Its been a year since Dusty and Grubstake did the Carrizo Gorge segment of the Desert Trail in 2002. It's now February of 2003, a year later, and they were anxious to continue their northern trek. That year, Pete "Cactus" Campbell joined in. Vehicles were left on Sunday, February 16, 2003 on a dirt road fronting vineyards known at "Avenue 86" south of Mecca in the Chowchilla Valley. Dusty, Cactus and Grubstake headed south to Bow Willow Campground with the last vehicle. They got an early afternoon start on Sunday under high clouds and warm airl. The route starts in the broad flood plain of Carrizo Creek along a series of 4X4 roads. On Sunday night, camp was made at Arroyo Seco del Diablo, a beautiful dry wash with steep, but very manageable walls. One of their best camp spots was made that night on the bluff above the wash to the eventual view of a full, orange moon, captured by Don's digital camera. The sky was cloudy, but the air very still.
On Monday morning, Cactus and Dusty woke up way too early and were rewarded with a specatular sunrise. Must admit that we were so engrossed with the brillant red sky that we forgot to wake up Grubstake. Dusty took so many pictures that he almost filled a 16 meg card. We continued north, having made about 10 miles the previous day. The wash was well populated with smoke trees, with their dull blue shade of color. Farther on, the route turns more northerly and picks up Fish Creek Wash. The upper part of this wash is full of ocotillos and cholla. The weather continued warm with temperatures in the upper 70's and sunny skies. Camp was made at the upper end of Fish Creek Wash, near Hapaha Flat.
The next morning, on Tuesday, February 18, the group came over Hapaha and Harper Flat. For the first time since leaving Jacumba, they saw yucca and Utah juniper trees. For Death Valley based hikers, these trees made everyone feel right at home. Harper Canyon is a beautiful, twisting canyon with large granite boulders. Nothing large enough to block the route, but big enough to require navigating around and over while dropping toward Highway 78, and their awaiting cache of food and water. What luxury, buried dried and canned food and water, reached at 2:45 in the afternoon on February 18.
After restocking, Dusty, Cactus and Grubstake crossed Highway 78 to the north, and entered Buttes Canyon, following the low rise of Buttes Pass, is a broad area with low level hills. They made camp just above San Felipe Creek, a wide sandy wash. The route then cut to the east on nearly level, easily traveled terrain. Soon, the route becomes a maze of contours approaching Tule Wash. First they reach "Una Palma" (one palm), a well watered palm tree in the middle of the desert. They shortly arrive at the very tranquil Five Palm Spring, and finally, Seventeen Palms, well watered by natural springs. These series of palms look quite out of place, and must rely on underground water for their healthy appearance. The route drops into Arroyo Salada, soon a jeep road known as Truckhaven led toward Highway S-22, where the next cache was located. On Wednesday, February 19, the group made camp just to the north of Highway S-22, in South Fork Wash. A light rain began to fall, and they wondered what the terrain would be like the next day.
The following morning, February 20, began the Calcite-Wonderstone segment of the Desert Trail. The route is generally north, but followed a nearly indescribable terrain of twists, turns, ups and downs that will challenge even the best GPS jockey. The winds were whipped up from the prior night's rain, adding to the stress of making progress over a countless series of barrancas, washes, and high, narrow plateaus. Camp was made at a broad alluvial fan in Wonderstone Wash as dark approached that evening. Having that day's journey behind the group created no small feeling of accomplishment. As darkness came, the inky blue of the Salton Sea and the perimeter of lights at its' shore made a stunning view.
The next day, February 21, had everyone in the group feeling good. They were trail hardened, and knew the trail's end would be reached before the end of the day. The route follows and unnamed canyon west, then north over a ridge with broad views of the entire area along with, of course, the Salton Sea. The route followed the ridgeline down to Travertine Palms Wash and came out at Avenue 86, where the vehicles were left several days earlier. Dusty, Cactus and Grubstake made good time heading south with the vehicles to retrieve the caches. The ground really flew by while driving in the car after hiking only a few miles an hour for many days. And while driving along the shoreline of the Salton Sea, they gained a whole new perspective, after seeing it from the high washes and plateaus of the Calcite-Wonderstone segment of the Desert Trail.
By George "Grubstake" Huxtable, San Mateo, CA
Cactus Pete joined us on the spring hike of the Desert Trail. What a welcomed addition to our hiking adventure. Little did he know what his first 75 mile section would bring until the next year. I would never know how much weight could be carried on the trail until Cactus joined us on this adventure. My pack averaged about 45 to 50 pounds, but the Cactus mule humped pack weights above 60 pounds.
Cactus Pete and I woke up Monday morning early to witness this red sky in the morning photo-op. What a great way to start off the next day of a 75 mile hike through Anzo Borrego State Park............
The hiking doesn't get any better than this. A full pack, an old jeep road, beautiful sky, smoke trees and a week on the Desert Trail.
Cactus and Grubstake headed down the lonesome trail that is the Desert Trail. This was a good clear stretch on our way down an old jeep road to our first cache of food and water. With the only question in our mind other than what day is this, but is our cache still there, or has it been dug up and devoured by some coyote.
What a great afternoon. Digging up our cache of food and water. Spent a relaxful time under one of the only shade trees within miles. Cactus enjoyed a lukewarm shower from his mega cannister of water as Grubstake and I asked ourselves why we didn't think of that one. With many miles to go we hydrated and stuff our faces with food before hitting the trail again.
The shadows grew longer on another great day on the Desert Trail. Often times we were delighted to see an old jeep trail. Thanks Ol Cresote for taking advantage of these old roads. Its great to be out in the wide open landscape without trail or road to follow, but its sure a treat to hit a dirt road and not have to worry about each and every foot step.
Cactus memorized by the evening campfire. Later on that night we had to chase a kitfox out of our campsite. I can't remember if he had a can of pineapple slices or not.
Grubstake relaxing by the palm trees at Five Palm Spring. He mentioned that after days of hiking that it was weird listening to the wind blowing through the palm fronds in the middle of nowhere.
We found a really comfortable campsite in the South Fork Wash, just north of S-22. It was a small side wash that was narrow and full of soft sand. I remember that it was one of the best nights sleep that I can remember. Woke up the next morning to spectacular views of the side walls in the deep wash. .
The next section of The Desert Trail was the Calcite Wonderstone section. It was the most challenging for Grubstake just to keep us on the trail. Many times beautiful easy wide canyons would suck us off coarse and we'd hike a half mile through the inviting terrain before we'd realize with the use of GPS and map that we'd stumble off coarse. We had missed this little slot canyon on the first go around and without Grubstakes GPS skills, Cactus Pete and Dusty would still be out there wondering around.
Couldn't resist the picture. With Cactus Pete in the foreground after being knocked down by the winds on a ridge before dropping down into Wonderstone Wash. Grubstake is in the background trying desperately to retrieve our map of the area. The Salton Sea was in the far distance. The photo covers so much distance that you can actually see the curvature of the earth. We had struggled all day up and down and through some very hard terrain. I for one was so exhausted that I don't remember where the hell we camped that night. Do remember getting seperated from my two hiking partners and spending a half hour trying to find them again.
This was the last day of our adventure. Hiking the Desert Trail through Anza Borrego State Park. We were up on a no name peak to the north west of the Salton Sea. Next year we would continue to see the Salton Sea until we reached the Cottonwood Campground in Joshue Tree. The first year it was 25 miles and this section was about 75 miles. Next year section would be close to 150 miles. But not without broken bones and a loss of one hiker. So join us the next time, On the Desert Trail...