The gift of water brings life and death to the desert which is evident along the hike to Palm Canyon Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The average rainfall here is 6 inches and the recent snowfall only happens about every 10 years said Nancy who’s lived and hiked in the San Diego area over 30 years.
No rush Thursday as I watched the sunrise but I had chores, dump and fill holding tanks, after three weeks of boondocking, at the Palm Canyon campground in Anza-Borrego State Park. The day use fee of $7 meant I could stay in the area for the day so I decided to hike Palm Canyon where the creation of the park began in the 1930s with the protection of this palm-filled canyon. Palm canyon cuts through the San Ysidro Mountains just west of Borrego Springs.
The trail is pretty easy mostly walking in a wash with not too soft of sand, some minor steps up rocks moved here by water and some likely placed by the CCC during the 1930s. There are also some stone structures in the campground they built.
However I wouldn’t want to walk this wash trail after heavy rain, especially during July and August monsoon. The power of water is quite evident having brought death to weak and old trees during a raging flood that ripped shallow roots from a tenacious hold leaving scattered palm trunks behind.
The mountains of rock that tower above the canyon show how geologic forces have tipped and eroded the ancient metamorphic layers into sharp fins. The desert varnish is actually a thin coating of microscopic bacteria colonies that take on a blackish or reddish color by absorbing manganese and iron from the atmosphere. Giant boulders from above eventually break loose to bounce and roll into the wash where water smooths and moves them down stream like rearranging nature’s furniture.
For being a desert the plant life looks healthy, abundant and diverse. Of course there is always a lot of creosote bushes, some even showing their tiny yellow flowers and fluffs of seed pod. The amazing ocotillos with fountain like stalks showed leaves that burst out within 24 hours of rain, be full grown in 5 days and then after a month of dry weather the leaves drop until the next life giving water falls.
Observe the beavertail cactus and cholla from a distance as they bite. The desert lavender bush a buzz with bees. A desert willow which sometimes sends roots 60 feet into the rocky earth in search of water. Sadly, mistletoe growing in some kind of mesquite. A bush I do not know with sparse, red tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds to quick for my shutter.
I saw several lizards scoot under rocks and numerous mounds built by the industrious harvester ants. I didn’t see coyote or mountain lion and it was thankfully too cool for tarantulas, scorpions or snakes. I really wanted to see the endangered Bighorn Sheep protected in the park and several hikers returning down the trail told me to look up high on the mountainous canyon walls to the east when I got to the palm grove.
And sure enough, within sight of the grove, I came upon some hikers looking up. The sheep are difficult to see as they blend in with the rocks until you see the movement of a white butt. I felt honored to see three of them and get this silhouette shot of a collared ewe or young ram standing on the ridge line. The 44th Annual Sheep Count lasted 4 days in early July 2014 with I SEE EWE Volunteer Sheep Counters tallying 265 bighorn organized by Anza-Borrego Foundation, partners with the park. The 2013 count totaled 332, the second largest count to date with the record for most sheep counted at 356 in 2009.
I almost chickened out (silly I know) when I got to a stream crossing below the palm cluster then watched a couple of other hikers easily step-stone across and followed. Sure glad because this palm grove proved to be a mini-world all it’s own. Water is such a special gift in the desert.
I should have gotten an earlier start so I could stay longer in the grove but the sun was low and clouds were sheeting in. I read about a far less traveled track that continues up Borrego Palm Canyon toward seasonal waterfalls and an ascent trail to Indianhead Mountain but that would have to wait for another hike.
I didn’t have time to scramble around on boulders looking for morteros left behind from early residents grinding seeds and leaving holes behind. Yet the Cahuilla Indians understandably chose Palm Canyon for a village site because of the flowing stream and shade brought from the canyon walls.
I took two hours to get to the Oasis and just under 45 minutes to return. Then a quick stop at the grocery store and back to camp just before dark. I have such huge respect for the power of water, especially in such an arid land.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park day use fee was $7. The trail is located just north of the park visitor center. Just drive through Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, the largest developed campground in the park, to trail head parking. Allow at least two hours round trip for this moderate 3-3.25 miles with 450 feet change in elevation. An alternate trail branches off from, or to, the campfire area. This trail is NOT dog friendly. A trail guide is located at the trail head. Bring plenty of water. Stay on the trail, it really is a fragile environment.
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