Jacumba, the Mexican Border, to Bow Willow Campground
Don Brown and I have been intrigued with the Desert Trail for some time, and in Febuary of 2002 , decided to start with Carrizo Gorge, the first segment of this adventure.
The starting point was the small village of Jacumba, on the Mexican border about 74 miles east of San Diego and a few miles south of Interstate 8. It's largely a forgotten place, once know as a popular place for Hollywood celebrities now left to poorer, quiet inhabitants and the odd passers-by like ourselves following the Desert Trail. The most prominent place of business is the Jacumba Hot Springs Lodge, a badly worn but somehow inviting place to eat, drink and enjoy the heavily mineral laden waters for the soaking.
The German owner of the Jacumba Hot Springs let us park my Jeep in the lot nearby. We had left Don's vehicle at Bow Willow Campground, less than an hours drive away, and 23 miles from Jacumba. To make our start official, we "touch the fence" that separates Mexico from the U.S. and began heading north. The weather was in the low 40's with gusty winds and the threat of rain as we eased out of Jacumba on foot at 9:45 am. The first few miles follow paved road, then skirted around some frontage terrain, some barbed wire fencing and quite a bit of vegetation before actually getting into the official boundary of Anzo Borrego State Park. Despite the GPS, the route finding is not intuitive as we made our way to the top rim overlooking Tule Canyon at mile 6.8 into our 23 mile hike back to Bow Willow Campground. Once you drop into Tule Canyon, leading directly into Carrizo Gorge, you're committed! The route down was very steep and tedious with large boulders and vegetation blocking the way. Once in Tule Canyon, the route cleanly leads to Carrizo Gorge and ultimately flows out to the desert floor.
When we were there, water was flowing in the gorge, which can vary greatly depending on season and recent rainfall. The terrain was very difficult and frustrating to cover in much of the gorge due to the combination of water and dense, barbed vegetation that we had to work around or over. The scenery is spectacular in the gorge and looking up to the steep edges of the gorge is very impressive. Along the way, there was much evidence of modern day travelers that came before us in the form of Mexican nationals, also heading north, looking for work. We never saw another person, although I wondered if we had, which group would have been more surprised. We made camp that night beside flowing desert water, at about mile 9.
The next day we enjoyed some breakfast and coffee and much improved weather overhead. As we continued down the gorge, we say old train tracks running precariously along the upper ridge. Some of the old train wheels and axles had tumbled down from the tracks above and landed at the gorge bottom. The date "June 8, 1893" was stamped on the inside of one of the large train wheels. The terrain was now getting much easier and we could see the narrow gorge walls opening up and the desert floor coming up to meet it.
We arrived at Bow Willow at 4:30 pm on the second day to Don's awaiting vehicle. We quickly discovered one slight problem, no car keys!!! After looking everywhere, we knew that dustydon had hopefully left them in the Jeep in Jacumba. We decided to look pitiful and wander around the campground to test the kindness of man in the form of asking a stranger to drive two bum-looking strangers with packs back around to Jacumba at night (bearing in mind nobody there had ever heard of Jacumba!). We finally found a somewhat intrigued young women who offered to drive us if we could squeeze into the small "crew-cab" space behind the seats of a small pickup. Her boyfriend would ride along , and off we went. We finally got to the Jeep at Jacumba and fortunately found the keys just where dusty have left them. The woman refused to take any money as we parted ways, and they headed back to the campground. We later returned to their campsite at Bow Willow and insisted they accept a six pack of beer, $20.00, and another "thank you" from two gratefull desert backpackers on their first section of the Desert Trail. By George "Grubstake" Huxtable, San Mateo, CA.
Grubstake on the border. With the Mexican flag barely flying. The only breeze was to the north... Not only for the million of mexican nationals, but for two desert rats looking for points north also.
We found ourselves in a small oasis at the head of the gorge. The path ahead was choked with brush and damn near impassible. Grubstake checked the map and found that we were alittle too far to the east. After a short break to take in this beautiful spot we hit the trail.
Grubstake taking a picture of our true route down the gorge. The railway tracks to the right are the old San Diego and Arizona Railway. If you would like to read more about the "Impossible Railroad." Visit San Diego Railroad Museum
Dusty trying to find a clear path through the rocky brush choked gorge. I learned alot on this first section of the Desert Trail. Do not come into close contact with the plant life! Especial any species of the cholla family or the small bush called catsclaw. By the time I reached Bow Willow Campground my pants were shreaded, my bedroll was wasted, and I had to pick out cholla spines from my ass for a week. One last tidbit of information: You never have enough water.
We found numerous parts and pieces of the many train wrecks with some of the old railcar wheels ended up at the bottom of the gorge. This one was dated June 8, 1893. Many of the boxcars never made it to the bottom of the canyon, but could be seen laying on their side several hundred feet above us and abondoned sixty to seventy years ago.
My desert girlfriend, the barrel cactus and what a beauty. Ferocactus, meaning "fierce or wild cactus," are always cylindrical or barrel shaped and are usually among the largest cacti of the North American deserts. I believe this one is a California Barrel Cactus, Compass Cactus, Ferocactus cylindraceus. Which can grow up to eight feet tall
All members of this genus have prominent ribs and are fiercely armed with heavy spines. In some species, one or more central spines are curved like a fishhook, accounting for the common name Fishhook Barrel Cactus.
Native Americans boiled young flowers in water to eat like cabbage and mashed older boiled flowers for a drink. They also used the cactus as a cooking pot by cutting off the top, scooping out the pulp and inserting hot stones together with food. The spines were used as needles, awls and in tatooing.
For me this was the view that got me hooked on the Desert Trail. Over the years we have seen many panoramic desert landscapes but this one is my favorite and has kept me coming back for more each year. Ever since then my signoff has been...