Good times at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

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State Park folks have a sense of humor, enlarge the photo to read the sign

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has a special place in Steve’s heart.  This is where his parents used to boondock in their RV every winter for years, and he visited them several times during their stays.  Our last visit here was a decade ago when we flew down to spread his parent’s ashes in the desert that had been their beloved winter home.  Now we were excited to return with an RV of our own.

This state park is the largest in California. Located about 80 miles northeast of San Diego, it encompasses more than 600,000 acres of mostly desert wilderness and is framed by many rugged and beautiful mountain ranges.  It takes its name from 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep.

Anza Borrego Desert Park

The great bowl of the Anza-Borrego desert, viewed looking south with the badlands in the center

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Mountain ranges enclosing Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Looking north toward the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains

This wondrous and wild place with its sweeping vistas offers lots of surprises that beg to be explored, and because it’s so huge our two week stay wasn’t enough to cover it all.

In search of Maidenhair Waterfall, which we never found while hiking the Hell Hole Canyon Trail

Hell Hole Canyon Trail

Along the Hell Hole Canyon trail we passed huge ocotillos, creosote bush, and other desert brush

Recent rain caused active stream flows on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

A grand oasis of California fan palms at the end of the trail

California Fan Palms

California Fan Palms are native only to this desert

palm Canyon Trail

Returning on the Palm Canyon trail, we followed an alternate route up and over an alluvial fan to get a different view on the way back to the trailhead

The borregos did not disappoint, as they were there watching and waiting for us to pass so they could cross for their drink of the clear water:

We followed this narrow canyon, which seemed like a slot canyon at times

Blazing our own trail getting out of the slot

Anza Borrego Desert Park

Still smiling after our long climb up from the bottom

A deeply-cut dry waterfall at Hawk Canyon

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Colorful cliffs of salmon and green sandstone at Hawk Canyon

The recent rains brought the usually brown Ocotillos to lush, green beautiful life

One particular Ocotillo already had bright crimson flowers – in January!

To get  off the beaten path and experienced the desert in its most primal state requires a high clearance vehicle.  So weren’t we lucky that our friends (and Jeep owners) Dave and Sue of Belugas Excellent Adventures were also in the area and offered to share with us what they had already seen and experienced.  Our first drive was to the Wind Caves through Split Mountain.  The drive itself was a journey through a geological wonder, and we made several stops to gaze and ponder how time, weather and geology have created so many interesting formations here.

I have a feeling Steve is convinced “we gotta get one of these”

Fish Creek Wash

Viewing the unusual semi-circular, twisted formation called an “anticline.”

At the Wind Caves, the wildly eroded pockets were such a lure to be explored that Steve and I instantly became kids and started scrambling in and out wherever we could.  After lunch we all spent a few more minutes listening to the stillness of the desert and just enjoying the peaceful scenery.

Elephant knees

Elephant Knees formation seen on the trail to the south

One of the best places to get a look at the Badlands’ surreal scenery was from Font’s Point, at the end of a 4-mile sandy primitive wash.  The point has a commanding view of the Borrego Valley and Borrego Badlands below.

“Rocky” our ride looked a little lonely in the parking lot – the whole place to ourselves!

Font's Point

The best time to come here is at sunrise or sunset, but the cloud cover made our visit no less spectacular, and we all spread out to enjoy the views

Fonts Point

This amazing area, with its arid rocky geography, sunken mesas and corrugated hills of dry mud is called the Badlands of Anza-Borrego

Fonts Point

Steve shows fellow pilot Dave the canyon he used to fly through to land here

Coachwhip Canyon

Wandering around Coachwhip Canyon

We should mention that Jeep owners Dave and Sue, John and Pam, Joe and Gay and Bob and Dee Dee are very kind to us CRV folks.  Not only have we enjoyed seeing places we otherwise wouldn’t, but we’ve loved hanging out with all of them as well.  A Jeep might be in our future, but what’s the hurry when we have such great folks to take us to these spectacular places?

Two weeks was just too short to thoroughly explore this amazing place.  We’ve seen quite a bit, but plenty remains for a return visit.  Who knows, we may have a Jeep of our own when we return 🙂

We appreciate our Jeep ride sponsors, Dave and Sue!

Finally,  while driving around we caught glimpses of prehistoric creatures casting a shadow on the desert.  Some, like the one pictured below, will be featured in my next post:

Not something you see every day!

 

Next up:  Sky Art in the desert



 

 

 

 

Tombstone, AZ – It’s pretty darn cold here!

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Prickly Pear
Tombstone

Tombstone blanketed in snow

Winter blues in Arizona – it was brrrrrr, wet and windy when we arrived at Huachuca City just west of Tombstone.  Somehow we forgot it’s winter and being in Arizona doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t get cold – especially at higher elevations.  Tombstone Territories RV Resort, where we stayed, is situated in the vast San Pedro Valley at 4000′ elevation surrounded by mountains.  Many peaks in this area top out above 7,000′.  Mountain ranges include the Dragoons between Benson and Willcox, Mules where Bisbee sits, Whetstone where Kartchner Caverns is located, Chiricahuas toward Douglas, and the Huachucas in Sierra Vista.  Add rain and wind to the cold and it became  a perfect recipe for staying RV-bound.Kartchner Caverns

So what and where  is a good place to be away from the wind, rain, cold and better still, warmer?   To the cave we go, Batman!   Kartchner Caverns, that is.  Initially we were hesitant to go as this would be our fourth caving experience, but this cave was highly recommended.  It was discovered by two college students in 1974, and they kept it a secret from the Kartchner’s, who owned the property, for 4 years.  Not knowing how best to preserve the cave’s extraordinary variety of colors and formations, the secret continued for another 10 years.  It finally became public knowledge in 1988 and opened to the public in 1999.  For  more stories about efforts to keep the caverns secret until they were protected and how it became a State Park, click here.

A view of the Big Room in Kartchner Caverns

A view of the Big Room in Kartchner Caverns (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unlike other caves we have visited, getting into this cavern is quite strict.  No items (cameras, backpacks, purses, food or water) are  allowed.  Going into the cave, we passed through 6 airlock doors that keep the cave a constant 72° Fahrenheit (22° Celsius), and 99% humidity.  Lights are kept at a minimum and you are not allowed to touch anything except the handrails.  We took the Big Room tour and with the very knowledgeable guide we were introduced to the many delicate growing stone “soda straws”, “draperies” and “bacon”, which  are spectacular.  The cavern is closed from April to October  each year because it is a nursery roost for over 1,000 female cave bats.  If you are in the area, check out this cavern!  It is definitely unique from the ones we have visited before.

On our second morning here, we woke up with all the surrounding mountains blanketed in snow and very cold.  But no snow could stop us from going to the  most notorious mining town in the west, known as Tombstone.  First stop was the Boothill Graveyard, where outlaws and their victims were buried.  Also, suicides, hangings, (legal and otherwise), and other hardy citizens from Tombstone’s first days.  It was closed when we stopped by so I was only able to capture one picture from outside.

Boothill Graveyard

Our next stop was the  1882 Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, where we viewed exhibits recalling the silver rush era, the great fire and illustrations of what really happened at the OK Corral gunfight in 1881.  The next scheduled reenactment of the famous gunfight was not until 2pm, and we chose to skip it.  We will just have to watch the movies Tombstone and Wyatt Earp to relive this history.  Tombstone is a National Historic Site and is known as the  “Town Too Tough to Die”.

After walking down the historic downtown of Tombstone we headed south to Bisbee.  This town is nestled in the mile-high Mule Mountains of southern Arizona, 90 miles from Tucson and 20 miles from Tombstone.  It was once a booming mining community, with copper as the main mineral mined here. The city still reflects old world charm as well as good times from that bygone era.  Many of the Victorian buildings now house antique stores, art galleries, fine cafe’s and great restaurants such as Santiago’s – where we had a delicious dish called “Molcajete.”

Broken windowWe had a little excitement during our trip to Bisbee.  We were driving along – big, dumb and happy – when our left rear window blew out!  At first we thought it was a stone hurled at us or worse.  We couldn’t figure out what caused it, so we just continued to drive on.

Arriving at Bisbee, we discreetly parked away from prying eyes while we did our touristy things.  We boarded the Queen Mine Tour, which took us 1500′ into the copper mine as we donned mining lanterns, hats and slickers. Our guide Pete was a retired miner who has worked in the mine for 30+ years and had amazing insights and first-hand experiences that he shared with us.  It is amazing how much effort goes into extracting copper from the ore!

Our last sight seeing stop at Bisbee was the Lavender Open Pit Mine.  It’s an enormous open pit copper mine which is 1.5 miles long, about 1/4 mile wide and 950 feet deep.  The Lavender pit is not named for the color but rather after Harrison Lavender, who conceived and carried out the plan for making the unprofitable low grade copper into productive ore.  We spotted many colors around the pit – red sulfide minerals, and yellow and lavender stone which is a limestone conglomerate containing no copper and considered “waste rock.”

After an all-day tour checking out the wild wild west, we headed for home.  Just as we turned at the junction for Tombstone, we were pulled over by a state trooper who had noticed our broken window and thought we may have stolen the car.  Isn’t it funny – we hadn’t seen a police car for days, but when our window breaks we are pulled over within a couple of hours!  We had to hold our hands up, then prove conclusively that we own the car.  We were in an area very close to Mexico and the border patrol were making their presence known.  To make a long story short, he made a note of our license plate for the record and let us go.  Wow, we got a taste of what it might be like to be outlaws ourselves!

As we were nearing home, we noticed that most of the snow had already melted, yet it was still very cold out.  Luckily, we were able to make an appointment to have the window replaced the next morning, and in less than 24 hours our Honda looked good as new.

Whew, this post is rather long but we did a lot that one cold day .

Rainbow

Steve doesn’t even know there is a pot of gold out there.

Next up: Whitewater Draw

Picacho Peak kicked our butts!

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From the Tucson area we moved west, stopping at Casa Grande, AZ.  After arriving there, we did our usual investigation for places with good hiking.  We didn’t find anything in the immediate area, but we discovered that beautiful Picacho Peak, which we had admired from I-10 west of Tucson, is located within a state park about 33 miles from Casa Grande.

Picacho Peak

Picacho Peak as seen on I-10

This striking peak has been a navigational point for ground and air travelers for decades.  It rises 1500 feet from the desert floor and has several hiking trails of various difficulties.  At first, we weren’t sure we would try for the summit, as it was rated “difficult” and we are more into “moderate.”  It is recommended that hikers take gloves to assist with “holding onto the cables”.  Oh, that sounds interesting!

We parked at the Sunset Vista trailhead on the west end of the mountain and decided to check out the first couple of miles.  What a fantastic trek it was!  This trail was an easy walk with beautiful scenery on the south side of the mountain which got us warmed up for an attempt on the summit.  This is now one of Steve’s favorite hikes, with sweeping views of the mountain and 30+ miles of valleys all around.  Gorgeous!

Sunset Trail

Sunset Trail

A quick break to take in the view

A quick break halfway up the mountain to take in the view

After the first 2 miles, the trail became more difficult, and soon we were faced with either climbing steep rock faces using the steel cables, or turning onto the Hunter Trail to descend on the north side of the mountain.  We decided to give the cables a try and guage ourselves (me primarily).  It went OK, and as we continued along the climb got steeper with some narrow ledges actually fenced in to prevent folks from plummeting down several hundred feet.  We trudged on slowly and carefully until we reached the top.

After two and a half hours of tough climbing we were there.  We made it – whew!  We were richly rewarded with a sublime 360-degree view of the Sonoran Desert.  We took a break, soaked in the view and grabbed some lunch to renew our energy.

 Picacho Peak

Pose at the Peak

Picacho Peak summit

Southside view

After lunch we descended 1.5 miles via the strenuous Hunter Trail to its trailhead at a parking lot.  Since we had parked at the other end of the mountain, we needed to walk an additional 2 miles back to our car.  It was a long 7-mile day of walking and climbing, but we were surely glad we did it.

As we soaked our sore muscles in the spa (luckily our RV park had one), we were happy to have accomplished this challenging climb, and we’re looking forward to the next one!