Sunday, March 31, 2013

Anza Borrego

What a neat place!  Truly I can say that Anza is a gem in the SoCal area and should be on any offroader's bucket list.

Day 1:  Its about a 3 hour drive from my house to the American Legion in Borrego Springs where I spent my first night.  I was meeting my buddy, Chuck, who knows Anza and was just finishing up his own spring break trip.  He was leaving the following day so we didn't waste any time and hit the trails.

We cruised through some sand washes into the badlands and headed up to this overlook.  Make no mistake, Anza is SANDY!  We dropped back down to the road via Thimble Trail and made it back to camp just as the sun was setting.

Day 2:  We made an early morning run out to the pumpkin patch over on the Ocotillo Wells OHV area border.  Chuck didn't want to ride the KTM for fear of it leading to another toy purchase, but he was happy to pose next to his Christmas list gift idea.

From the patch, we headed out to Calcite Mine, up a fairly steep and technical trail.  My fan got a lot of use and the bike held up well to the 1st gear crawl through the uneven road.

Our next goal was Sheep Tanks - somewhere I'd seen in the guidebook but Chuck had never been to.  Unfortunately, we spent all the time we could looking for the trail but never found it before Chuck had to head back to camp to pack up and leave.

I saw Chuck off and he offered a friendly warning as he departed: "Beware the sand people, they come out at night."  Mostly thinking this was a joke, I moved my rig to a free camping area out by Coyote Canyon where I planned to spend the night.  Since it was barely lunchtime, I decided to get a head start on tomorrow's ride to explore the Coyote Canyon area.

Coyote Canyon was my most likely spot to find some water while riding this very dry area.  With temps in the low 80's, any trail near water was a worthwhile goal. 

Despite the drought, Coyote delivered with 3 water crossings, the last of which was deep enough to give my pants a good soaking which kept me cool for the next 10 minutes.

Way up near the Middle Willows turn around I ran into a Land Cruiser with one of Chuck's "Sand People."  This thing pulls up and the driver leans out to ask about the trail ahead.  I'm so bummed I didn't have my helmet cam on because my brain suddenly realized that sand people were real.  First thing I noticed was the passenger - a very attractive brunette.  I mean she was at least a solid 8/10.  Then I look at the guy driving and I'm immediately thinking he has to be a brother or kidnapper or something.  The guy is straight out of a trailer park.  Then he spoke and I almost lost it when I realized his jaw was wired shut!  "Heysh wash dish roash rike up aheadsh?"  Wow Chuck, good call.  I bid farewell to the drooler and his hot girl and finished exploring a few other side trails.

On the way back, I made a detour through town to grab some gas and stopped to snap a few touristy photo ops near the desert art pieces scattered along the main highway.

The wind was starting to pick up so I headed back to the truck.  Since I'd pretty much covered all the ground I was planning on doing the following day, I decided to move camp over to Ocotillo OHV down the road and spend the following morning looking for the elusive Sheep Tanks.  The wind continued to build with the setting of the sun and I was forced to hide out in the pickup bed as 40mph+ winds blasted sand across the camp.  Thankfully around midnight the winds finally subsided.

Day 3:  Having spent 12 hours hiding in the truck, I'd had plenty of time to study the guidebook and map and felt reasonably sure I could find Sheep Tanks.  I set off early as it was already in the mid-70's and looking to be another warm one.  I retraced the path Chuck and I had taken from the Calcite Mine and discovered the trail about 300 yards beyond where we had abandoned our search.  Whoops.

The deep sand wash became narrower as I continued upstream, until I found myself in a slot canyon riddled with large boulders, deep sand, and some very very technical ascents.  I spent a lot of that ride Flintstoning with both feet on the boulders as I babied the clutch trying to find traction.

Finally I hit a fork that I was 60% sure was the one right before Sheep Tanks.  Progress up the left fork was nearly impossible while the trail up the right fork was only marginally better.  Leaving the bike here and exploring on foot seemed like the best option.

My GPS didn't show any of these trails, so I couldn't be sure that this was even the fork I was looking for.  I concluded that if I climbed up out of the canyon I'm sure that I'd have a better idea of my location.  Lemme tell ya, scrambling up loose class 4 in motorcycle boots is no picnic!  Unfortunately at the top, I still couldn't see the tanks.  The left fork here just gets narrower and narrower.

The right fork continues from where my bike is just hidden behind that bend.

And leads up into this:

Having no definitive answers I slid back down to my bike to sit on a rock and consult my map.  I finally concluded that this must be the fork in question and, if the map was accurate, the tank couldn't be more than a quarter mile up the left fork.  I decided I'd hike for 10 minutes and then turn around.  Some 100 yards of scrambling up some really steep inclines and I finally found it!

Now I should mention at this point that its god-awful hot in this canyon and there's no wind at all.  While doing all this climbing around I kept thinking, "man if I see that thing I'm just gonna dive in!"  Reality, however, suggested that maybe swimming in this cesspool wasn't the best idea.  The area all around is littered with animal feces and the pool has an unnatural algae green to it.  It didn't look deep enough to dive into, although I do think it was deep enough to conceal a few animal carcasses just below the surface.  Adventure can't always end in cool refreshment it seems.  It was a long, hot descent back to camp, with deep sand after each of the dropoffs threatening to toss me over the bars.  

I loaded the bike up and headed down to Fish Creek, my final camp for the trip.

Day 4:  BUGS!  Ugh so many gnats and flies at this camp!  Its a shame too since otherwise it was the nicest camp I'd been at.  Riding was the only thing that kept the flies away.  Luckily the riding here was superb and the trip through split mountain yielded some of the best sights of the trip.

It was dry, it was dusty, it was buggy as all get out.  But an amazing canyon nonetheless.  The canyon continues several miles before hitting some pretty difficult terrain up into the mountains.  I was feeling pretty haggard by now and lucky to have not had any falls or mechanical break downs.  I decided that playing it safe and only exploring the flats was probably my best course. 

All in all I concluded that it was a great trip.  I would have liked it to be at least 5-10 degrees cooler, which maybe would have helped with the bug situation at Fish Creek.  My goal was to get a random sampling of some of the terrain that this area has to offer and I feel that I accomplished that.  The new bike handled wonderfully and gave me no surprises.  I'm truly looking forward to my next trip and hope that I'll have a friend to share it with and cover my ass in case something goes wrong.

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