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Anza-Borrego Desert

6:47 p.m. on February 16, 2011 (EST)
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Many of you may recall that I am now in California on a six-month sabbatical leave from my job/home in Norway. I've been here about a month now.

We've had a few small adventures, not least the 10-day drive form Boston to LA with "kwik-stops" at Mammoth Cave, White Rock Mountain in the Ozarks, Canyon de Chelly, and the Grand Canyon (and a few other spots). Last weekend we finally got out of town for a two-night camping and day hiking trip in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southeastern CA, near the Salton Sea. It's in the Colorado Desert, a western extension of the Sonoran desert, and so has quite different vegetation from the Mojave and Great Basin deserts. The area is known for big shows of desert wildflowers after the winter rains. Although it was a bit early to see the show in full glory, we got word that there were still a lot of species in bloom so we decided to go down and check it out.

We drove down on Friday morning and came into the area from the west, so we got a grand view of the whole desert basin, including the distant Salton Sea, before descending into it.

First-view.jpg

After setting up camp we headed up Borrego Palm Canyon. We started walking among desert shrubs and cacti. As the valley narrowed around us we followed a dry wash. At elevations of 10 or 15 feet above the bottom of the wash we saw stacks of palm logs that had obviously been carried down by flooding.
IMG_1903.jpg

It turns out that there were major flash floods in 2004 and 2005, described as 10 to 15 foot walls of water, that blew through the palm stand upstream and carried away as much as 80% of the trees. Here's what's left:
California-fan-palm-oasis.jpg

20 or 30 California fan palms in a tight cluster right in the middle of the wash, where water seeps out of the ground and then runs downstream for a half mile or so before disappearing into the ground. Inside the stand it's relatively cool and shady, and there's lots of young 'uns coming up amongst and around the elders. I thought it was pretty amazing. It was in shade by the time we got there so I took a run up there the next morning when I took the picture above.

On Saturday morning we hiked up into Hellhole Canyon, starting again on a broad alluvial fan that funneled us into a narrower valley along a dry wash that eventually turned wet and brought us to more scattered palm trees, but ultimately to Maidenhair Falls, named for the ferns growing on the wet walls.
Maidenhair-falls.jpg

On Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning we hiked into two "grayrock" slot canyons, cut into the soft sandstone and conglomerate under the Borrego Badlands. These were a first for me, but I hope to visit some of the redrock slot canyons in AZ and UT during our stay (though I'd prefer to come out with all my limbs intact).

Nancy-in-the-slot.jpg
Deep-in-The-Slot.jpg

We finished up by driving down to the Salton Sea, 127 feet below sea level and home to hundreds of thousands of birds despite pollution problems from all the agriculture in the Imperial Valley.
Salton-Sea-bird-life.jpg

You can see these photos and lots more, including some desert wildflowers, at higher resolution in this gallery.

This weekend we're headed for Death Valley to check out the Mojave Desert...

12:33 p.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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Nice pictures. I have a friend who lives at the Salton Sea in the winter months (is there now).

Wow, the Octillo and Century plants look really nice. I have not seen any in bloom like that since I lived in Tucson in the 1980s.

You mentioned planning to see the Red Sandstone slot canyons, be sure to go to either the Subway near west Zion or Buckskin Gulch. Both my be rather cool this time of year as like the Buckskin is 13 miles long and averages 3-5 wide while hundreds of feet deep running eastwest so not much if any winter sun gets inside.

And beware of the quicksand inside or just long sections of sticky,gooey, slippery mud.

Here's a couple shots with my friend in Buckskin Gulch. We were last there in Sept 2008 and it was cold and wet. We had to wade 12 pools during the 13 mile hike.


A-deep-straight-section-with-a-long-wade

My Salton Sea friend in Buckskin Gulch Sept 2008


A-short-deeper-spot-along-Buckskin-Gulch

Paul being shorter than me, goes deeper into the wading areas of Buckskin.

2:52 p.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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Awesome canyons. I would love to explore the area. There are no deserts or watery canyons where I live:( This is one reason this website is excellent, I get to see various hiking adventures from others around the world. Cool.

5:24 p.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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Gary--

What about Buckskin/Paria in early April? Still too cold/ too much water? Trying to decide between canyon country or backcountry skiing in the Sierra during my daughter's school vacay...

7:26 p.m. on February 17, 2011 (EST)
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April could be okay for tempertures. The water situation changes year to year. It will all depend on how much got caught in Buckskin from this winter or last falls monsoon.

The first time I hiked it in 1999, a friend and I from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon where we worked went at the first weekend in June. There were but three "pools" but they wer all less than a foot deep and not really water exactly. They were more like thick red mud pools. Just enough water to make them a liquid. By the time we hiked the 13 miles down to the Confluence with the Paria the mud on my feet and calves had dried. It took a lot of water to get it off. But then we turned around and went back up the Buckskin t get to his car. By the time we drove back to the North Rim, the mud had dried and cracked my skin. They were sore for a few days afterwards.

In 2008 when my friend and I did it we went in only a couple weeks since the last large rains of the season and so there were about one pool per mile. The deepest one was about chest deep or about 5 feet and the longest one was about 100 feet.

You can probably find out information about the watery pools at this website:

http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/blm_special_areas/wildareas/paria_vermilion.html

That is the ranger station that is nearest the Buckskin and Paria Canyons on Hwy 89 between Kanab and Page AZ.

You can also experience the Paria's slot canyon sections which could be better if the pool sections are too cold or deep in April.

1:19 p.m. on February 18, 2011 (EST)
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Are Palm tree's natural to California or were they introduced to the state by settlers?

5:13 p.m. on February 18, 2011 (EST)
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There are native, and apparently have been hanging on in these scattered desert oases for thousands of years.

Thanks, Gary, for the tips on Buckskin-Paria. One of your earlier posts is what alerted me to this possibility. We may also be in the area in June, but I expect it will be harder to get overnight permits then. So much to do, so little time!

5:12 p.m. on February 19, 2011 (EST)
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Well June could be better and definetely warmer as thses slot canyons are cool even in the summer. July/August is the worst with thunderstorm threating flash floods.. You can with two vehicles do the Paria/Buckskin over two days.

If you have two cars then you can leave one either at the Paria Ranger Station on Hwy 89 and then drive to the best trailhead at Wirepass to enter Buckskin Gulch. Its about 13 miles from the Wirepass Trailhead to the Confluence with the Paria down Buckskin Gulch. then about 6 miles up the Paria back to Hwy 89. Camping is allowed in both the Buckskin and the Paria, tho campspots in the buckskin are small. From Wirepass to the Paria the canyon is often not very wide, there is one huge area where there is a sandbar about 5 feet above the drainage.

We talked about this before and I am curious if you would be willing to come thru Flagstaff and take me with you to do the hike? I know the canyon fairly well, having done the Buckskin/Paria about 4 times now. Just let me know aweek or so ahead so I can be ready. From Flagstaff its a nice drive up along the eastern part of the Colorado and Marble Canyon.

6:38 p.m. on February 21, 2011 (EST)
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Nice pictures, BigRed. Thanks for sharing them.

I expect California is quite a change from Norway. Enjoy the sabbatical and all of the opportunities for exploring new places and keep us posted on your adventures.

1:26 p.m. on February 22, 2011 (EST)
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Great trip report and photos, BigRed! Those palms are really neat.

I am impressed by your fitness, as shown in the waterfall photo- I am working my way towards getting back into that kind of shape. I know if I don't do it now it will be a heck of a lot harder in a few more years.

I have never been out to the deserts in the the west, I find them very foreign and intriguing.

12:32 p.m. on February 27, 2011 (EST)
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Cool stuff! Anza-Borrego is in my back yard and is my "go to" location for day trips.

12:36 p.m. on February 27, 2011 (EST)
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Doh!  I wish we could edit posts.  I meant "back yard."

3:27 p.m. on February 27, 2011 (EST)
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Doh!  I wish we could edit posts.  I meant "back yard."

I fixed it Jim. As a member, you should have an "edit" button visible under your post for at least two hours following.

3:54 p.m. on February 27, 2011 (EST)
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Thank you, Alicia.  :-)

April 23, 2014
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