I had gotten the first 4 of the 5 hikes of the Anza-Borrego 5 for 50 Challenge done pretty quickly, but life kept getting in the way of finishing it. I was watching the temperatures start to rise out in the desert, plus it was desert flower season, meaning the park would be more crowded. My final hike was out to the Calcite Mine. I was able to drag Dave Myron along for this adventure. This was in another part of the park I had never explored, out east along the S-22. We pulled into small turnout, as I did not want to attempt driving on Calcite Road.
We hiked along the road for about 2 miles, even with the early start, I could feel the heat. I had to take a short break in the shade to cool off. We explored the mine area. Just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, this mine was established to extract optical-grade calcite for gun sights, the only mine of its kind in the US. The mine was short-lived, but the deep cuts in the earth are clear evidence of the operation. Bits of calcite can be found scattered around.
We headed back down, we opted to take the slot canyon that parallels the jeep road. I had seen the junction for it when we were heading up to the mine and assumed we would be able to spot it along the way back. Well, we missed it. We continued following the wash that the slot canyon had opened up into. Instead of heading south, the route was now veering eastward. Dave and I debated our options. We could go full cross-country toward the cell tower, which we could see and was near the car, continue in the wash, hoping it would turn to the south and road (which we knew ran east-west), or retrace our route.
This section of the wash is drivable, and when we had exited the canyon, a truck had pulled up and three hikers set off to explore it from the bottom. While Dave and I mulled our options, they were heading back out. I flagged them down and ask if they knew how much further to the road. They offered to give us a lift, so we hopped into the truck bed and motored out. It turns out, this wash heads east for quite a while. Off-roaders will know it as Truckhaven Wash. Glad we opted for the lift. They took us back to that car and with that, the challenge was over. I certainly was humbled by this hike, and would learn to improve my research and navigation skills for any future trips (oh, little did I know…). These challenges had been fun, I wonder what other hiking challenges might exist…say what is this “100 Peaks Challenge”?
I had been out to the pictographs a few years earlier with my twins, so I was familiar with this hike. I drove along the dirt road to the trailhead. It was nicer to do this road in my Subaru rather than my Saturn. I parked at the trailhead and set off. The first half mile gains about 300 feet of elevation, so you get a bit of workout. Once you crest the rise, the trail begins sloping gently down. About .8 miles in, I came to the large boulder with several pictographs on it. These were made by the Kumeyaay, one of two main Native American groups that made their homes in Anza-Borrego and the surrounding regions.
I decided since I did not have to worry about my twins this time, I would continue to the Smuggler Canyon overlook. From here I was rewarded with a fantastic view of the Vallecito Valley. I retraced my route and was back at the car, ready to call it a day. One more hike to do and this challenge was complete!
My next hike in the Anza-Borrego 5 for 50 Challenge was going to be hiking Mountain Palm Springs trail. This hike is out near Bow Willow Springs campground, a part of the park I had never explored, so I was looking forward to the day’s adventure. I hoped that I might be able to tack on the hike along the Pictograph Trail afterward.
I drove down the dirt road to the trailhead. I parked and began looking for the interpretive panel that marks the start of the trail. From here I could see some palm trees up the canyon. Unlike the well-marked path at Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail, this trail was not always as clear. I first passed the Pygmy Grove as I worked my way up the wash. After about 7/10ths of a mile, I found myself at the Southwest Grove. While it did not have the running stream like the other hike, the grove was impressive. This hike had an optional extension to continue up to the Torote Bowl.
I headed up the hillside, following the rocky trail. Once at the ‘bowl’, I took a break. Elephant trees were scattered around the area. I chatted with a couple that had hiked up from the nearby Bow Willow Campground.
I retrace my route and was back at the car in no time. With the fire in 2020 that damaged the grove in Palm Canyon, these are now the most accessible of the palm groves in the park. Three down, two to go!
Having finished the Mission Trails 5 Peak Challenge, I discovered that the Anza-Borrego Foundation was conducting their own hiking challenge in celebration of their 50th Anniversary. Just like the MTRP Challenge, it is a series of 5 unique hikes, each requiring a selfie at a particular spot along each hike. So off to Anza-Borrego I go (oh, if I only knew what truly lay ahead for me…)
For the first hike of this challenge, I opted to go do The Slot at Borrego Mountain. I convinced Mark Better to tag along for this adventure. We found the turnoff from the highway and on to the dirt road. The car seemed a bit loose in the dirt. As we pulled into the trailhead, I discovered why, a flat rear tire. I had a spare and being such a popular trail, I was not worried about being stranded. Since it was early, why not go do the easy 1.5 or so miles through the Slot. We can deal with the tire when we get back.
With Borrego Mountain West Butte rising off to the east, we started along the trail, rising up from the parking area. Soon, the trail dips down into the canyon. Quickly we found ourselves working our way through the narrow canyon. Passing under the fallen rock, we enjoyed twisting and turning along the route. After about 3/4 mile, the canyon opened up, we hiked a bit before turning around and retracing our route.
Once back at the car, we addressed the issue of the flat tire. With a bit of digging and proper leverage, we were able to take care of changing the tire. We headed into Borrego Springs for lunch, and then the second of the planned hikes, the Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail.
After grabbing a burrito in Borrego Springs, we headed to the Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail. We paid our $ 10-day use fee and pulled into the parking lot for the trail. Mark had never visited the Palm grove at the end of the trail, so I knew this was going to be another treat.
This is one of the most popular hikes in all of Anza-Borrego, so it follows a well-worn and marked trail. You can grab a pamphlet that will describe the various markers along the way. Since it was January, water was still flowing from out of the canyon, quite a treat to have to cross a running stream in the desert.
After about 1.5 miles, we reached the grove. Mark did have to be back in town, so we did not spend too long exploring. After the fire in 2020, it was nice to have seen them in their full glory. On the way back from the grove, we opted to take the alternate trail back, in part for fewer hikers and to see more of the park. Once back at the trailhead we headed home. Two of the five completed!