Day 2 (February 9, 2019 – Julian, California): “Misdirections”
It was about 6:20am when we awoke. Outside, it was foggy, which wasn’t surprising considering that they were expecting rain or snow to come in at around 8 or 9 in the morning.
But from looking out the rear of the property, it looked like there was a dusting of snow higher up on the hillside behind us (possibly up where the Butterfield Bed and Breakfast was). So that kind of upped the sense of urgency to get down to Anza Borrego State Park where it wasn’t expected to rain as it sat in the rain shadow of the mountains we were in.
So as much as we wanted to sleep in a bit more and remain cozy against the cold temperatures, we had to get up and get moving.
It wouldn’t be until about 7:55am when we finally started to leave Julian. We had leftover soup from last night for breakfast.
As I was waiting for us to leave, I took a peek at the weather forecast for tomorrow, and it appeared to have gotten worse from the expected 12pm arrival of the next storm to now 10am! With our first experience in Julian where we were caught in a snow storm, we certainly didn’t want a repeat of that experience!
There were already a handful of cars making their way east into the desert. We pretty much followed this caravan of cars through the now-familiar curvy roads of Hwy 78. But eventually as we entered the basin, the cars in front of us had dispersed and pretty soon we were back at the Yaqui Pass Road en route to Borrego Springs.
Eventually, we got to the familiar Christmas Circle roundabout. This time, we took the west exit onto Palm Canyon Drive, which passed through what appeared to be the main drag of Borrego Springs. We saw along this stretch several lodging accommodations as well as some restaurants and gift shops. So that kind of opened our minds even more to the possibility of staying in town the next time we visit Anza Borrego State Park.
Anyways, we continued towards the west end where we then turned right towards the campground. Even though the signs said there was a visitor center going straight instead of turning right, we were targeting the Borrego Palm Canyon Falls as our first excursion for the day considering it was said to be the most popular hike in the reserve.
So after paying the $10 vehicle fee at the campground entrance, we ultimately parked the car right across from the well-signed trailhead at about 8:45am. We were only one of a handful of cars parked in the day-use area. With our relatively early arrival, we could see that the clouds that had produced or threatened rain or snow in Julian had started to subside down here in the desert.
After spending some 15 minutes to get geared up, we grabbed a hiking brochure and then proceeded onto the main trail.
It was strange to see that most of the signage here mentioned the California Fan Palm Oasis that was perhaps the main highlight of this trail, but it seemed like there was no mention of a waterfall here. It made me wonder if this waterfalls were merely incidental attractions to the fan palm oasis or if there was something else going on that prevented people from checking out the waterfalls here.
Still, we brought our trusty Ann Marie Brown book (or at least a photograph of the relevant pages for this hike), then we proceeded to head slightly uphill on the wide open (flanked by desert brush) trail at 9am.
Indeed, the start of the hike was fairly straightforward. It didn’t take long before we started to the hear the rush of the creek that I was likely to be responsible for the anticipated waterfall sightings here.
The trail was seemingly mostly flat or slightly uphill. Although the trail was a wide open alluvial fan at the start, it didn’t take long before the canyon started closing in.
After the first stream crossing, we pretty much hugged the base of the northern cliffs where we noticed some ocotillo cactus (the strange trees that Julie noticed yesterday at Galleta Meadows) as well as some large boulders.
We also noticed some fallen fan palms now acting as trail barricades or trail guides. Apparently, they were washed down from a large flash flood.
By the time we got across a second stream crossing, we were greeted with quite a few revegetation area closed signs that appeared to discourage upstream hiking to what I’d imagine was access to the base of a waterfall.
On the other side of the crossing, there was a trail junction with the so-called alternate trail. Julie pushed on along the main trail towards the fan palm oasis. Meanwhile, I was busy taking pictures while also reading signage about what happened here. The time was now 9:40am.
That was when a park worker was chatting with me about Anza Borrego seeing that I was showing an interest here. I did ask her about whether she spotted a bighorn sheep or not, and she said she hadn’t seen one all morning.
We were also making small talk about accommodation options in Borrego Springs considering that we were thinking about exercising this option to cut out the 45-minute drive in each direction from Julian to Borrego Springs.
Well, I know Julie was probably concerned about me since she was way ahead of me at this point, so I had to cut off our conversation.
Then at around 9:55am, further on along the trail, I noticed that there was indeed a small but attractive waterfall over some boulders down below. There were more revegetation or area closed signs preventing any more legal access to the water to at least get to the base of the waterfall. So I wound up doing a boulder scramble towards the edge where I could peer down right at the waterfall as well as the creek (said to be year-round) further downstream.
I wasn’t sure if this waterfall was the main waterfall or not, but it seemed significant enough to assume that status. And if it wasn’t the main waterfall, then I was really looking forward to seeing what was further up ahead, especially considering the fact that I could see the California Fan Palm Oasis further up ahead now.
The hiking remained pretty straightforward as there were now about three small parties of people heading out just as we were going in. All of those folks we had seen earlier on in the hike when they passed us.
By about 10:30am, after some more short stream crossings and even some short stream scrambling, we finally arrived within the small but dense grove of California fan palms. This was said to be the largest such natural grove in California. But given the size of this oasis, that must mean that all the other larger groves we had seen must have been helped along and not completely wild like this one.
The end of the trail seemed kind of anti-climactic as it was hard to get a satisfying shot of the fan palms from this close. Plus, there were signs urging visitors not to hop the barricade and continue further. And that was pretty much where Ann Marie Brown’s book said there was supposed to be another good one about 15 minutes of hiking further on.
Naturally, we decided to check it out since no one else was around, but it didn’t take long before we spotted a hard-to-see cascade while the overgrowth and boulder scrambling got trickier and harder to negotiate. So then, we turned back.
Next, I changed into my Chacos to try to wade towards the small waterfall just before the final turnoff to the dead-end beneath the fan palm cluster. But after going into pool, the water was both icy cold and appeared to be waist deep. So I didn’t bother going any closer than what appeared to be a muddy submerged quicksand part that I was standing on before heading back.
But just as we were making our way out, we couldn’t help but notice some trail behind the arrow pointing the way to cross the creek. Yet given how unsatisfying the waterfalling experience was to this point, we decided to explore that trail behind the misleading arrow.
After a few minutes of going up what appeared to be a pretty established trail, we then reached some boulders where it appeared necessary to squeeze through an opening underneath some huge boulder leaning against another.
Just on the other side of that “boulder tunnel” there was a sign with a much better view towards the California Fan Palm Oasis that we had just come from. I found it strange that there was this sign and what seemed to be pretty fine trail except for the misleading arrow leading hikers away from this spot.
After a little more bouldering and following of faint trails, Julie and I eventually made it to what appeared to be a wide open creek area with another bouldery waterfall. We spent a few more minutes doing some more boulder scrambling to see if there were any more waterfalls, but the scrambling seemed to get rapidly more difficult the higher up we went.
So the risk reward factor wasn’t in our favor anymore, and thus we made our way back down to get our fill of this waterfall one last time before heading back down. By now, it was about 11:15am when we started to make our way back from what I was calling the “fifth cascade”.
On the way out, there were many more hikers making their way in. Once again, we were glad that we had gotten our relatively early start so we could enjoy the hike in a little more peace than right now.
Eventually, we made it to the junction between the Main Trail and the Alternate Trail. I wanted to complete this excursion so I opted to go the Alternate Trail. Meanwhile, Julie saw that it was more undulating and she preferred the flatter approaching along the main trail.
So we agreed to meet up at the trailhead after going our separate ways.
The alternate trail was actually significantly more primitive and much quieter than the main trail. I was kind of hoping that all this relative silence might improve the odds of seeing one of the Peninsular Bighorn Sheep in the wild here.
As I was scouting out the other side of the trail, I could see that Julie was actually quite a bit ahead of me, which further attested to how much longer this alternate trail was. There was even a family of three where their son was crying and clutching his teddy bear probably unhappy with the amount of exertion necessary to do this alternate trail.
Ultimately, this trail curved this way and that with lots of rocks conspiring to turn an ankle. I then got to a part where the trail descended into a wash before veering away from it once more as it eventually ended at the southern side of the day use parking lot.
Along the way, I spotted an amphitheater perhaps for ranger led talks at night. I also ran into an English person who said that there was some commotion about bighorn sheep. However, he didn’t see any.
Finally at about 12:20pm, I had returned to the trailhead and our parked car. However, Julie was nowhere to be seen despite having been ahead of me (at least fom what I could tell during my return hike).
When Julie finally got back to the trailhead at 12:25pm, she told me that she saw a ram! And she made sure to let me know that I should have taken the main trail back instead of the alternate one. In any case, she showed me the iPhone photo and sure enough, she saw one.
Anyways, it was now time for a late lunch, and I was also re-evaluating just how realistic it was to attempt to do Maidenhair Falls after lunch. By that time, I had it in my mind to perhaps punt Maidenhair Falls for a different Anza Borrego Trip while pursuing The Slot and a few more Galleta Meadows sculptures before returning to Julian for a bit of a splurge dinner at Jeremy’s on the Hill.
At about 12:45pm, we made it to the Casa del Zorro, which was known to be a bit of a posh resort in Borrego Springs. However, we were going there in the hopes of getting a somewhat clean lunch. We weren’t expecting any of that in any of the restaurants in the main drag through Borrego Springs.
Once we got seated and looked through the menu, we ultimately settled on a rack of lamb as well as a Chilean Sea Bass. The service was a bit on the slow and inattentive side so I kind of knew that we probably wouldn’t be out of this place until well after 2pm.
Well, at least the food was pretty good even if it was a bit on the pricey side for a lunch. And as expected, we wouldn’t be back in the car until about 2:05pm. Along the walk back, we saw that there were some hazy clouds in the distance which appeared to be dumping rain.
In fact, we were feeling some sprinkles in the high desert winds that were starting to blow.
That made me a little concerned about going into The Slot at this time, but when we saw on the GPS directions that The Slot was actually further southeast of town, that made us a little less hesitant to do this excursion.
And so we were off. We pretty much following Borrego Springs Drive all the way back to the Hwy 78. Then, we briefly headed east on Hwy 78 until we saw a very easy-to-miss signed turnoff for Butte Pass.
Then, we turned left and went right onto the washboarded dirt road as there seemed to be plenty of traffic in both directions despite the not-so-friendly road to get there. Indeed, this place seemed popular.
By about 2:25pm, we finally arrived at the pretty busy car park for The Slot. We wound up taking what appeared to be the last remaining parking spot in the lot. They were kidding about this place being popular!
After gearing up once again, we then tried to find a way down into the slot canyon, which was right beneath the parking lot. According to Hikespeak, they were saying to go straight down and not take the trail up the hill on the right.
However, the way directly down didn’t seem particularly safe nor stable. So we went up the hill and saw at the top that there was a sign for “trail” pointing down to the left. Indeed, this approach seemed a bit less steep and treacherous, and in no time, we found ourselves inside the wash within the so-called Slot.
As we then made our way downstream, the canyon walls quickly started closing in as they were twisting this way and that. It got a bit tricky as people were squeezing past each other in some of the tighter spots. I was also wishing that I hadn’t brought my backpack and water bottle because there were getting all scraped up against the narrow slow walls.
Still, we couldn’t help but feel like we were somehow in Southern Utah instead of Southern California!
Indeed, this slot canyon featured some wedged rocks as well as an intriguing natural bridge perched high above the slot floor.
As we continued past the natural bridge, we couldn’t help but notice that the canyon started opening up once again. The winds were also getting stronger as well. So that wound up being our turnaround point once we determined that the interesting part of the slot was over with.
And so we started heading back at around 2:55pm.
After squeezing through the familiar slot canyon once again and taking a few more photos (most of them in vivid mode, which really brought out the oranges and reds out of the otherwise dull beige and white cliffs), we then made it back to the car park at about 3:20pm.
What was kind of befuddling was one guy who thought he could jump across the slot while he was blaring some kind of rap music. I had chatted with Julie about how this Instagram and Yelp generation had gotten too used to things being made easy and handed to them, which resulted in people showing up to these kinds of places for all the wrong reasons.
I guess that was the two-edged sword of all this free info on the web being ruined by people who come here but can’t appreciate the nature for what it is and have to ghetto-ize the experience.
Regardless, with still sufficient daylight left, we then drove back onto the Hwy 78 before turning back onto Borrego Springs Road. Once we got back to the Yaqui Pass Road, we then turned right and followed it towards the Borrego Canyon Drive.
There was supposed to be a dinosaur statue on this road, but we were unable to find it. However, after getting back to the Christmas Circle then heading north before turning right onto Big Horn Road, we finally saw where the scorpion sculpture was.
And so by about 3:50pm, we briefly checked out the intricate details of the scorpion sculpture accompanied by a giant grasshopper.
We then drove back towards some camels as well as elephants and a couple of tortoise. Those would be the last of the Galleta Meadows statues we’d be checking out before heading back to the town of Julian at 4:05pm.
The drive back was pretty uneventful as we were following slower vehicles for most of the drive. Julie had a keen interest in listening to some show on AM 830 (a sports radio station) talking about restaurants in Southern California.
That was kind of unusual, but they were talking about stuff concerning Yelp and the Yelp Elite Reviewers as well as some of the insider perspectives of the hospitality business, which was kind of interesting.
Eventually at 4:55pm, we made it back to our accommodation in Julian, where it was once again bitterly cold, especially compared to the relatively mild temperatures down in Anza Borrego. However, it appeared that the snow and ice patch at the parking lot of our accommodation was gone!
We took some time to get changed and then head out. So we left the accommodation at 5:35pm, and eventually at around 5:50pm, we made it to Jeremy’s on the Hill in Santa Ysabel.
Regardless, we got seated and we’d pass the next couple of hours stuffing ourselves with brussel sprouts, truffle fries, grass-fed ribeye steak, my full rack of pistachio-crusted lamb, and a dessert of apple cobbler.
Indeed, we splurged on this meal and probably overate as we could have done with just a half-rack instead of a full-rack as well as not having the fries. Perhaps I was stress eating considering that I knew the stress that was waiting for me when the workweek would start once again and it was time to face the music once again.
Well, that would be Monday, but we were trying to savor tonight as well as tomorrow morning. We were well aware of the Winter Weather Advisory, but we were hoping to be out of Julian before the snowfall. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens in the mean time.
Anyways, we did chat with one of the waitresses who told us (when asked about which pie was recommended) about the Mountain Canyon Bakery across the street. So that got Julie to look into it as a possible alternative to Mom’s Pies in downtown Julian, which always seemed to have a line.
In any case, we drove back and returned to our room at 7:55pm. Once again, it was quite frigidly cold, especially with the wind chill. But once we got into the room, we did the usual unwinding, getting cleaned up, and trying to warm up the rooms with space heaters.
And so ended this day. Of course, my anxieties now pertain to fitting in Green Valley Falls while Julie’s asleep as well as beating the incoming snow storm by leaving Julie before then…