Route: Tamarisk Grove Campground → S3 → US-78 → Borrego Springs Rd → S3 → Tamarisk Grove
Weather: 65F with cloudy morning skies and a high of 89F with strong, hot winds by afternoon
Trip Average Gas Mileage: 27.9mpg
- walking through The Slot
- eating french fries for lunch
- resting in the shade in the afternoon
Today's forecast was for another 90F day but we were hoping the wispy cloud cover this morning would help keep the temperature lower. It was already 73F at 8:00 when we were driving east on US-78 towards Butte Pass Road. The Slot trailhead was only 1.8 miles down this dirt road so it didn't take us too long to park and find our way down into the section of the canyon where it narrows through a mud-baked passage. The 1.5 mile trail was shady at this time of the morning and the footing was easy, although we did have to slow down to squeeze through a few very narrow places. This would not be an enjoyable hike for a claustrophobic.
Next we continued east on US-78, then south at Ocotillo Wells to Fish Creek Wash. We wanted to see Split Mountain, a place where a fault line and earthquake activity had literally split the mountain into two pieces 20 million years ago. Since then, floods carrying rock and mud debris have gouged the fault line into a deep gorge. The exposed rock layers hint at the rich geologic history of this area. Fish Creek drains 40,000 acres of watershed into the Salton Sea, 20 miles away.
If Fish Creek Wash Road was good enough we were also going to drive 4 miles to the short Wind Cave hike, but that was not to be. The dirt road was passable only as far as the primitive but beautiful Fish Creek Campsite near the mouth of the gorge. To reach Split Mountain there were several large boulders to drive over. Although one or two SUVs were bumping over them, Hubby did not want to risk a blown tire, so we walked the remaining distance to Split Mountain. I didn't feel like hiking the additional 2 miles to see caves carved out of the sandstone walls by wind (the Wind Caves), especially in the 82F heat at 11:00. I don't think I had fully recovered from yesterday's heat and the heat again today was making me cranky. Both The Slot and Split Mountain were activities recommended by Backpacker magazine readers as good day hikes. Perhaps because we have already seen other similar geology or the uncomfortable temperature or perhaps because of the high-clearance road access to the trailheads, we were underwelmed by the interest value of the sights. We rated the Hellhole Canyon hike as much more interesting.
The drive back to Borrego Springs crossed the 1-mile wide San Felipe Wash -- a section of Borrego Springs Rd called the Texas Dip, a little south of town. Though we had to return to town only for gas, ice and water, I was craving french fries so Hubby patiently waited 20 minutes for me to get a large (and the slowest ever) order at Carlee's. The restaurant had a nice ambience inside – a good place to dawdle over a meal while escaping the noonday sun. Patrons were not being rushed out to make way for the next group even though most of the tables filled up while I was waiting (as patiently as I could manage) for my order. There were lots of motorcyclists in Borrego Springs today. We guessed that this must be a Sunday drive destination for people living in the San Bernadino Valley. I envied their ability to get to the many interesting off-road sights in this area ...but couldn't imagine myself wanting to don full motorcycle gear to ride into the Sonoran Desert on such a blazing hot day.
In the shade at the Visitor Center Hubby helped me eat the huge order of fries with our sandwiches. We took advantage of the modern bathrooms and filled up with drinking water before driving back to the campground. It was astounding that the completely full campground we had left this morning was now almost totally empty at 13:30. This really was a weekend destination for most campers. Tonight only 5 other campsites besides ours were occupied. We also noticed many campers and trucks transporting off-road toys along US-78 and small antique-looking airplanes overhead so perhaps there were several events happening this weekend also.
After changing into crocs, drinking cold water from the cooler and resting my eyes for an hour I was feeling more normal. Hubby and I read and drank more water and snacked. All the while the hot wind sounded like truck traffic on a highway. After refreshing showers, we decided on another no-cook meal: split pea soup for Hubby, miso soup for me (both with extra dried kale), authentic German whole wheat rye bread, honey and lettuce, followed by chocolate, yoghurt and nuts. Surprisingly, the temperature dropped enough by dinner time that a long-sleeved camp shirt felt comfortable. We prepared as much as we could to pack up quickly in the morning and by then could not take any more wind blowing on us. Our custom dust-shields covering the tent screens seemed to be effective, there was no dust on the footprint cover we laid over the bedding.
The crescent moon was waxing this week, setting just a little after sunset. If I could I would do all my hiking in the cool night air. The wind died off and the stars came out. Crickets were chirping. This was my favourite time in the desert!