Tag Archives: Wind Caves

I Walked on an Ancient Sea Bed, and Didn’t Even Get My Feet Wet

At one point on our hike, we climbed up a cliff that was once the bed of an ancient sea.  The ground was littered with invertebrate fossils.

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 17 scouts and 10 adults looking fresh.  Not for long.

Our group of scouts and adults looking fresh. Not for long.

A line of hikers heading into the desert.

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.  Some desert plant life, which survives with almost no rainfall.

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.

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 down!  Oysters anyone?

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?

Rest stop

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.

Ancient sea bed

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.

The view from the top.

Desert view.  Washes are below us, more ridges above.

I know it seems like we keep having to climb up ridge after ridge, but we are intrepid scouts!  This really was the last one though.  You can see my Sam up there waving at me.

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.

When we arrived at the Wind Caves we hunted around for a nice spot.  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.

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.

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.  Nolan works on his shadow puppetry.

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.  It made for a hazy, dusty, blustery hike out.  It made us appreciate the crystal clear weather we had on the hike in.

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.

hh

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...

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…

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Filed under Boy Scout Troop 985 Adventures, Travel

A Desert Sunset, Moonrise, Moonset and Sunrise

"Then, when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared..."   (Homer, The Odyssey)

“Then, when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared…” (Homer, The Odyssey)

Fall is here, and that means camping season with my son’s Boy Scout troop has begun.  For our first outing the troop headed east, to the Wind Caves in Anza Borrego State Park, about 100 miles east of San Diego.  We were due to set out early Saturday morning and stay overnight.  Wednesday and Thursday were absolutely gorgeous in San Diego, sunny and warm, perfect weather.  Then on Friday the clouds rolled in.  And I’m thinking, of course, it’s going to rain.  Because we are going camping.

Saturday arrived, cold and overcast.  We hopped in the cars and headed east.  This is the view from my friend Tony’s windshield, as we were making our way over the Laguna Mountains.

Rain.windsheildFoggy, rainy, and an outside temperature in the 40’s.  I was having a flashback to a desert camping trip the troop did last year.  The view out the windshield on our way out then was not rain, but snow (see post http://samscout.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/desert-camp-out-a-rainy-windy-rocky-adventure/).  If you look very carefully in the last panel above, through the raindrops, you can see a bit of clear sky.  And if you can believe it, in about 20 minutes we were out of the rain and fog, with blue skies and sunshine overhead as we hit the desert floor.

In tiny Octillo Wells, just across from the airport, we turned right down Split Mountain Road.  The road lived up to its name.  It quickly turned into a dirt road, that wound its way up Fish Creek Wash, in between two opposing cliffs of sedimentary rock.  On one side is Fish Creek Mountain and the other Vallecito Mountain. (For all photos in this post, double click on them for a larger view)

Split mountain.labeled

The geology was really interesting, with bulging, lifted layers of sedimentary rock pointing in all different directions.  There were huge boulders sandwiched into the layers at random places, some of which we drove directly under.  Hope you aren’t in the car underneath one of those boulders when it finally erodes its way out of the rock wall.

Bulging rock

We worked our way into the park, our destination the trail head for the Wind Caves.  The hike up to the wind caves is less than a mile, with an elevation gain of a few hundred feet.  We shouldered our packs, as we planned to spend the night sleeping in the caves, and headed up the trail.

Up trail

When we arrived at the Wind Caves it was a free for all, as everyone scrambled to find a cave.  Sam and Matthew, our two scouts, snagged this beauty for me and Tony.  Thanks boys!

The gang

The caves, tunnels, and alcoves have been eroded out a sandstone formation by the wind.  The scouts had endless fun scrambling around the caves, poking their heads out of holes, and even playing a moonlit game of hide and seek later that night.

Wind caves

The view out over the Anza Borrego desert was incredible.  Mountains in the distance, and in front of those the Carrizo Badlands, washes, and a formation called the Elephant Knees.  Here are a few panoramic pictures of the view looking out from the caves.  Matthew is posing in the bottom photo, looking like he is part of an ad campaign for the Boy Scouts.

Pano.caves.view.labeled

Pano.Matt.knees

Now for some geology!  Those flat hills in front of Matthew are called the Elephant Knees.  They, and the badlands and mudhills that we will hike out into later are the remains of a tropical sea that existed here from six million to under a half million years ago during the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs.  The park has many fossils that illustrate the quite different habitat and life forms that used to live in what is now a desert.  The fossil record from the park includes many marine invertebrates (clams, oysters, sand dollars, sea urchins and corals) vertebrates (sharks, rays, bony fish, and baleen whales) as well as terrestrial vertebrates like mammoths.  The marine environments that were fossilized are part of the ‘Imperial Formation’, and are made up of shelves, reefs, beaches, and lagoons.  As the seas became more shallow over time, estuarine and brackish environments prevailed, and the Elephant Knees formation is made up of thick deposits of oysters and pecten shells from this ancient environment (thank you Wikipedia).

After lunch we headed out on what would turn out to be a 7 mile day hike out to Elephant Knees and back.  Andrew, Ted, and a few of the older scouts wanted to take the trail straight up the face.  Mr. H., our scoutmaster, opted to go around the back instead.  Have a mentioned how much I like our Scoutmaster?

Knees.trail

Day hikeWe made our way to the backside of the Elephant Knees and then up, up, up, past barrel cacti and creosote bushes.  The rock was pretty easy to walk on, it was grippy and sharp and all glued together.  The view from the top behind the Elephant Knees into the badlands was spectacular.  The Y-shaped wash you can see is on the map at the beginning of this post.

Pano.knees.back.combo

We hung out at the top for a bit.  We drank water, had some snacks (Ted brought Oreos!), the boys threw about a million rocks over the edge, and Mr. H. got out his binoculars.  We posed the boys for a photo near, but not too near, the edge.

The upper left panel shows the view back towards our camp at the Wind Caves.

The upper left panel shows the view back towards our camp at the Wind Caves.

Scouts on top of the Elephant Knees.

Scouts on top of the Elephant Knees.

Heading back

We got back to camp at around 4:30, and we set Matthew and Sam to cooking dinner, as they were working on finishing one of their rank requirements for 2nd Class.  They wanted to run off and play, but Tony and I insisted they cook while we still had daylight, which I hope is a camping lesson they remember.  Everything is easier when the sun is up!

As promised in the title to this post, a desert sunset.  It went down behind a bank of far away clouds.  Venus was amazingly bright, as the last light from the sun faded.

As promised in the title to this post, a desert sunset. The sun went down behind a bank of far away clouds. Venus was amazingly bright, as the last light from the sun faded.

After sunset, dinner, and the moonrise over the hills behind us, Mr. H. gathered the boys on top of one of the sandstone formations for a dramatic reading of Flash Gordon.  He found scripts from two old radio episodes on the internet, and we were all regaled by the adventures of Flash, the delectable Dale Arden, the evil Ming the Merciless, Flash’s friend Prince Thun the Lion Man of Mongo, and a host of other characters.

Listening to the adventures of Flash Gordon, under the desert moon.

Listening to the adventures of Flash Gordon, under the desert moon.

After Flash Gordon, the group scattered.  Some scouts started up a game of hide and seek under the light of the full moon.  It was amazingly bright, but running around, especially after hiking for 4 hours, was not on my itinerary.  The adults sat for awhile star gazing and chatting, then gradually headed off to bed.  I don’t sleep terribly well when I am camping, so I got to see sunset, moonrise, moonset (took the picture below from the snuggly comfort of my sleeping bag), and sunrise.  That has never happened to me before!

Moonset

The setting moon.

And about 45 minutes later…

Pano.sunrise

The rising sun lights up the mountains, behind which the moon just recently set.

Matt and Sam.sunrise

Breakfast

After breakfast we packed up, gathered for some final words and a group photo, and got ready to head back to civilization.

Group shot

Mom+Sam

Me and my favorite scout.

A line of scouts trekking out…

Trekking out

Until next time, we bid farewell to the quiet beauty of the desert.

Post Script

Mr. H. took this video as we drove into the desert.  It gives an idea of the wild scenery we enjoyed all weekend.

Also, Mr. H. took his GPS info and created this map and graph of our hike.

WindCaves-ElephantKnees hike

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Filed under Boy Scout Troop 985 Adventures, Family, Travel