Friday, February 1, 2013

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park - Mountain Palm Springs, CA

The last area of the park where we will spend a few days hiking is at Mountain Palm Springs in the southern region of the park.  Here there is another free park campground - we can see the palm trees up the canyons from our site.  We are practically in a bowl, surrounded by rocky grey-white hills (the rock is called pegmatite for you geology enthusiasts, probably white fledspar with black tourmaline or horneblend in it) with a few desert plants on them.  We are in a parking area between two sandy washes which Grady loves to walk in.  Cats and loose sand - what could be better?  Even though we get two straight days of rain while here (it's rained about every 3 or 4 days while we are in California!), we get no flash floods and the washes beside us don't flow.

Marilyn in Mary's Grove
The two washes beside us lead up two separate canyons.  We hike up these canyons to the grove of palms we see from our trailer on two separate days.  The first one becomes a bit of a rocky scramble, but after some of the hikes we've done during these past four months, it's like walking up steps.  The first grove is North Grove, and a bit further beyond that is Mary's Grove, a large flat area with several groups of palms growing.  There are also large boulders and smoke trees here, giving the area a true oasis feel.  We follow some cairns and a faint footpath that goes up and over a rocky ridge, then down into the adjacent canyon where we find Surprise Grove with a fairly large number of palms growing together.  A wide, sandy path leads up the canyon to Palm Bowl Grove where about 60 trees are growing on the side of the rocky hill.  This is a large bowl surrounded by these rocky slopes except for the outlet of the wash we just walked up.  On another day, we hike the other canyon to find Pygmy Grove (a small group of shorter palms) and further up in Torote Bowl is a large grove of about 100 palms overlooking the Carrizo Valley with amazing views.

Marilyn in Torote Bowl
Note burnt trunks
All of the palm groves show evidence of fire.  Trunks are blackened and their skirts (the dead palm leaves that lay against the trunks) are gone.  Apparently, in the wild, the skirt is important to the palm, shading the trunk which absorbs water when it's available, and preventing over-heating and allowing the moisture to evaporate.  The skirt also helps to protect the trunk against predators like a certain beetle which can bore two-inch holes into the bark.  But yet these groves have survived throughout thousands of years, showing early native settlers where to find water.  Given this rugged, arid landscape, finding these palm trees is like stumbling across a treasure.

Brad at Big Mud Cave - entrance to a long tunnel
The Mud Caves are about a 5-mile drive through a sandy, washboard wash into the Carrizo Badlands.  These clay hills are mostly tan and grey with some hues of green and pink.  The hardened layers often angle at about 45 degrees, evidence of geological plate movement common in this area.  Along the way, we talk to a couple from San Diego who tell us that someone died here last year during a flash flood - on an overcast day like it is today.  Whenever rain is possible, even in the mountains 50 or more miles away, people are warned not to travel into the canyons.  Accumulated rainfall in the mountains rushes down through these canyons like a freight train.  We probably shouldn't be in the canyon today, but naively continue on.  Obviously, we make it out unharmed and no rains falls today.  The caves are eroded holes in the mud hills; some are actual caves, others are really a slot canyon with tunnels and overhead bridges or arches.  There are two caves where we park at an obvious, large hole in the side wall.  A narrow entrance takes us into Plunge Pool Cave, flashlights blazing in the blackness.  This is a very narrow, winding slot which ends at a 50-foot dry waterfall after about 100 feet.  You would not want to be in here when a flash flood arrives!  Back in the wash, the large opening takes us through Big Mud Cave, which is really a slot canyon that continues for about half a mile or more.  We follow one opening in the side that takes us into a narrow, winding cave for several hundred yards before it becomes a very small tunnel which Brad explores for several yards on his hands and knees.  Me?  No thanks.  I prefer to walk upright!  The caves are interesting and fun to follow, but not terribly photogenic.

And so ends our California journey after about 5 weeks.  It is the last week of January, and we will start heading east (boo hoo!).  (I'm posting this blog late due to lack of internet signal!)

No comments:

Post a Comment