From the United States-Mexico border, up through the high desert near Bishop, California is spotted with a number of unique locations that are now protected as public lands. However, as any history buff knows, these public lands were once a variety of wild locales marked by official and unofficial mining claims that were inhabited by scoundrels, mountain men, prospectors, and general never-do-wells. During these times, the men who lived in these areas were in some respects, bigger than life because of the lives they had lived, and the stories of those lives that may or may not have occurred. While John Samuelson of Joshua Tree, Gus Lederer of Corn Springs, and Shorty Borden of Death Valley all had fantastical tales and lives, the desert dweller with the most impressive tales that remain to this day was none other than Pegleg Smith.
From the Salton Sea to the east, and the expanse between near the Mexican border to the south and the Santa Rosa National Monument to the north, Anza-Borrego State Park has a number of interesting geologic features that can be seen with a little effort. Some, like Font’s Point require at times, four wheel drive to visit, but have a great payoff in terms of sunrise and sunset. Others, like the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves require both four wheel drive, and a willingness to explore and adventure. Out of all of these locations, none is more accessible than Clark Dry Lake Bed.
Every desert has its share of strange and quirky spots, where the past lies forgotten, or where the present has interposed itself. The Anza-Borrego Desert is no different, with abandoned mines, old rail history at the Dos Cabezas station and Goat Canyon Trestle, and a plethora of other mysterious items. Near the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves, however, are two spots where the past and the present intersect. First, is the Palm Spring - not to be confused with the town called “Palm Springs” by any stretch of the imagination. The Palm Spring was a seasonal water source that was a stop for the Butterfield Stage Line, and various other nineteenth and twentieth century desert explorers. Today, the small stand of vegetation is the spot of a California Historical Marker, and at times, some water (when I last visited in fall 2017, there was no water to be found).
San Diego County, as a whole, has many stunning spots to watch the sun rise, and sun set. In my personal opinion, many of the best spots to watch the sun set are along the Pacific Ocean (such as Broken Hill at Torrey Pines State Reserve). Out of all of these locations, however, the most distinctive to watch both the sun set and sun rise is unquestionably Font’s Point, in the middle of Anza-Borrego State Park. The spot is named for Pedro Font, who was a Franciscan priest who traveled through the area on the Anza Expedition of 1775, and was the first European to write in detail about the Anza-Borrego Desert. At 1,253 feet of elevation, Font’s Point towers over the whole of the Anza-Borrego Desert, and is visible from a majority of locations in Anza-Borrego State Park.
While the gold rush of the nineteenth century in California was largely confined to the northern portion of the state, prospectors also fanned out to all regions of the state, seeking to strike it rich. In San Diego County, most of the mining exploration occurred in and around the town of Julian, but the largest and most productive mine was located a little bit further south, in what is now Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. In 1870, gold was discovered, and after a great deal of legal difficulties, the Stonewall Mine began operating. Over a fifty year period, the Stonewall Mine became the most productive and profitable mining operation in the county, producing over two million dollars of gold.
With miles of pristine beaches, rolling chaparral covered hills, and a constant semi-arid desert climate, San Diego will never be identified as one of the hot spots for waterfalls or hikes to waterfalls. However, unbeknownst to many people, from December through Memorial Day, San Diego does have a number of great seasonal waterfall hikes that highlight some of the best features of the county’s backcountry. As all of these waterfalls are seasonal, timing is everything, and also somewhat dependent on the weather pattern for the year. During wet winters and springs, these waterfalls will have high flows, and creek crossings; and during drought years, there may only be a trickle and dry stream beds. Similarly, with respect to timing, at the right times, these waterfalls can and will appear spectacular – but at the wrong times, may be a letdown after a hot, dusty trek. Keeping all that in mind, these hikes can also be great gateways to explore other regions of San Diego County, and again, at the right times, great spots to view spring wildflowers. I’ve listed the below hikes in order of difficulty, and let me know your thoughts about them, or any additions you have to the list below!
One of the most stunning beaches in all of California can be found with a little effort, provided one is located near or around the Northern California Coast. Agate Beach is located within Patrick’s Point State Park, which is also one of the jewels of the California State park system; and is a park with some interesting Native American heritage, and great diverse short hikes. While all of the hikes in Patrick’s Point State Park can be combined to form a larger series of loops, they can also all be done separately as well. While the hike to Agate Beach is very short in terms of distance, it provides a great introduction to the park’s varied types of terrain, and also provides visitors with great views and abundant chances to explore.