I signed Mary and I up for a day-trip to Harper Cabin, in the central part of the Anza-Borrego Desert with the Anza-Borrego Foundation. My reasoning for signing up for an organized tour was twofold: First, the hike was being led by Mark Jorgensen, who probably knows the Anza-Borrego Desert better than anybody; second, while we know the southern area of the Anza-Borrego Desert fairly well, we are not very familiar with the central area. We are "down-southers," according to Mark.

The tour was set to leave at 8 a.m. from the Tamarisk Grove campground, so with our neighbors Don and Kathleen in tow, we packed sandwiches, filled water bottles, lathered on sunscreen, and headed east in our trusty Toyota Land Cruiser.

Once we arrived, quick introductions were given, and we jumped back into the Land Cruiser and followed Mark Jorgensen's red Jeep for the short drive to the trail at Pinyon Wash. The drive up Pinyon Wash takes you through some beautiful backcountry of the Anza-Borrego Desert. Numerous agave, their stalks reaching for the sky, and the crimson-tipped ocotillo lined the trail.

The hike began under a cloudless desert sky, with a little bouldering up a small canyon. The narrow canyon eventually opened up into the vast expanse of Harper Flat, where we explored an old Indian camp rich with morteros, metates, and pottery shards. We then continued up the valley into the narrow tributary of Harper Canyon.

The hidden treasures of Harper Canyon are the multilevel dam that was built back in the 1920s and the cabin that was used by the Harper brothers. Like many cattlemen that came before them, Julius and Amby Harper tried to utilize the vegetation of the Anza-Borrego Desert to graze their cattle. They were able to tap into some of the underground springs of the area and went as far as building a dam to control water flow down the narrow canyon. Unfortunately, the dams filled with sand and the Harper brothers eventually had to abandon their cattle venture.

Today, all that remains of the Harper brothers’ endeavors are the sand-filled dam, which forms two massive steps up the canyon; and the cabin, where, according to rangers, one of the Harper brothers spent his honeymoon. There is also a stone structure at the mouth of the canyon, which we guess served as some sort of outpost.

We sat, ate our lunches, and imagined the effort it must have taken to construct such an operation in this remote area of the desert. The solid concrete walls of the dam are close to ten feet tall and have stood the test of time. The cabin itself has not done so well, its support system of agave stalks long gone.

Originally posted on anzaborrego.net

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