Saturday, March 16, 2019

Wild Things Anza-Borrego v1

For a six week period, I had a trailcam set up by the Blue Spring guzzler in Anza-Borrego. It can be reached from Bighorn Canyon about 8 miles south of highway 78. If you want to visit the area, take highway 78 to Pinyon Wash and drive south on the jeep trail about 2 miles. Take the side trail into Nolina Wash about 2 more miles. High clearance vehicle recommended. You can park anywhere along Nolina Wash and hike up Bighorn Wash or cross into Bighorn Wash from Nolina Wash. Because of the large concentration of bighorn sheep and deer bones, I was hoping to capture a cougar and was delighted to get one. I also got a grey fox and my first ever ringtail. Ringtails are strange animals related to raccoons and can survive with little water. I had no idea they lived in such a desolate part of the desert. I was sort of surprised to NOT get a coyote, deer, or bighorn.

Nolina Peak and Blue Spring Guzzler

Hiked: 3/15/2019
Distance: 8.4 miles round trip cross country
Summit Elevation: 3858'
Elevation Gain: 2896'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.3
Round trip time: 5 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 88 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free in Nolina Wash
Difficulty: Moderate

On my first trip in this area, I climbed Bighorn Canyon Peak and visited the Blue Spring Guzzler. I found an amazing collection of bones there. I would have climbed Nolina Peak then, but I placed a trailcam at the guzzler so I postponed Nolina for the trip to pick it up. I drove as far up Nolina wash as I could, about a mile further than where I parked for Bighorn. I hiked to a place that looked reasonable to leave the wash and would get me to a major ridge. The start was steep but bighorn scat convinced me I was on track. I could not tell which bump above was the summit, but once I gained the ridge, it was just a matter of following it higher. The slopes were similar to Bighorn, but the agave got thinner near the top. The small summit boulder was obvious and the register was a glass jar inside a red can. The most recent register was placed by the Monday Maniacs, made from cut strips of a chemistry worksheet or test. I found the same kind of strips on Moonlight Peak. A much older register was inside a small plastic film roll container. It went back to the 1980s. Nolina had superior views looking out over Harper Flat toward the Vallecito Mountains. I took a break on the summit to enjoy the surroundings. The round trip to Nolina without the side trip to Blue Spring would probably be about 5 miles.

Leaving the wash

Looking back from near the top


Sunset Mountain

Harper Flat


On the way down, I tried to angle toward the south end of Bighorn, hoping to reach the wash closer to the intersection with Bighorn Canyon. I dropped down a steeper slope into a side canyon. I thought the side canyon drained into Nolina, but in fact, it drained into another side canyon. I followed the wrong side canyon south a short distance until it was clear that I not in Nolina. I had to backtrack north to find Nolina, then continued on to the Blue Spring guzzler. The storms since my last visit had pushed the bones around, but the full bighorn skull appeared to be gone. The deer carcass was also gone. I had set up my trailcam on some rocks near the guzzler and didn't know it had survived the storms or other hikers. Thankfully, it was there and still in position. When I got home, there were only a few videos on the camera, but I did get a grey fox, my first ever ringtail capture, and a healthy looking cougar. The ringtail was a real surprise. The cougar only visited the guzzler one time in six weeks.

Dropping into a side wash

Pulling cholla needles out of my knee

Pipe feeding the guzzler tanks

One of many painted lady butterflies migrating north

Nolina Peak from the upper wash

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Los Alamos Canyon and Wildhorse Canyon

Hiked: 3/8/2019
Distance: 4.2 miles round trip on use trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1795' (high point in canyon)
Elevation Gain: 850'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.68
Round trip time: 3 hours 45 minutes
Recommended water: 60 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate (terrain)

With an unplanned free day, I decided to check out Wildhorse Canyon in the San Mateo Wilderness. I had scouted a little of it last month. I drove to the Tenaja Falls trailhead, then started down the Tenaja Falls trail. I was looking for a use trail that went up Los Alamos Canyon. I had seen a use trail from the road and suspected it could be found early on the trail. I found it to the right of the first trail sign, directly across from the trail that goes to Fisherman's Camp. The use trail followed the right bank of the canyon a little ways, then crossed over. There are places it goes directly up the stream bed. With water flowing strongly, the crossings were fairly wet. It was only a half mile to mouth of Wildhorse Canyon. A somewhat overgrown use trail is right of the canyon and gets around the water dumping into Los Alamos. I continued up the canyon to the main waterfall and pool. I found what looked like a beaver dam at the main pool. I've read there are beavers in this part of the forest, but I've never seen any signs before. The wall looked far too orderly to have been random drainage. In addition to exploring upstream, I wanted to follow a north side canyon to a rock formation I had seen in satellite views. I decided to go upstream first.

Use trail to Los Alamos directly across from the sign

Los Alamos pool, looked deep enough for jumping

Start of Wildhorse Canyon

Possible beaver dam below main waterfall

Main waterfall

Beyond the main fall, it was relatively easy going with light to moderate bushwhacking outside the stream. Not far up canyon, I found heavy poison oak. I powered through it and planned to wash off with dish soap as soon as I got home. Several crossings were required as I explored higher. None of the obstacles were tough, but it still required attention to navigate the canyon. The next thing I found was tubing from an illegal grow operation. It looked long abandoned. I kept going higher but the scenery did not change much. Lots of water flow and minor obstacles, but nothing major that would prevent further progress. After about 1.5 miles, I decided to head back and check out the north side canyon.


Tubing from a grow operation

Where I turned around

Wildhorse Canyon runs generally north/south, but there are some curves east and west. At the first big eastern bend, the side canyon continues north up a steep gully. After some initial tall grass, it led to a 200' boulder pile. This was some fun boulder scrambling and one of tallest piles I've seen around the Santa Anas (technically Riverside County here). The veneer had worn off some of the boulders exposing clean granite. At the top of the pile, a gully continued toward peak 2588 but was covered in a carpet of poison oak. I started down, making one more stream crossing below the main fall. Once I was out, I crossed Los Alamos creek and took the road back to the car. There were some fresh monster boulders strewn across the road. It could be a couple more years before Los Alamos road is opened again.

Boulder pile in the north side canyon

Looking down canyon from the boulder pile

Rock structure with what looks like a large bird nest

Clean granite

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Millard Falls, Saucer Branch Falls, Dawn Mine

Hiked: 3/1/2019
Distance: 7.1 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3483' (high point in canyon)
Elevation Gain: 3367'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.69
Round trip time: 5 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 88 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

After a deluge of rain, Rod and I went to check out Millard Falls, Saucer Branch Falls, and to drop off a trailcam in bear territory. We started at the parking lot above Millard Campground and took a short connector trail down to the start of the Millard Falls trail. It was overcast, cool, and damp. The Millard Falls trail was only a half mile with the stream gurgling loudly all the way. The main 50' fall was flowing around both sides of the large chockstone. There were only a few people there, including a rock climber who was starting an aid climb up a sport route left of the falls. It looked like he was going without a belay. We took some photos, then returned a few hundred feet along the trail to a use trail on the right that takes you above the falls. I expected some scrambling, but it was class 1. With wet rocks, I didn't get to close to the edge above the falls. We could have continued up the canyon on a decent use trail, but decided to scramble up a class 2 section to reach Sunset Ridge Trail. We followed that to Dawn Mine and took a break there.

Millard Falls

Use trail to get above the falls

Millard Falls from the top

Scramble section to the Sunset Ridge Trail

Dawn Mine machinery

We continued up the trail and into Grand Canyon to place the trailcam. It was a slightly rougher go than usual because of extra water and debris. I wanted to show Rod the bear cub carcass but when we reached the GPS waypoint, there were several broken trees that had fallen directly over it and buried it. We crawled around in the piles of branches, moving stuff out of the way to try to locate it but had no luck. What were the odds that multiple trees would fall directly on the cub? Maybe this was forest karma so it could rest in peace. We returned down the trail, then took a short diversion to Saucer Branch Falls. The use trail leading to it was behind a wooden arrow sign pointing at the main trail. It was the only obvious side canyon above Millard Falls. Saucer Branch was a thin 3-tiered falls only a few hundred feet off trail. We climbed up above the middle tier to get a good photo, but it was a little sketchy and I didn't get the best shot. We returned to the truck after logging more than 50 stream crossings.

Trees that crashed down on the bear cub carcass

Looking down the bottom tier of Saucer Branch Falls

Upper tier of Saucer Branch Falls