Hills of the Moon Wash turned out to be a great place to spend the night - the the air was calm, just a light breeze that kept us cool and comfortable through the night. The surrounding hills also afforded plenty of privacy, and afforded us a bit of relief from the bright moon, once it got below their ridge lines.
Of course, the hills - and lack of any clouds in the sky - also meant that we weren't going to see the horizon at sunrise, instead settling for the orange glow that accompanies the waking of a new day.
A few quick photos and I was back in bed - our agenda for the day a lighter one than the previous day, and hopefully one that would afford us a bit slower pace so we could really enjoy our last full day in the park.
We did some reading and discussed our plans for the morning a bit before getting up for the second time, this time with a bit more light in the sky, the muddy badlands around us just starting to take on their colorful hue.
Today would be the day that we'd once again try - and finally succeed - installing the stargazerless rain fly on our CVT @CascadiaTents Mt. Shasta, hopefully solving our problem of the rain fly never drying out because the plastic windows never absorb heat from the sun once and for all. I got going on that while @mrs.turbodb prepped breakfast - Cheerios and strawberries - for us to enjoy as we watched the sun rise into the sky.
Breakfast done, our plan for the day was to head toward town and a refuel, and then to a few trails in the north of the park. Two of the trails, we'd previously planned - Lower Coyote Canyon and Sheep Canyon. These were trails that others before us had mentioned as "not to miss," so we wanted to make sure we could get out to see what they were all about. Turns out, we added Middle Willows Wash to this trail system as well - which we'll get to in a bit. We also decided that we'd add a couple new trails since we had time for it, and Rockhouse Canyon and Butler Canyon sounded pretty cool in Anza-Borrego Desert Region: Your Complete Guide to the State Park - a book we'd brought along for history and descriptions of the places we visited.
So, a little later than usual, but still early enough that we were in no rush, we headed out of the badlands and back towards civilization.
To get there, we wanted to stay on dirt as much as possible - no point in futzing around on pavement when a reasonable dirt track could get you to the same place, so rather than track out the way we'd come in, we decided to head west on San Felipe Wash, skirting the south end of the badlands and providing us with yet another surreal, green, desert experience.
Along the way, we stumbled upon the San Gregorio monument - placed by the park, this plaque commemorated the Anza expeditions of 1774-1775. Their group, 240 people strong, with 800 head of livestock obtained water from wells they dug by hand in the sandy wash. Even today, this part of the valley contained more vegetation and was greener than it's surroundings - a testament to the water underground.
Glad to have spotted to monument and to have had the chance to take in a bit more history, we headed back to the truck, which we'd parked on the lawn that was strangely so pervasive on our trip to the desert.
A quick look at our track told us that we didn't have long to go on San Felipe Wash before we'd hit a road that I'd been wondering about since I'd started looking at the route we were planning - Borrego Sink.
This was a road that to me looked like it would be essentially a dry lake bed, with no real difficulties whatsoever. However, I'd found several resources that noted - but did not explain why - it as one of the hardest roads in the entire park! From the name, I wondered if there was perhaps some sort of hole or quicksand that in wet weather could make the road impassable - and I hoped that whatever the reason, that we'd have no issue running it.
As we approached, it quickly became clear why this could be a difficult road. Sure enough, it was a dry lake bed, but it was a dry lake bed made of silt and salt. Any rain at all was likely to turn this into a muddy mess, impassable by nearly any vehicle.
The last big rain had been only three days earlier. We drove in.
Cautiously at first, it soon became clear that while the ground was soft, it was going to support the truck as long as we didn't venture off the road, and so we continued on - happy that we didn't have to backtrack out, the shortest re-route being 25 miles or so behind us.
Through Borrego Sink, Borrego Springs wasn't far away, and we used the opportunity to top off the fuel tank before heading out again - up Rockhouse and Butler Canyons - in search of lunch and possibly an elephant tree.
The roads here were reasonably smooth, and once we got past the plethora of camping at the head of Rockhouse Road, we were happy to escape civilization once again - the super-bloom wildflowers and an eventually impassable rocky road, the perfect place to eat lunch.
To give us as much shade as possible, I'd oriented the truck perpendicular to the road and @mrs.turbodb made another delicious round of turkey, salami, cheese sandwiches, which we munched on while admiring the green-and-yellow desert hills around us. We hadn't found the single elephant tree mentioned in the 30-year old book, but that was fine as we headed back the way we'd come and towards a set of trails that I'd been looking forward to the entire trip - Lower Coyote Canyon and some of it's offshoots, especially Sheep Canyon.
These were roads that - I'd heard from multiple sources - were "not to be missed," and so it was with great anticipation that we started out Coyote Canyon. Having seen many varieties of wildflowers throughout the desert over the last couple weeks, we got a good laugh out of the throngs of people immersing themselves in the "super-bloom" of dandelions in an un-planted field along the side of the paved road.
Our amusement soon turned into a bit of apprehension however, as we continued out Coyote Canyon Road - there were tons of people out here and we were crawling along just above walking speed - minivans mixed with Jeeps, and even a Tesla or two trying to brave the road in order to take in the bloom. It was not our cup of tea, though we did stumble across an Expedition RV from our home state, which we thought was cool, if a little over-compensating.
We continued on, hoping that as we got further from pavement the crowds would thin. They did of course, but not in any way that made you feel like you were alone. Dozens of camp spots along the road were already starting to fill up with CRVs, and though it was a beautiful drive, it was clear that this was likely not going to be a place where we would want to spend the night.
Still, we were keen to see what was at the end of Sheep Canyon, and so we pushed on. As it turns out, what's at the end of Sheep Canyon is a campground - and, at least on this day, a full one at that! Disappointed, we made our way through the small loop and noticed a white first gen Tacoma camped in the very last spot - as far from anyone else as possible. "Nice first gen," the owner said as we drove by. "Back at you." replied @mrs.turbodb as we started back down the way we'd come. It was 2:30pm and we were now unsure what we were going to do for our last night in Anza-Borrego. We stopped along the side of the road and started looking at our maps.
As we did, I noticed a guy walking down the road towards us. Unsure why, I got out of the truck as he said hello, and then caught me completely off-guard, "I follow you on TacomaWorld," he said!
As it turns out, it was @Pyrifera and he'd been here for several days already, slowly moving further and further up the road as more and more people started filling up camp sites. Now he was as far away as he could get - hunkered down - waiting for the weekend rush to leave.
We chatted for a while before taking our leave, and decided that we'd give the Middle Willows Road a try - hopefully finding something along it's route that we could call home for the evening.
As seemed to be the situation through the entire desert with all the flowers, it was a nice drive - and clearly one with much less traffic.
Alas, at the end of the road, there was already a Ford F150, it's owner enjoying an afternoon nap, and clearly setup to stay the night. But we'd seen a few spots along the road that looked appealing so we once again turned around and retraced our steps, remarking to each other how we'd been spoiled by the more remote areas of the park.
It was near the Middle Willows fork that we found a nice little spot near an interesting rock outcropping and decided to call it a day.
Still early, we decided against setting up the tent in case there was a bunch of traffic and dust, and instead setup our chairs in the shade to enjoy a bit of reading and relaxation.
Afternoon turned to early evening, and @mrs.turbodb wanted to go explore the area around camp - especially two blooming Agave plants - something we hadn't seen to this point on the trip.
In addition to the Agave, we also scampered around the rock outcropping, hoping to discover some pictographs or other cool treasures. We didn't, but we did get some nice views of the valley and had a great time so there were no complaints from us.
We headed back to camp as the sun started to drop in the sky, the mountains around us offering some shady relief from the beating of the sun. Having not seen much traffic over the course of the afternoon, we figured it was a good time to setup the tent and start making dinner - burgers with cheese and avocado, and chips. It was a tasty combination that we enjoyed in our chairs, looking out over the valley - the lights of camps and camp fires dotting the landscape.
Dinner wrapped up, we got back to enjoying our books and a bit of time with the binoculars and stars - the clear skies and warm temps making for a relaxing last evening in the desert. It wasn't perhaps as we'd anticipated - the sheer number of people catching us by surprise - but we couldn't complain all that much, either.
Eventually we headed to bed, with a plan to get up early the following morning - a long two-day drive ahead of us to get home.
- - - - -
March 17, 2018.
Getting up early turned out to be "getting up at the normal time," since it's always nice to catch sunrise - and we thoroughly enjoyed our last one as we ate breakfast and packed everything away for the trip home.
We were on the trail by 7:00am, making good time at this early hour - traffic non-existent, but all the camping spots along the sides of the road now full. We took the opportunity to stop at the Santa Catarina monument near Lower Willows - something we'd passed on the day before due to the parking lot full of vehicles, and with the sun at our backs, admired the view of the Palm Oasis that is Lower Willows.
We didn't linger long before continuing back - we knew that the traffic would pick up early and we wanted to beat as much of it as possible. It didn't take long to reach what's known as "the third crossing" - essentially, a 2-4"-inch deep water crossing (really just a puddle) that keeps the throngs at bay from the remainder of the trail, when all of a sudden I noticed a familiar figure walking up the road towards us.
Could it be?
I mean, it clearly was...
Yep, there was Pops, his birding scope over his shoulder, out enjoying the morning sun and looking for some life bird. Probably a flockus aroundus, or a shittin onourheadus. Whatever he was looking for, it was smiles all around as I asked him if he was out this way because he knew we'd be here (APRS) or if it was just a coincidence.
Turns out it was the latter - he had no idea we were out this way - which was simply amazing. There was literally about a 2 minute window in his walk where we could have run into each other in the middle of the desert, and we did! Cool how life works sometimes.
We chatted for a few minutes and said some goodbyes, and he headed on up the wash towards Lower Willows as we headed out to the hoards of super-bloomers, stopping for a final photo next to the infamous Jeep-limo which we found a few hundred feet down the road; as expected, unable to make it through the third crossing.
And then, we hit the highway. We had a long way to go - two full days of driving to get home. We'd stop for fuel and food - including perhaps my favorite food of all time at La Morenita in Turlock, CA - and spend the night halfway home.
The trip had been a huge success - double the exploration and double the fun for one round-trip drive. Definitely something I'm going to consider for future trips as well - the cost about the same, but the wear and tear on the truck - and on our bodies - so much less!
Get out there and enjoy!