In The Desert
Content including photographs are Copyright © 2012 - Present - Don & Linda Gilmore
Rock House Canyon
Anza Borrego State Park, California
by Dave Taylor
I talked the guys into another desert hike, up Rockhouse Canyon in the southern part of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Scott drove, Jon, Manuel and I just held on.
You get to the trailhead off of S-2 just east of the Bow Willow campground by turning south up Carrizo Canyon, although the park sign marks it as Smoke Tree Forest. The forest is not nearly what it used to be, though, from my memory.
You have to drive through where the forest should be to get to the Rockhouse Canyon trailhead, roughly three miles from S-2. I kept looking west for where I remembered a road took us to the entrance of the Canyon. Finally, we actually pulled Jon's ancient GPS out, looked at the topo map, and calculated where we had to go, because the road went nowhere near where I remembered the trailhead, through a fairly tight pass to the west.
Scott's SUV isn't four-wheel drive, but my experience up this wash is usually if you take it easy, its just a matter of parking on packed sand. It's more like white gravel here anyway. I had corresponded with a resident of Canebrake, just five miles further to the west on S-2, and he'd cautioned me that there'd been some serious gully washers lately, which if that had been true with Carrizo Canyon, could have left us with no road, and automobile-rock climbing, which would have turned this into a six mile in, six mile out hike.
The road, though, was all sand, and Scott carefully parked us on the most packed stuff we could find. It would have been better on rock, but there really wasn't much of that around. As it turns out, the wash road has floated far from the trailhead, and the trail that led to it has been blocked off by, I assume, the rangers.
Manuel, David, Jon showing off his Handsome Knobby Knees, and Scott. That's a smoke tree behind Scott. At a distance, especially in the morning, their foliage looks like smoke or fog hugging the ground. One of the reasons the guys agreed to hike the desert was, its been getting really cold around here. Not today. The high temp was going to hit 93 degrees. Fall in the Desert is not predictable, and we were getting a late start.
We had to walk seven-tenths of a mile to get to the trailhead, which is nothing more than the boundary line between the Park and BLM land marked by a fence set up in that tight pass I mentioned. Jon found flowers to photograph.
Jon also found some butterflies to photograph along the way. A keen eye and nice photographic skills.
With a half-mile barbwire fence stretching from the trailhead to the first big butte of the Tierra Blanca Mountains, Rockhouse Canyon turns into a two-mile long, half-mile wide corral, which back in the 1930's through the '50's, the ubiquitous McCain family used for both cattle and sheep.
Scott contended as we stepped through the boundary that he could feel the change. State Park, preppies and Yuppies on one side, cowboys on the other, and in time we would discover, Indians.
We started up the wash headed due west. Jon spotted flowers, quartz, odd shaped rocks, and bones as he hiked along, and rabbits. Jack rabbits were everywhere. Jon got some great pictures.
Shortly after starting the hike, Scott said: "Dave, are those tailings?"
I glassed the rise he was pointing at, and if it was tailings, there was a lot of it, and very, very dark. A void in the rocks above the gravelly chocolate mound could have been a mine, or just the light at an angle. A quick look at the map showed no mines anywhere in the area. However, only a short distance further on, Scott spotted the remnants of a road hacked through a rise that, though it was completely overrun with established cholla, still showed someone had made a serious effort. It pointed loosely in the direction of the possible mine.
The McCains weren't the only ones that searched for riches in this land. At the turn of the 20th century, prospectors like Fred Rynerson, Doc Wilson, Bill Trenchard and Bill Hill crawled over these mountains looking for mineral wealth.
Gold wasn't too common, but 'semi-precious stones', tourmaline, jade, turquoise, even marble were discovered and mined throughout the area, but mostly further east. Tiffany's of New York was buying up claims. The Dowager Empress of China was obsessed with kunzite, a San Diego County exclusive. It all fell apart with the Boxer Rebellion, many a mine and claim abandoned even though the boosters still preached the fortunes to be made. Think of that, far-off Chinese politics having an affect on the fading Wild West.
Off to the north was an occasional Teddy Bear Forest.
Pincushion Cactus growing right out of stone.
The trail is a smooth rise of 800 feet over a 2.75mile distance. The day though, was hot, Scott had a cold, and his knees have been bothering him something awful.
Scott: "I'm getting old," he informed me as we took an extended break against some boulders offering shade, then pointedly added, "And Dave? You're not far behind."
Ultimately we ended up leaving Scott underneath a Desert Willow. Manuel didn't say anything at the time, but this really bothered him. Also interestingly, it being around three in the afternoon, usually the hottest time of the day, it became noticeably cooler.
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