From hard to soft, canyons to badlands

we found the Clark Lake Beds Wednesday was all about hard granite, steep canyons, rugged mountains and wide alluvial valleys formed on the western edge of the park in beautiful granite full of quartz, mica, and sparkling fools gold. Our extra day of exploration at Anza Borrego led us into an entirely different environment of barren dry lake beds, and badlands formed in soft sediments, riddled with complex arroyos, and washes, and sudden surprise overlooks.

and the famous boondocking site at the Oven The skies were clear when we left in the morning, with just a slight breeze in Borrego Springs.  Even with our 9am departure, we weren’t early enough to catch the early morning shadow light and by the time we rolled onto the Clark Lake area the winds were blowing hard.  Right away we found the oven Al mentioned last month and Laurie and Odel wrote about.  I had just started following Laurie’s blog when she wrote about camping here and building this oven, so it was with a special fondness that I took a photo of the well known boondock site.

through the deep sand in Font's Wash We continued east on Highway S22 to find Font’s Point.  Even with the recent rain the wash was filled with deep sand, enough that we were glad for 4 wheel drive.  We wondered about the suggestion to come here for sunset, since driving back in the dark might be a bit challenging.  I think someday I might try sunrise instead. The view was worth every moment of the drive through the sandy wash.  Each of the geologic formations are immediately distinguishable and I wished for a good geology book to remind me of what I had read in the park visitor center.  “Hmm, bottom tier clams. Top tier mammals. Wonder if that one has the horses and camels?  Miocene?  Sure is lots of stuff around the west that is Miocene era formations…yadayadayada….”  Mo just said, “Pretty!”

badlands Anza Borrego (7) The cliffs are extremely steep and the drop offs sudden on the soft barely coherent rock.  Abby was all excited, and since we were alone, we didn’t leash her up.  Next time we will.  She rarely unglues from Mo’s side, but for some reason the expansive views got her all excited and she kept getting way too close for my comfort. 

We continued along Fonts Wash to another turn east on Short Wash looking another  viewpoint ahead.  The map  I bought from the visitor center was excellent, and we were both impressed with the small and simple, but effective signage out there in the middle of nowhere.  In just a few more miles of sand, and one major drop off that required a bit of maneuvering, we were at Vista Del Malpais.  The view from here was a bit different, not quite as high, but more from a vantage point within the badlands rather than completely above them.  Here again I wished for a good geology book to ferret out the details of the formations.

badlands Anza Borrego (21) Another examination of the map showed our wash continuing farther east to the 17 Palms Oasis. “Wanna try for it?” “Sure, lets go”  It would be an in and out trip, past the primitive campsite at Arroyo Salado, but who knows what we might find.  We haven’t seen an oasis palm yet. We hadn’t read anything about this site previously, and were surprised to find that it had a great little story.  It was an historic stopover for weary badland travelers, and sometimes people would leave glass jars of water sitting about since the spring wasn’t always reliable.

There was also the “Oasis Post Office”, a wooden barrel wedged between two palms, where travelers could leave communications and notes for each other, a tradition that has continued.  We found the “post office”, filled with journals and notes, and three bottles of water.  We added our own little note to the journal, and noted that Libya was exploding, Fukushima was radiating, and the palms were still here, safe in the desert.

badlands Anza Borrego (41)We reversed our route to the highway and continued east on pavement to Salton City.  Ugh.  Salton City  was all the ugliness of the desert that we have seen too many times.  Dirty, brown, with some new housing developments of low flat ugly houses surrounded by telephone poles and wires and no vegetation.  It was the worst of the desert very close to the best of the desert.  We didn’t bother to go down to Salton Sea, since we knew about the smell and the dead fish lying around. 

All along the route south back to highway 78 the desert looked dry and barren, with no sign of flowers anywhere.  To the west of us, stretching all the way to Anza Borrego was the Ocotillo Wells recreation vehicle area.  Another word for 4-wheeler heaven.  I have nothing against 4 wheelers, in their place.  I have used them for soil survey, I totally get it, they are indispensable for farmers and ranchers with large acreage to manage and animals to care for.  Tearing up the wilderness with a vehicle is another story.  I am truly grateful for places like this huge area of Ocotillo Wells for 4-wheeler folks to play and have fun with their toys.  It’s great.  There should be more places like this, where I can stay out of their way and they can stay out of mine.  Perfect. 

badlands Anza Borrego (38)As we continued south and then west, I noticed on the map that we were 175 feet below sea level.  Looking a bit closer I saw a fine line called “ancient beach line”.  38 feet.  A bit more research led to the fact that we were in what was once the Gulf of Mexico, the Sea of Cortez, extending all the way north, creating the Imperial Valley with all it’s rich alluvial soils.  Rich and fertile, but still ugly at the moment.  Once west of Ocotillo Wells, however, we breached the old beach line elevation and the landscape filled with gorgeous desert, unscarred by ORV tracks, and covered with the red haze of blooming ocotillo.  Anza Borrego State Park is huge.  We had only tapped the northern half and very little of the mountains.  What an amazing treasure this park is to the state, the country and to the world.  I’m so glad the powers that be haven’t let it be destroyed or lost to temporary budget troubles.

Once home, we were fairly worn out after all the bouncing around in washes, and just settled in early for a good spaghetti supper (from home again) and a movie.  We decided to dump the tanks and get ready to go for this morning’s departure so it would be quick and easy.

Borrego rainbow (5)This morning we were up early enough to see a magnificent sunrise punctuated by rainbows over the mountains and we were on the road by 7:30, heading for Tucson.  A lucky break for us, however, that we didn’t leave earlier.  Just as we started around the Christmas Tree Circle, we noticed that the Farmers Market mentioned by Kelly had already begun.  It was so simple to pull over and park on the circle while we walked across the lush green grass to the vendors.  I had read about the 3 buck bags of grapefruit, and the farmer from just north on Borrego Springs road was happy to give us a taste of his sweetest. Of course we bought a bag, along with two kinds of hummus and some soft pitas from a Moroccan man, and some local orange blossom honey.  Yay for the Farmer’s Market!  On to Tucson and a new experience camping at one of the Military Family Camps at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on the northeastern heart of the city.  We have friends and family to visit in the Tucson area, so this should be a good central location, and cheap! 

desert vista At the moment we are crossing wide, open, rather boring land between Yuma and Tucson, and the air is thick with smog or smoke or what they try to pass off in the West as haze.  It could be dust from all the recent storms, or it could be the sad state of air quality around Phoenix, but either way, I am especially grateful for the extra time we spent in the pristine world of Anza Borrego.

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

8 thoughts on “From hard to soft, canyons to badlands”

  1. You definitely saw some of the highlights of Borrego Springs, and I'll bet it is on your list of places to revisit for a longer stay. Isn't that a nice little farmers' market?

    Thanks for posting the photo of the oven. We didn't get a close-up look last time we were in BS – I'm glad to see that it is being well maintained by campers who appreciate it!


  2. I especially enjoy posts that involve people getting out & about exploring & doing things like you two did through the Borrego Badlands. I think that was so great for you guys to get out there & head down those bumpy desert roads like that. Hope you can make it back to Borrego one day because there are so many other great things to do there. You go girls:))


  3. Great tour of Borrego Springs. Even though I'd just been there a few days ago, your pictures and description made me want to go back again. As my truck is not a 4 wheel drive, I didn't dare risk driving on any of the washes for fear of getting stuck in a foot of sand.


  4. Great post and pics, makes me want to leave right now and head west. I need to find someone with a jeep, so I can explore all of the canyons.


  5. That barrel post office was great! Kind of like the “board” that we used to use when camping when I was a kid, where you could leave notes for people you were expecting. “We're in campsite D012. Dottie and John.” I wonder if they still do that?
    I'm looking forward to driving to Borrego Springs.


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