California - The Desert

8th & 9th March 2011

Hiking to the Oasis, Salton Sea in the background.

On a previous visit to California, we had briefly visited the north end of the Joshua Tree National Park, named for its peculiar shaped residents. Now we found ourselves passing the southern entrance to the park and decided to make camp there for the night. This gave us the opportunity to take the beautiful 8 mile round trip hike to the Lost Palms Oasis out in the desert.

Strangely this southern end of the park didn't have any of the Joshua Trees at all, but this was made up for with plenty of cacti and wildflowers in full spring bloom. We hiked the arid path, scrambling over rocks and boulders, hoping that we had allowed enough time to complete the round trip before it got dark, which in our new Pacific Time Zone, would be around 5.30 pm.

From the trail, we enjoyed amazing views over California's Salton Sea, an inland lake of extremely salt-laden water. The hike was tiring but luckily it wasn't too hot, it seemed we'd picked the perfect time of year for our visit. As time went on we began to worry about being caught out in the dark. Just as we were about to abandon the idea of making it all the way to the oasis, suddenly we came across it, a deep ravine lined with lush green palm trees.

As we wended our weary way back to our campground, we passed several groups of people still heading out towards the oasis. Hopefully they all made it back before dark.

Despite the heat of the day, in typical desert style the night was cold, windy but peaceful with stunning views of the night sky.


Desert in Bloom.

Next morning we drove around the Salton Sea and were surprised by the lush agricultural landscape around the lake, with abundant fields of citrus fruit, peppers and other produce. Our route took us through Mecca, well the Californian version at least. In the past before the lake level had fallen and the waters became polluted, apparently the town was a "Mecca" for watersports. In the town we were perplexed to find our route to the highway blocked by roadworks. A friendly local guided us in their own car around the detour and made sure we found the right road.

The distinctive “bad-eggy” smell of the salty lake took us back to our visit to the Great Salt Lake in Utah. We were headed for the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park where we hoped to camp that night. As we turned west away from the lake and into the desert, the rough condition of the long and empty desert road to Borrego Springs made us have second thoughts. We decided to persevere and luckily the road quickly became much less bumpy. We drove through miles of unbroken desert broken up only by the occasional off-road vehicle driving area or primitive camping areas with their scattered assortments of camping vehicles parked on dirt roads. Later we learned that this type of camping was free of charge in the State Park, hence its popularity. We decided to press on to the park headquarters and took a more developed campsite close to the start of a trail we wanted to hike that afternoon.

On arrival at our campsite, we were greeted by a roadrunner and a distinctive desert bunny. These desert-resident bunnies were equipped with their own "ear-conditioning" system. Their huge ears allowing them to lose heat and keep cool in the baking sun.

Christine at the Oasis

The first half of our walk to Anza-Borrego's oasis was hot, in the baking sun. The trail began with dire warnings about people who had died on the trails having taken inadequate water supplies with them. We were glad when finally we crossed over a small stream and got into the shade of the canyon walls. From this point on the walk became much more pleasant and was lined with abundant blooming wildflowers. Somehow we lost the way and ended up doing some serious rock scrambling until we re-found the trail and finally reached the oasis.

On our return route, we opted for the alternative route which supposedly ran along the opposite side of the stream. Somehow again we went wrong and indulged in another boulder hopping excursion until we eventually gave up and waded back over the stream to our original path. We were alarmed by sudden rustling in the bushes. Out of the undergrowth popped a small group of quail with natty decorative feather head wear.

Our determined efforts to capture photographic evidence of the curious birds were entertaining, if not greatly successful. However we did managed after some time to obtain one passable shot of one of the elusive birds. Seemingly we do not possess the patience of more professional twitchers!

Next morning we found ourselves driving out of the desert on winding, scenic, narrow roads. As we ascended into the mountains we suddenly found ourselves no longer worrying about keeping cool, now we were trying to stay warm. We headed to a lovely lake-side cafe, where piles of snow still lay around from the previous snowfall. Here at this spot we'd arranged to meet Phil's sister Diane and husband Graham for tea and apple pie. The guys arrived on their beautiful BMW touring motorbike, looking imposing in their black biker gear.

Once we'd filled up on pie and ice-cream, they guided us on the scenic route through the mountains. The views were stunning but there was strong evidence of the earlier devastating forest fires which had stripped the mountains bare of trees. Harvey did best to keep up with the speedy bikers but eventually they headed out of sight. We found our way safely to the interstate and were surprised when some time later we were passed by a familiar BMW motorbike. A traffic jam during a fuel stop had given Harvey a chance to overtake the bike! Of course, we quickly lost them again, as we began to encounter the more congested traffic on the approaches to San Diego. We were glad of our GPS which efficiently found the way to Diane and Graham's home, where we would be staying for a few weeks, until our trip home to the UK.

Return to homepage