froze (but managed to get a photo) as they passed on both side of me.

2 sheep 2 Close

THE MARSHALL SOUTH TRAIL ON GHOST MOUNTAIN:  I’ve wanted to hike this trail since I first heard of Marshall and Tanya South and the rough home they crafted on Ghost Mountain (click here to read a long article about the Souths, or here for a shorter article).  It is another trail that is not long (2 miles round trip) but IS steep – and worth the climb.  Here you’ll find the remnants of the South’s home, occupied by the couple and their three children for 16 years – and fabulous views in every direction.  We were so lucky that day – fantastic weather, and the only other hikers we saw were on their way down as we climbed up.   Click on any of the photos below to enlarge them.

Yaquitepec sign Climbing the Marshall South Trail
View from Marshall South homestead and the road we traveled. Doorway to Marshall South homestead

A few miles further down the sandy road, we visited the morteros…

… holes in the rock made by the Kumeyaay as they ground seeds and nuts.

Morteros sign Morteros 1

THE SLOT:  The badlands east of Borrego Springs are intriguing, and hiking The Slot is a fascinating way to experience these unusual formations.  A couple miles off Hwy 78 on a sandy road, the first bit of the hike - down into the canyon – is a scramble.  Pay attention to landmarks so you’ll know where to retrace your route on your return… then head downhill.  At times, it seemed like a warning sign might have been in order: “Caution – check your girth before proceeding!”  I surely had to suck it in a few times.

The trail winds through a VERY narrow slot canyon before exiting into colorful badlands on the downhill side.  Traveling through the slot is a short hike, under a mile, but can easily be extended as the wash widens on the other side.  I can’t imagine what water looks like as it floods through the slot, carving the fantastic formations.  It was great fun – on a dry day.  (And I wouldn’t want to be there during an earthquake, either.)

Looking into The Slot from the parking area.

Odel disappears into The Slot.

The Slot from the top Odel disappears in slot
In The Slot Odel under collapsed column

Odel and I occasionally discuss what kind of vehicle we should purchase when our current Jeep is used up.  We had never owned Jeeps before we began fulltiming, and bought our first one because we knew it could easily be set up for towing “four down” (all four wheels on the ground) – no need for a trailer or dolly.  We found a used Jeep Grand Cherokee, test drove it, liked it, bought it. 

Yay for high clearanceNow we are on our second used Jeep Grand Cherokee.  Though we had intended to downsize, we got a good deal on the current vehicle – and didn’t want to give up the comfort!  Still, we’ve never put our jeep in 4-wheel low (we’d have to read the owner’s manual!), so Jeep ownership seems like overkill most of the time.

Not here in Anza-Borrego, though.  Many (“most” is probably more accurate) of the roads are unpaved, sandy and rocky.  The road to the Marshall South trail was a couple miles, and recent rains had made several bumpy, muddy patches.  On the road to The Slot, we ran into deep sand a couple times.  Having 4-wheel drive and, especially, high clearance, gave us a feeling of security (along with our recently installed new starter, of course!).


  1. Hi Guys,

    I would look at getting a small pick-up with a cap and use it for storage. Not sure you guys really need a 4-wd.

    We are still in Wenatchee, but hopefully will be heading south after January 1st.

    Not sure of our plans at this point, but we might hang in northern California if the weather stay good.

    Vladimir, Susie, and Alli

  2. Reminds me of "Fat Man's Squeeze" somewhere in the Southeast, like Kentucky or Tennessee..I was just a kid...Looks like you are having fun...Right about now I am dreaming of a "warm" sure isn't that here!!

  3. We enjoyed reading every word about your hikes! We want to go there!! J&C

  4. We have been fortunate enough to do all those same hikes except the first one. Alcoholic Pass and Hell Hole Canyons are also nice hikes. The Culp Valley Campground on Montezuma's Grade has a nice hike along with great views of the valley below. Nice trails on Coyote Mountain accessible from Rock House road near the Oven. Yes indeed, Borrego Springs is a mighty fine area alright. I think you would find Anza Borrego's only female pilot interesting too. She gives talks beside her airplane at the little airport there about her daily flying. Her name is Kelly McGillis I think and the Visitor Center will have her schedule.

  5. Those bighorn sheep look awesome, but I wouldn't want them too close to me.
    The Slot looks like a super trail! Thanks for the great descriptions!
    Merry Christmas!

  6. Ward and Kathie WesDecember 23, 2011 at 9:06 PM

    Great hikes, nice job exploring as you usually do! Wanted to wish you you and Odell a wonderful holiday and say thanks so much for letting us share the fun of RVing through you blog when we aren't out on the road!

  7. thanks for the info on the hikes... I woke up in a herd of Bighorns during a backpacking trip in Colorado years ago... exhilarating!!!

  8. These are like guide book descriptions Laurie. And your big horn pictures are terrific!

    I think I'm going to get a jeep next time just so I can be sure to be able to go places like this. Glad you had it.


  9. Vlad, the idea of a small pick-up truck is an interesting one. We've towed a 4-door vehicle in the past so we would cart other folks around from time to time... but I think we might give that idea up next time. Thanks for the idea... and safe travels.

  10. Glad those Big Horn Sheep didn't run into you - ouch! I'll bet your heart was beating a little faster during that experience.

  11. Merry Christmas Laurie and Odel and all the best in 2012

  12. Great pictures as always. Have a wonderful Christmas and a Safe and Happy New Year!

  13. Well, Laurie and Odel, this surely makes us "homesick" for our beautiful desert and all these hikes you describe that are so familiar. We will be there is a few days!

    Our jeep is a '99 Wrangler, very uncomfortable, but goes anywhere and is far. We take it far into Rockhouse Canyon. Maybe we'll see you out and about!

  14. All the times I've hiked Palm Canyon, I've never seen a sheep.
    That picture of the ram on a rock is spectacular!

  15. Ooh, I love those slot canyons, although have only experienced them in Southern Utah. Guess this one will have to be added to my list...maybe after the next diet go round!