Date: December 25, 2012
Place: The Calcite Mines Trail, Anza Borrego State Park, Borrego Springs, California.
Trailhead coordinates: 33.2811, -116.0964
Length: 3.6 miles
After completing the Cactus Loop trail we stopped for a breakfast picnic at the park's visitor center, and got trail recommendations from the ranger on duty. Following the recommendation, we went to the Calcite Mines, in the north-east region of the park.
The calcite mines trail in the badlands at the north-east region of the park. There is a dirt road that leads all the way up hill to the mines but it is in very bad condition and would be challenging even for a high 4X4. We parked by the trailhead and hiked all the way up.
It is also very beautiful. Badlands - maybe for farmers. But for hikers and wilderness lovers it is a shrine of nature. A place where its raw power is lain naked before the eyes.
The trail starts by crossing the Palm Wash northward. On the roadside there were many sandstone formations such as the one to the right. I can imagine it was formed by eddies of long ago floods but I cannot tell what caused these to be exposed in this manner.
|Palm Wash, the south fork.|
|Palm Wash, the middle fork.|
We saw interesting rock formations all along the trail. Some were very intriguing indeed.
|The two-headed sentinel, a view from below|
I liked this one so much that I photographed it from the trail below and also from the several view points.
|The two-headed sentinel, a view from behind|
I even gave it a name - the two-headed sentinel.
|The two-headed sentinel, a view from above.|
Early on the hike we saw a large rock far up the trail that looked like a huge chunk of pale swiss cheese.
The Calcite Mines trail goes up constantly with no let-up. At some point, quite high up, it crosses the middle fork of Palm Wash. A look upstream revealed some green bushes, hidden inside the wash where they are protected from winds and can rely on extra water during floods.
|The swiss-cheese rock|
I called the chikas and their father and they joined me in appreciation of this geological wonder.
After the attach on Pearl Harbor, calcite was mined in this area to make gun sights. The trail we were walking on was once the road that serviced the mines.
At first we thought that these holes in the rock were man-made: the scars of mining. Thinking about it more, I now believe these are natural. Human mining is considerably more abrasive.
Some carvings, right by the trail, did appear to have been made by chisels. They reminded me of old runes or petroglyphs.
The trail ends at the Calcite Mines sign. A short distance to the south-east rises a reddish butte that provides an excellent view of the entire area. A narrow foot trail leads to the top so naturally, we all ascended it.
The view from up there was spectacular.
To the east - the Salton Sea.
|The badlands of Anza Borrego State Park|
The most common plant up there is the Creosote, or 'stink' bush. I didn't think it smelled that bad. It grows all over the park, but it was in the Calcite Mines area that we first saw its flowers:
Many of the Creosote bushes bore brown ball-shaped galls, induced by the Creosote gall-midge fly.
|Pigmy-cedar bush growing from a crack in the canyon wall.|
|Narrow canyon walls|
Most of the year that would not be a problem. In winter time, however, it is crucially important to heed any warnings of flash floods for the area. It doesn't have to rain directly where you're hiking. Any rainfall within that watershed can create a flash flood, and desert watersheds can be very large.
It is not a common event but it does happen often enough. The flash flood is very sudden and very powerful. For anyone caught withing such a canyon, it is deadly!
This isn't an idle warning copied from some desert hiking instruction book. Growing up in the desert myself I have seen plenty of such floods and had the sad experience of witnessing casualties of such a flood in the wash near my childhood home. Please don't take lightly any warning of flash floods.
Okey. Now that that's been said, I can also tell you that hiking through such a canyon is a lot of fun! It involves a lot of squeezing, climbing, rock scrambling, sliding down rock chutes and such. No theme park can match the unpredictability and uniqueness of Nature's playground. Needless to say, the chikas (as their parents) had a great time!
|Boldly going where flash floods have gone before|
|Desert trumpet (Eriogonum inflatum)|
Being the place where the precious rain water collects, the canyon bed can support more plants than the surrounding area. Quite a few of them were, in fact, blooming at the time.
|Pigmy-cedar (Peucephyllum schottii)|
|I didn't recognize this one|
Inside the canyon we also saw interesting rocks. This boulder fell sometime ago from the canyon wall and split along the layers. It reminded me a bit of a smashed piece of layer cake.
This one looks like someone's hand print. It is called desert varnish and is similar to the red coloring of the observation hill above the calcite mines.
|Desert varnish on a rock|
|The view into the canyon from the top of the exit trail.|
All and all, the entire hike took us about 3.5 hours. We saw interesting geology, wonderful views and many plants.The only wild animals we encountered were ants. No Bighorn sheep there.
|Sunset in Anza Borrego|