March 15, 2019.
The night was one of the most pleasant we've spent in the tent - no wind to speak of, which meant that all the windows were down and the nearly full moon illuminated the rocky landscape around us until it set along the western horizon around 3:00am. Knowing that this could be a great place to catch sunrise, I'd set my alarm for 6:30am to make sure that I didn't miss it - so when I woke up just a few minutes before it went off, I decided I might as well get myself going. After all, I could see the beginnings of light along the horizon.
It was just a short walk through the boulders to a better vantage point, but that short walk gave me plenty to look at - orange the sunlight, not yet over the horizon, was reflecting off the clouds back onto the rock.
I continued my climb and soon found myself perched on a truck-sized rock as the sky really began to light up - first bright orange, and then as the sun got closer to the horizon, the orange changed to pinks and purples. The whole time, the landscape transforming as well under the colorful display.
Wondering if @mrs.turbodb was enjoying the display back at camp as much as I was, I made my way back, calling with our family whistle as I went. When I got back, she was still snug in bed - I forget if she was reading or not - having enjoyed a bit of the sunrise initially out the east-facing window, and now out of the west, where the sun's rays were striking the hillside behind camp.
As she got herself up and out of bed, we decided that we'd skip breakfast for the time being so that we could get an early start on our day. Even though we'd already saved ourselves 4-5 hours by hiking to the Goat Canyon Trestle the day before, we still had a really full day ahead - the first order of business being an exploration of the Indian Hills area, in search of the infamous Blue Sun Cave.
So as @mrs.turbodb got dressed, I took care of putting away the tent, and then decided that it was a good time to get changed myself - which really just meant new socks and underwear - so that I didn't end up smelling even worse than would normally be expected.
Plus, it would give me a chance to check out the big toe on my right foot. See, on our hike the evening before, there had been a photo I'd wanted to take where there was a small shrub in the way. Big-brains over here decided to kick it out of the way and as you can probably guess, the plant won.
Of course, I'd gotten what I deserved according to @mrs.turbodb (and Karma) so I couldn't be to angry about the whole thing. As bad as it looked, I was still able to walk, and it didn't seem broken. Plus, it would turn out to be the lesser of Big-brain's injuries.
But now I'm getting ahead of myself.
Camp put away, it was just after 7:00am when we got on the trail towards Indian Hills - the sun now illuminating the rocks around us and shining directly in our faces as we drove due east - extra special since the windshield was dirty and the wiper fluid was empty!
Still, it was a fun road with some slow, semi-technical sections and we had a blast for the short 20 minute jaunt to our first destination of the day.
Indian Hills are named - perhaps obviously - for the Native Americans who lived in the area for thousands of years - extensive archaeological excavations in the 1950s dating artifacts back to 4,000 BC! And, while the area is well known, it's secrets - or at least their locations - are less-so.
And that of course is what drew us in - this area is full of secrets, including some colorful pictographs that are the namesake of the Blue Sun Cave.
Knowing that the search could take a while, @mrs.turbodb got started on a pancake breakfast while I started to explore the square-mile-or-so area that we suspected encompassed the cave. And it wasn't long before I made my first discovery: a yoni. From the Hindu word for female genitalia, they are, according to local researchers, "thought to be associated with female fertility". This one was carved into the granite and then stained a darker color to set it off from it's surroundings.
I continued to explore for 20 minutes or so until a bit of the decomposing granite slipped under my shoe and I took a tumble. Being just average height, I didn't fall far - but still, decomposing granite is perhaps the hardest, roughest surface human skin will ever encounter. And when it does, well...
Luckily for me, my adrenaline kicked in right away and my little booboo hurt my ego more than my hand, so as a bit of blood dripped onto the ground, I continue my hunt for pictographs. But only for 10 minutes or so - because I got a family whistle that breakfast was ready!
Besides the luxury of pancakes in the desert, being back at the truck for a moment presented a good opportunity to clean up my hand and get a band-aid, so I did that and looked over my camera which I'd also dropped - luckily nothing seemingly broken, though the body definitely looks a little worse for the wear.
As one does, we ate all the pancakes with a bit of haste and I related what I'd found so far to @mrs.turbodb. A yoni was extremely interesting to her, so as we set out again, we made a quick stop to check it out before dividing to conquer the rest of the area.
We searched for nearly two hours. I was high up in the rocks of the hills, she was low around the perimeter. Everything was extremely cool. But we'd found nothing, and we knew we couldn't search all day - so we decided that we'd continue the search to "just over there," and if we didn't find what we were looking for, we'd add this to our list of reasons to return.
And then, just as we got "over there," we hit the jackpot. We found a room I'd heard about - an enormous, house-size rock that created a room approximately 20' x 20', and 6' tall. Clearly a place that Native Americans had spent a bunch of time cooking - the soot on the ceiling an obvious sign.
Nearby, some morteros - holes ground into the granite with a rock pestle, as grains, plants, and pigments were crushed for day-to-day life.
Re-energized, the Blue Sun Cave continued to elude us. But - sure we were close - we continued to search. And while we ultimately may have searched a bit past "over there," we were eventually rewarded as we spotted the opening to the cave, high up the hill.
As we climbed up and in, we took in the uniqueness of this place. Well-preserved because so few ultimately find it, we were honored to be two of the few that would get to see these the colorful pictographs of the sun, that give the cave it's name
But that wasn't all - there were many more images here - an in all different colors.
We took it all in. We enjoyed every minute. It had been a true Indiana Jones style adventure - one where we'd known what we were looking for, but not where to find it. One of those rare places that the Internet alluded to but never actually divulged the exact location. And in the end, I think that's what makes it so special.
As we made our way back to the truck, we discovered even more caves and morteros, Indian Hills must be full of these hidden gems, waiting for the eager explorer. As we drove away, I knew that even having found what I was looking for today, this was a place I wanted to return for more!
From Indian Hills, our next destination wasn't far away - Mortero Palms. Reached only by hiking up a steep rocky canyon, the palm grove was initially going to be the starting point for our previous day's hike to the Goat Canyon Trestle - an extremely strenuous six-mile bouldering experience that would have taken all day, before we found our alternate route.
But today we were just going to the palm grove. So we parked the truck and once again headed into the hills.
Imagine our surprise when we found a rock bathtub along the trail. With a view to die for, it was too tempting for some of us, who climbed right in! Really too bad that it was empty.
A mile or so of scrambling and bouldering later, we'd gained a thousand feet in elevation and caught our first glimpse of the palm grove.
We'd seen similar groves already - Palm Canyon the day before only the most recent. Still, seeing palm trees in the desert is always wondrous, and we continued up until we reached the main bunch of trees, where we enjoyed the shade as we explored what was once a wet oasis, the water now entirely below the surface.
By now it was getting on 1:00pm and despite our amazing pancake breakfast, both of our stomachs were starting to let us know that lunch would be most appreciated. So we tore ourselves away and started back down the steep canyon towards the truck - the view in the distance a bit...disconcerting.
All around us though was a reminder that as beautiful as everything was, we were hear at a time that was even more beautiful - it was a super bloom, the hillsides covered in wildflowers.
As we neared the truck we realized that lunch out here wouldn't be all that enjoyable. Out in the open and with the sun near its apex, the only shade was our shadows - not ideal for a relaxing lunch.
So, despite our hunger, we made the decision to continue on before eating - our next real destination a short slot canyon hike known as "The Slot." It wasn't nearby but we figured that we'd find a place along the way to pull over and have a bite to eat. Not only that, but the route we'd be taking would retrace some of our favorite steps from our previous trip as we made our way north - through Canyon sin Nombre, Seco del Diablo, Devil's Drop, and Fish Creek Wash.
And, it was in Cayon sin Nombre that we found the perfect place for lunch - complete with our own personal Smoke Tree.
Still with a lot planned for the afternoon, we tried to eat quickly and get back on the trail - our turkey-and-salami sandwiches and potato chips really hitting the spot as we took in the canyon walls around us.
Within half an hour or so, we were back on the road - once again enjoying this amazing drive, the geology some of the most spectacular in the park.
Stopping less and moving faster than we had the last time through, we made great time until we got to the landslide that had blocked the road and created a pool of water that we'd skirted on an off-camber trail before seeing a 4Runner take the "right" line right though the pool.
This time, we were planning to do just that - take the line through the pool - until we pulled up and saw that most of the water was gone...mud in its place.
I got out to evaluate and a few missteps into the mud quickly changed my mind on the line I wanted to take. If wimpy old me could sink that far, just imagine how far the truck might sink. With nothing good to winch off of, and no other rigs in the area, we ultimately decided to try the same route we'd taken previously - now even more off camber from the previous two weeks traffic. This time however, @mrs.turbodb was going to surf the side of the truck to help keep it balanced.
Yeah. That didn't work. I mean, it wasn't @mrs.turbodb's fault at all - she did just fine. However, the drier ground and off-camberness of the track caused the tires to slip sideways downhill almost immediately. To prevent a roll, I was forced to steer into the slide, straight for the mud!
Luckily, we made it. In fact, not only did we make it, but it gave us a chance to test out the new wheel/tire setup - and I dare say that it was a stunning success. Where the entire side and top of the truck - not to mention the tent - would have been completely covered in mud previously, this time there was almost no mud anywhere except in the wheel wells. A smashing success from a situation that could have gone very badly.
As it was, we picked up speed again and not long later found ourselves at the top of Diablo's Drop, the connector between Seco del Diablo and Fish Creek Wash. It was here that - just as I was headed down the drop - a UTVer came running over, "Hey man, can I buy some gas from you?" It seems that he and his buddies had headed out with no fuel reserves at all, and he'd forgotten to fill up his tank before leaving. Now, in the middle of the desert, he was empty.
Of course, I hope that if I ever need gas out on an adventure that someone passing by would give me some, so despite our rush, I backed up the truck and siphoned a gallon or two out of my jerry can into his tank. Hopefully, that's a lot of Karma points for helping out a UTVer.
Then it was on through the remainder of Fish Creek Wash and Split Mountain Road - we paused only twice for photos, having spent quite a bit of time here on our last trip.
It was 4:30pm when we finally reached The Slot. As we pulled into the parking lot, I looked at @mrs.turbodb and said, "I hope we haven't been bamboozled." See, the lot was full - I mean really full - and looking over the edge of the canyon wall suggested that this "slot" might be a little wider than most. Had we fallen for the name of the place, forgetting that it might be dramatically named in order to draw the crowds of people that we regularly tried to avoid?
As we headed down into the canyon, I was sure that bamboozled was exactly the right term for our current situation. The crowds were thick, the "slot canyon" was 50-feet wide, and the sides were probably only 20-feet tall. Luckily, a quarter mile later, I was proven wrong - at least mostly. There were still tons of people, but the canyon narrowed and deepened into a true slot and we got to enjoy the afternoon sun reflecting off the twists and turns.
As most slots seem to be, this one was reasonably short - perhaps two-tenths of a mile or so - and we were soon back at the truck, ready to head to camp. Tonight, that would be in the middle of the badlands we'd seen from Fonts Point - up a wash called Hills of the Moon Wash.
It was a place I'd been looking forward to for a long time - one I'd hoped to do on our first trip, but that we hadn't had time for.
As we set off, there was a bit of smoke in the air. Hopefully it'd clear up overnight.
To get to Hills of the Moon Wash from The Slot, we had to run a short, fun section of Borrego Mountain Wash - most of it being an easy, flat drive. But this section had a 30º hill and a few rocky obstacles to make our way through, and @mrs.turbodb snapped a few photos and spotted us down through a few of the sections.
And then, in front of us, the badlands unfolded. Or did they fold? I don't know.
As we drove up into the muddy hills, we reveled in the colors - so warm and bright under the evening sun. And so clearly our speed from a popularity perspective - because while there were some tire tracks in the wash, there weren't many, and they weren't fresh!
Even just the surface of the badlands mud mountains was enough to get us to stop and take notice.
Eventually, we made our way to the end of the wash. Halfway between Fonts Point and Vista del Mal Pais, I had initially assumed that we'd be able to see one or both of them from our camp. That of course was a bad assumption - the badlands much taller in person than they look from those vantage points - the only thing we'd be seeing from camp, the folds immediately closest to us!
Of course, that was fine by us when they looked like this.
Having found the perfect raised spot, just out of the main wash and far enough up the road that we knew we'd have the place to ourselves that night (turns out, I think anywhere on the wash would have been that way), we set about our evening routines. I setup the tent while @mrs.turbodb cooked up some tasty burgers with cheese.
And then we ate dinner under a sunset where the colors in the sky battled the colors on the ground to see who could come out on top. In the end, I'd say we did!
Tired from a long full day, it was another early night for us. We got cleaned up after dinner and grabbed our Kindles for a few minutes of reading in the tent before our eyelids got heavy and we dozed off - another great day in Anza-Borrego, with another day and a half before we had to finally head home...