“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.
Foggy, 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)
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
We 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.
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.
Scouts on top of the Elephant Knees.
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. 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.
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!
The setting moon.
And about 45 minutes later…
The rising sun lights up the mountains, behind which the moon just recently set.
After breakfast we packed up, gathered for some final words and a group photo, and got ready to head back to civilization.
Me and my favorite scout.
A line of scouts trekking out…
Until next time, we bid farewell to the quiet beauty of the desert.
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.