At one point the ground was littered with fossils, lying on the bed of an ancient sea.
Fall has returned to San Diego, and that means the season for desert camping in the Anza Borrego Desert has also returned. On our latest adventure with Sam’s Boy Scout troop, 27 boys and parents set off on an overnight backpacking excursion to the Domelands in the Coyote Mountains Wilderness. The hike in was 5 miles (we went the long way and had a lovely walk through desert washes and along ridge lines), while the hike out was a leisurely 3 mile trek.
Our destination was the New Wind Caves, which are ancient fossilized sand dunes that rise up from the desert floor. Wind and water have carved out caves of all sizes, some large enough to sleep a dozen scouts! Our troop calls this trip the New Wind Caves, to distinguish it from the Wind Caves, another area we camp at nearby (see my post A Desert Sunset, Moonrise, Moonset, and Sunrise).
Besides being a beautiful desert and badland landscape, this area is renowned for the many fossils that can be seen, literally littering the ground. About 5 million years ago what is now desert was covered by the warm, tropical Imperial Sea, which was full of abundant and diverse marine life. By about 1 million years ago, after the sea disappeared, the land was dotted with lake, grassland, and stream environments.
The Domelands are an amazing place to observe the remnants of this life, though collecting is prohibited. Some of the fossils we saw were cemented into fossilized reefs, while others, such as sand dollars the size of your palm and other invertebrates like oysters, scallops, clams, snails, mussels, and sea biscuits, were scattered loose on the ground or embedded in sandstone. A photo gallery of our trip is below, full of inspiring views, astounding fossils, tenacious plant life, and adorable Boy Scouts. And some crusty parents too! Click on the photos to get a better view.
Our group of scouts and adults looking fresh. Not for long.
A line of hikers heading into the desert. Our packs are full of delicious snacks and refreshing water, while our eyes are full of panoramic views of the surrounding desert.
We continue our trek. Plant life in the desert, which can survive with almost no rainfall, has my undying respect and admiration.
Down in the washes and canyons we began to find our first evidence of fossils. On the top is a fossilized reef, while boys hold fossil clams and oysters they found on the ground.
After heading down washes for awhile, our fearless leaders decided we needed head up, so we did. We scurried up a loose hillside, the kind where it is a good idea to keep going forward so you don’t start slipping back down! There was a nice breeze and great view at the top. Oysters anyone?
After several hours of hiking we found a nice little rest stop, complete with fossils (of course!), caves, and even some patches of shade. We rested, ate, and explored while Mr. W. and Mr. M. ran ahead to get a feeling for how much further the caves were.
Time to move out! As we hiked out of the canyon where we had rested, up another ridge, we were captivated by the number and diversity of fossils right under our feet. We were climbing up an ancient sea bed. When I mentioned how cool this was, Evan replied that he wished he was an ancient fish so he could swim up the sea bed to the top of the ridge.
Desert view. Washes are below us, more ridges above.
I know it seems like we kept climbing up ridge after ridge, but we are intrepid scouters! This really was the last one though. You can see my Sam up there waving at me.
After we arrived at the Wind Caves, everyone hunted around for a nice spot to settle in. Sam and I found one that was shaped like a bathtub, and was pretty sheltered from the wind. Fossils are lined up on a shelf in another cave.
Home sweet home, for a night.
Night falls fast and hard in the desert in November. We had a few hours to relax and explore, before we got out the Jetboils to make our delicious ramen. After dinner Nolan worked on his shadow puppetry. Sam and I snuggled down into our cave at about 7:30! Good thing I brought a book.
We were up with the sun, and the wind that started to blow pretty hard the night before was still at it. We had a quick breakfast, packed up, did a head count (we are supposed to come back with as many scouts as we start out with), shouldered our packs, and hit the trail.
The windy conditions made for a hazy, dusty, blustery hike out. It made us appreciate all the more the crystal clear weather and gorgeous views we had on the hike in.
Sam and Mo, Mo and Sam. We had a splendid adventure with our scouting friends, and are eagerly awaiting our next trip to the desert in December. Until then, the pictures and memories will have to carry us through…