Borrego Palm Canyon
December 13, 2002
Two months in the making, this trip was planned out well in advance so we could see as much as possible of the beautiful Anza Borrego Desert. I decided on Friday the Thirteenth knowing it would be less crowded an picked a cooler month so we wouldn't bake in the Sonoran desert. We met at Siggy's Restaraunt in Temecula and after a rousing breakfast of biscuits & gravy we headed off eastward toward Anza Borrego.
Our first stop was at a scenic overlook halfway down the winding grade. We identified several landmarks from the highway such as Whale Peak, Indianhead, Rabbit and Toro Peaks before finishing the twisty drive to the bottom of the grade. We arrived at the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground and paid our $2.00 to the cute blonde attendant at the gate. Within minutes we were strapping on our fanny packs and filling our water bottles for our trip up into Palm Canyon and the Oasis that awaits.
We headed up into the canyon and stopped by the wooden post holding the leaflets explaining sites along the way. I had brought a Wildflower Plant Guide last time here and tucked it into my pack. I pointed up canyon and told Dave G. that's were we were headed. After stopping by the numbered post and confiring with the pamphlets we identified an Ocotillo Plant. Dave S. took a closer inspection of the ocotillo and felt the sharp spines.
I told them to pinch a small portion of the lavander bush and rub it between their fingers and smell. They reluctantly did and were treated to a wonderful smell of the spice.
Just past this point I remembered the plant guide in my fanny bag and told them to see if they could indentify any other trailside plants. We picked a common bush off to the right of the trail and compaired it to the photos in the guidebook. Dave G. identified it as "Justicia Californica" or "Chuparosa" because of it's red tubelike flowers and gray-green foliage. I jokingly called it the Chupacabra bush and we continued up the trail.
We past the wooden posts and looked up the numbered references to out leaflet and stopped briefly at "The Hills Have Eyes" looking for camouflaged Desert Bighorn Sheep. Dave S. said he wished he'd have brought his binoculars. Dave G. said it reminded him of the San Diego Wild Animal Park where the sheep are hidden among the rock off to the left of the tram. We looked for a few minutes and were disappointed not to have seen the elusive sheep.
I led the pack up and around the trail until I caught a glimpse of our first hikers of the trail. Up ahead I saw about four hikers sitting and standing among the rocks when something caught my eye, "White Rumps". There just off to the right of the trail was a herd of sheep. I turned around and put my index finger to my lips and went "Schoosh" to the guys coming up from behind, "There's a bunch of sheep", I said and we quietly crept up on the herd. I don't think the other hikers appreciated us closing in our their discovers but the sheep didn't seem to mind.
Here we were treated to an experience of a lifetime as we watched a herd of about 15 Desert Bighorn Sheep feed on the nearby brush. One dominant male dined on a juicy barrel cactus while lesser males stood nearby. According to the other hikers we had just missed him smashing the top of the barrel cactus open with his powerful horns. He rammed his head down on top the spiny plant repeatidly until it broke open. I slowly stalked up on him as he jerked his head up between bites to keep an eye on me. All of the following photos were taken with an old Canon AE-1 with a 50mm lens. A zoom lens was not used for these photos. The Palm Canyon Trail can be seen in between us and them. At one point I crossed over to their side.
Whenever a lesser male would try to get a bite of the cactus the old dominant male would swing his head around and knock the other male out of the way. The female sheep and younger members of the herd stayed just up ahead of us on the trail munching on brush. I had Dave G snap a photo with me in the foreground. Up canyon we heard what sounded like a rifle shot,"Crack" it reverberated off the canyon walls. It was the sounds of two males butting heads.
I had gotten to within about 25 feet of him feeding and at one point the old male looked me dead in the eye and stared at me. I had this instant thought of being rammed in the gut by this guy so I looked away and backed off the rock. Some of the rams had tracking collars on them and the red color looked festive and appropriate for the Christmas season.
Dave G. and Dave S. were enjoying the show as the other hikers decided to discontinue their hike to the oasis and leave the canyon to the sheep. We had anticipated this hike for awhile so we took a few more looks and then slowly headed up the trail. The sheep didn't seem to mind and they just stepped off the trail and let us pass.
We passed the sheep and headed toward the oasis.. Off in the distance we could see the oasis's palm trees and could hear the water flowing down the canyon. We stopped and peaked over the edge of the trail. Dave G and Dave S. climbed down into the wash and saw where the water suddenly stopped flowing and disappeared into the sand. It was an unusual site seeing the water just vanish.
We passed the gauging station and I climbed on top of a large boulder to check out the waterfall. Last visit the water was not flowing, this time it was a steady stream into a shallow pool below. It is about 25 feet from the pool to the overhanging rock so this photo looks deceiving.Upon arrival at the first oasis we split up and scouted around the water. I went up ahead and found a route under some boulders and worked my way up canyon. I reached the second oasis and admired the view from the barriers
The oasis was cooling and we spent some time climbing around it reading the interpretive displays. We didn't stay long as we had a full day of hiking to do. We posed for a few pictures and headed back toward the alternate trail turnoff.
When we reached the turnoff for the alternate trail we decided to go back via the main trail in hopes of seeing the bighorn sheep again. We hurried back down the canyon and soon heard a clambering above us to our left. We looked up and spotted a big male bighorn working his way down a trecherous slope to a pair of sheep in the canyon bottom. Their camoflague was so accurate we would lose them if we were to look away briefly. Only the sound of their hooves sending rocks cascading down the slope gave away their location. One smaller male sheep seemed especially friendly and headed toward us. He easily hopped onto a nearby rock after making a flanking maneuver to our left.
We left the friendly sheep and continued back down the canyon and pased the rest of the herd still foraging beside and sometimes on the trail.
Working our way carefully, I approached within a few feet of the remaining sheep. The larger males began to move off down into the wash while I snapped a photo.
On the way back we came upon a group of older adults, one with a pair of binoculars looking intensely toward the rocks near the "Hills have Eyes" trail marker. I said, "See any Sheep !". I stood beside him monentarily looking toward the hills. "Nope", he said. I told him that just up ahead is a whole herd right on the trail "close enough to pet em " I don't think he believed me.
We reached the trailhead quickly and headed off to the visitor's center. Here we had lunch and bought some souveniers before heading off for our next adventure to Anza Borrego's Slot Canyon.