Thursday, January 17, 2013

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park - The Calcite Mine, CA

Borrego Springs is a really cool, little town nestled in this desert valley surrounded by mountains.  There are no franchises in town - no Walmart, no MacDonalds: all restaurants and stores are independent - a refreshing change which reminds us of southern Utah.  It seems many people have retired here and several RVers winter here.  At the northeast edge of town are hundreds of acres of citrus trees bearing grapefruits, oranges and lemons.  We purchase a bag of grapefruits for $3!!! for 14 huge Ruby Reds direct from the orchard.  We pay a buck a piece for these at home.  For another $3, we buy a large bag of tangelos - a cross between an orange and a tangerine.  The fruit is very sweet and juicy and picked just the day before!  Yum!

Between Borrego Springs and Salton City to the east is an old calcite mine which was activated after the bombing of Pearl Harbour as the government wanted the calcite crystals for the manufacture by Polaroid of optical ringsights for weaponry.  The road to the mine is a very technical, 4x4 road from the area where we park (.7 mile in from the highway) with its rock base frighteningly narrow, steep and uneven but still scarred with black rubber from the high-clearance vehicles that dare to make this trek.  The road is difficult for us to walk, let alone drive, and I can't imagine being a passenger.

At the Calcite Mine, Salton Sea in the background
At the mine site, we are standing close to the peaks of the Santa Rosa mountains (highest peak is around 3,500 feet, we are probably around 1,500 feet here) with views of the Salton Sea to the east, the valley to the west and mountains all around us.  We can see the Algodones or Imperial Sand Dunes (with binoculars) some 60 miles southeast.  Mexico (the Baja region) is about 50 miles south, San Diego about 60 miles southwest.  All "as the crow flies" miles.  The air is fairly clear and there is not a cloud in the sky.  Today is the first day it is warm enough to hike in t-shirts.

We can see where the calcite was mined from notched cuts that were made in the rock ridges, wide enough for a person to sling a sledgehammer; some only 10 feet high, others up to 100 feet high; most seem to be about 20 feet deep.  The veins of calcite are still visible in the rock cuts, and the ground all around the site sparkles with the crystal shards.  None of the buildings or equipment from the mining operations remain.

Yeah, I'm not climbing up that!
On our way back down the mining road (we climbed up a heart-pumping, steep incline to get here), we cross a dry creek bed which our guide book tells us becomes a slot canyon both up and down canyon and meets the main wash which will lead us back to where we are parked.  We decide to go up the canyon, which does quickly narrow into a slot.  But these canyon walls are a grey mix of clay and sand with small boulders cemented into it, called conglomerate.  The rocks and canyon walls are not very interesting, unlike those in Utah.  We have to scramble up a few boulder jams, one as high as 6 feet, and the accomplishment of the challenge is a bit of a rush.  But, when we reach the 12-foot high waterfall, we are done and return the way we came, then head down-canyon from the mining road.  Going this way, no challenges higher than a few feet interrupt our descent through the sandy wash.  Using our GPS, we find the road that will take us up and out of the canyon to the mine road, and we (almost surprisingly) emerge at the top 50 feet away from our truck.  Part luck, part skill.

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