It was the view from Diablo Peak’s north saddle that Anza-Borrego Desert State Park rangers first discovered Fish Creek’s popular Sandstone Canyon in the 1950s. The view of Sandstone Canyon continues to impress those who look down upon this twisting canyon that eventually melts into Fish Creek.
The saddle and ridgeline, which is the goal of this hike, is at the headwaters of the Sandstone Canyon/Fish Creek drainage system and the June Wash/Vallecito drainage system. It is the divide between the San Felipe watershed of the northern Anza-Borrego region and the Carrizo watershed of the southern region. It confounds logic to have such a divide on the south side of the mile-high barrier of the Vallecito Mountains. The explanation is that Fish Creek cuts through the Vallecito Mountains at Split Mountain to join the San Felipe Wash system to the north. Fish Creek, as an antecedent or pre-existing stream, has been able to maintain its course by downward erosion faster than tectonic forces are uplifting the Vallecitos.
Begin the hike from June Wash, 2 miles from the road entrance. Head northwest a half mile, following a wash that passes through two low ridges. This is actually June Wash. The road from your parked vehicle continues up the north fork of June Wash, which is misidentified as June Wash on some maps or called “false” June Wash.
June Wash turns north after passing the two low ridges and immediately comes to a split. Stay to the left (west) and continue up-canyon 1.5 miles to where there is another split. Again, stay left (west). In less than a half mile from the second split, the canyon will open up with main June Wash continuing on to the north.
Turn right (east), which is due west of survey point “Diablo.” If you are using a topo map, this survey point is on the north boundary of Section 3 on the 7.5-minute Agua Caliente topo map. It is the high peak that you will need to round to reach the viewpoint. Head northeast about 0.4 mile and climb the saddle (elevation 2075 feet) between Diablo Benchmark/Peak and the ridge to the north to get the view down into Sandstone Canyon.
From the viewpoint at the saddle, it is a very steep climb/scramble, slightly more than 300 feet in less than a half mile, to the top of Diablo Benchmark (elevation 2440 feet). The effort is well worth it for the great view of the surrounding watersheds. Diablo is actually a triple divide peak with water entering three watersheds from the peak: Fish Creek, Vallecito/Carrizo, and Arroyo/Tapiado/Arroyo Seco del Diablo, to the southeast. If you climb to the top of Diablo Benchmark, you will add another mile to the trip. After enjoying the view, retrace your steps back to your vehicle.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 114 miles. Allow 2 hours (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park). From SR-163N, take I-8E, exiting on the Imperial Hwy at Ocotillo, after 88 miles. Turn north on SR-2 (Imperial Hwy) and drive 23.4 miles to the turnoff on the right for June Wash (signed), about one-half mile beyond highway mile-marker 42. Drive 2 miles up June Wash and park. This dirt road has some soft sand. If concerned about the sand, park at the entrance to June Wash and walk up the wash 2 miles. No facilities. Hiking length: 6.25 or 10.25 miles out-and-back, depending on where the vehicle is parked. If you climb to the top of Diablo Peak, it will add another mile to the trip; 5–8 hours, depending on start point and whether or not you climb Diablo Peak. Difficulty: Moderately strenuous to strenuous. Elevation gain/loss 825–1190 feet. Carry extra water.