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Hellhole Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego desert view through boulders
Anza-Borrego desert view through boulders

Pummeled by roaring, tent-folding winds most of the night, I awoke to the softest of morning gusts coming out of the canyon. Swaying in my hammock, I sipped freshly brewed licorice root tea surrounded by rabbits, lizards, quail and scores of hummingbirds attracted to the autumn blooms. It was my birthday and I was off to see Maidenhair Falls down Hellhole Canyon.

I passed people who had been sitting for hours in the early AM staring through binoculars, searching the crumbled mountainside for sight of the borrego. Of the 280 left in the country, about 200 of them reside in the park.

I figured if it was meant to be that I set eyes on one of the elusive Bighorn sheep that are known to frequent the park’s canyons, I’d see them as I trudged over, under and around the massive boulders strewn throughout the gap.

I thought the same thing about mountain lions or coyotes. Although mountain lions can be a hiking hazard, heatstroke and thirst are the number-one killers. Signs everywhere along the trails remind hikers that more deaths occur from lack of water than from lions.

Strapped with a gallon of water, I hiked on into the canyon in the wee hours before the sun was at its height. I’d come out to the desert to experience solitude as it was meant to be, and I wasn’t going to let thirst or wildlife prevent me from doing just that.

Besides the six developed campgrounds, some with $5 bike-in sites for cycling enthusiasts (not all of which are open, despite the park's website information, due to budget cuts), the Anza-Borrego has eight free primitive camping areas – one in a palm-lined oasis – stretched across its 600,000 acres and twelve wilderness areas.

Given the incredible winds I experienced tent-camping at Palm Canyon, I'll make sure to aim for one of the sandstone shelters next time; panoramic views are included in the $25-a-night fee.

Self-contained RVs and vans with higher clearance than my Celica made good use of the park’s off-road primitive camping policy, as visitors are allowed to camp for free anywhere in the park 100 feet away from a water source – which is almost everywhere, obviously, in a desert. Many a camper could be seen pulled off one of the 500 miles of roadway.

Although the summertime temperatures can exceed 120, the weather while I was there in early November was in the mid 70s, with a cool breeze, blue skies and not a cloud in sight. I thought I could easily spend the winter months here happily enjoying the solitude, scenery and perfect weather, as it appeared many others were doing.

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Anza-Borrego desert view through boulders
Anza-Borrego desert view through boulders

Pummeled by roaring, tent-folding winds most of the night, I awoke to the softest of morning gusts coming out of the canyon. Swaying in my hammock, I sipped freshly brewed licorice root tea surrounded by rabbits, lizards, quail and scores of hummingbirds attracted to the autumn blooms. It was my birthday and I was off to see Maidenhair Falls down Hellhole Canyon.

I passed people who had been sitting for hours in the early AM staring through binoculars, searching the crumbled mountainside for sight of the borrego. Of the 280 left in the country, about 200 of them reside in the park.

I figured if it was meant to be that I set eyes on one of the elusive Bighorn sheep that are known to frequent the park’s canyons, I’d see them as I trudged over, under and around the massive boulders strewn throughout the gap.

I thought the same thing about mountain lions or coyotes. Although mountain lions can be a hiking hazard, heatstroke and thirst are the number-one killers. Signs everywhere along the trails remind hikers that more deaths occur from lack of water than from lions.

Strapped with a gallon of water, I hiked on into the canyon in the wee hours before the sun was at its height. I’d come out to the desert to experience solitude as it was meant to be, and I wasn’t going to let thirst or wildlife prevent me from doing just that.

Besides the six developed campgrounds, some with $5 bike-in sites for cycling enthusiasts (not all of which are open, despite the park's website information, due to budget cuts), the Anza-Borrego has eight free primitive camping areas – one in a palm-lined oasis – stretched across its 600,000 acres and twelve wilderness areas.

Given the incredible winds I experienced tent-camping at Palm Canyon, I'll make sure to aim for one of the sandstone shelters next time; panoramic views are included in the $25-a-night fee.

Self-contained RVs and vans with higher clearance than my Celica made good use of the park’s off-road primitive camping policy, as visitors are allowed to camp for free anywhere in the park 100 feet away from a water source – which is almost everywhere, obviously, in a desert. Many a camper could be seen pulled off one of the 500 miles of roadway.

Although the summertime temperatures can exceed 120, the weather while I was there in early November was in the mid 70s, with a cool breeze, blue skies and not a cloud in sight. I thought I could easily spend the winter months here happily enjoying the solitude, scenery and perfect weather, as it appeared many others were doing.

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Comments
2

Links, maps, por favor?

May 28, 2011

The Park's website has a few maps posted although others can be found at the visitor's center: http://www.parks.ca.gov/mediagallery/?page_id=638&viewtype=7

Gorp published a hiker's guide to the Anza Borrego that includes a variety of maps: http://www.gorp.com/parks-guide/travel-ta-anza-borrego-desert-state-park-hiking-canyoneering-san-diego-sidwcmdev_056892.html

John McKinney's Day Hiker's Guide to California State Parks or Southern California: A Day Hiker's Guide may also be of interest: http://www.thetrailmaster.com/?page_id=238

May 28, 2011

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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