Fish Creek Primitive Camp

Heading back west for more desert exploration we stopped first in order to check out the Ocotillo Wells SVRA. That first night, instead of camping in the SVRA itself, we took the opportunity to stay on the fringes of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, camp near the mouth of Fish Creek Wash and use the primitive campground there as our base for exploring Anza-Borrego and the SVRA. We spent several more nights there in between bouts of four wheeling and exploring many areas of the State Park. We’re including a couple encounters and explorations that were within walking distance of the campground here. We will write about some of those other, far flung adventures in a later post.

For the first two days we were there we had the whole place to ourselves. There are six numbered sites which had existing fire rings and one vault toilet. We carry our own Dometic toilet with us and find it quite useful but, if given the chance, why not use someone else’s facilities and not carry around more human feces sloshing around in the toilet in the bed of the Tacoma than we have to, right? The only downside is this vault toilet was stocked with single-ply, prison-quality institutional toilet paper so we used our own plush 2-ply Costco brand roll. Best of both worlds. Campfires were allowed, we had bought several bundles of firewood at the Ocotillo Wells Visitor’s Center and so for the next several night we stayed here (that were not too windy) we enjoyed a nice, evening campfire to finish off the day.

Willow Getting As Close to the campfire As She Can
Willow Getting As Close As She Can

We had read that the State Park has been named an International Dark Sky Park so on the evening of Thursday, December 13th we made a point of going back outside at around 10pm to catch the height of this year’s Geminid Meteor Shower. Being away from any major cities and the light pollution they cause this was a great spot to bundle up against the chill and slight breeze and lay back in my comfortable gravity chair for about 45 minutes and see what celestial fireballs I could see. We were also lucky that the weather cooperated and it was a clear and cloudless night. I tried to “officially” count only those streaks of light I saw in my direct field of view and disregard those on my vision’s periphery. In those 45 minutes I saw a credible 38 meteors leave their bright death streak across the sky above me. Some streaks were short, quick and dim, others longer in length and time and sometimes magnitudes brighter. If I took into account those outside my direct field of vision that number was about 50% larger. I’m not an astronomer, I don’t really consider that science one of my enthusiasms and don’t own a telescope, I just wanted to take the time and make the small effort to get a good look at the phenomena while I had the opportunity. I think it was well worth that effort.

Our spot in campsite #1 up at the back end of the campground gave us a good view of all the comings and goings around us.

Looking Down on the Tacoma From The Hill Behind Our Campsite
Looking Down From The Hill Behind Our Campsite

We could usually hear any vehicles heading into or back out of the wash or the campground itself before we could see them. One night, well after dark, we were alerted to the sounds of what only could have been Harley-style motorcycles, lots of them, coming up the wash. As the wash is not suitable for many regular passenger cars a no-knobby-tire-wearing non-dirt bike wouldn’t make this effort, would they?

This went on for about 20 minutes and in the waning light with the help of their headlights we saw a few stalls and even a couple of tip overs. We couldn’t tell exactly how many motorcycles went up the wash but with the exception of one Road Glide-style behemoth everything we saw were “choppers” with long, steeply raked forks which made this an even more surreal sight. The next morning after our coffee as we were getting ready to head back up into the wash ourselves the rumble of motorcycles caught our attention and we were able to get some pictures of the group heading back out of the wash.

About 20 bikes in the group all with small bed rolls and equipment for a minimalist night out in the wild. Looked like fun. An interesting sight to see and one not experienced here often I am sure.

Their rumble decreasing with distance we aired the Tacoma’s quite capable BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires down to about 13psi all around and headed out of the campground bouncing smoothly and comfortably on those soft gumballs. We headed up the wash through the narrow passage bracketed on both sides by the rising walls of Split Mountain still blanketed in morning shadows. After about 2 miles near the end of that canyon as the low winter sun started to gain a foothold we came to the first geologic wonder of the day and an iconic sight to visitors coming up the wash.

The Tacoma in front of "The Fold" From Across The Wash
From Across The Wash
Willow and the Tacoma in front of "The Fold"
Close-Up Of “The Fold”

Even as an “enthused beginner” when it comes to geology this is a great example of the joy of discovery and learning. With my limited geographical knowledge I thought this was something that had happened slowly over millions of years. For decades the experts thought that as well. Across the wash an informational sign set me straight. Long called “the anticline” and once considered to have happened slowly over time as forces push hard rock up through softer surroundings the belief now is that this happened in mere seconds about 5.5 million years ago! Currently geologists think this is a “drag fold” that happened when a huge and fast moving landslide slammed into the soft seafloor of the early Gulf of California. Built up layers of sediment were immediately plowed into this vertical “fold” (this is only the “tip” of a much larger fold you cannot see underground below you as you stand there). Eventually, over the millennia, these folded layers became this sandstone formation that captivates the hundreds of visitors that notice it as they drive, ride or hike by it each year. I thought it might be one thing and it turned out to be something completely different. Learning something new and increasing your knowledge on a particular subject is a joy. Geology Rocks! <– Yes I am a Dork.

Further on up the wash where it opens up into a plain of mud flats, caves and numerous tracks through the area, some more easily passable than others, we found a spot to pull to the side and take a hike up one of the narrow feeder washes just so we could see what there was to see. Sadly the first thing we saw was glaring evidence that complete and utter scumbags still walk among us (and are allowed to do so). Right there, at the entrance to the wash, in the middle of the path, someone had taken a big dump not long before and left it for posterity. I pixelated the pic below to spare the sensibilities of our more delicate readers.

Pile of poop left by a scumbag human (pixelated)
Even Willow Was Disgusted

This was not a dog dump, this was some POS human who knew they were going to take a shit and so brought a baby wipe to clean up with (and left that to the right of their pile), but didn’t think to, you know, maybe bury it or put it in a plastic bag and take it out with them. Still boggles the mind. Took us all of 2 minutes to walk back over to the Tacoma and get our shovel and another minute to dig a nice, deep hole in the soft sand and bury that mess and wipe. (start ANGER) As I write this it has been just about two months since we came across and dealt with this and I am pecking at the keys of my laptop harder and angrier than I should. The world would be a measurably better place if this person was not in it. This level of complete and utter scumbaggery should be an immediate and extrajudicially executable offense – go ahead, try to change my mind. (stop ANGER) I’d settle for one good whack with a shovel, not aimed at the head, as suitable punishment for such douchebaggery.

Now in a bad mood (I was, Willow didn’t seem to care) we elected to head back to our campsite my excuse being that we had also forgot to bring any of the paper maps of the park and getting lost in an area like this is never a good idea. So, safety first and a chance to calm down, collect my thought and plan our next move…which was to go on a hike.

Looking across Fish Creek Wash and up a small feeder canyon I could see a small opening in a rock face even from our campsite.

Red Arrow Pointing To Hole In Rock Visible When Zoomed
Red Arrow Pointing To The Hole In The Rock Visible When Zoomed In
A Closer View of rthe hole in the rock
A Closer View

We walked across the wash, started up canyon and quickly arrived at the hole in the rock.

Hole in the rock
No Red Arrow Needed

Our first thought was that this might possibly be an ancient Native American house, hidey hole or storage bunker. Taking a closer look we soon decided to quickly put any of those options to rest as it is (obviously guessing here, not a geologist) just a natural formation carved out after years of winds carrying abrasive particles slamming through the canyon.

Not a house
Not A House

The particular series of events that led to this little excavation were put to rotating use by more than one species of the area’s local inhabitants. There were several different types of scat, tufts of fur, bones and bird/bat poop in evidence so we didn’t stick our heads too far up in there for a closer look (or sniff). That little exploration over and our questions about it answered we decided to continue on up the canyon to do some more exploration. At certain times of the year you can tell that great amounts of water have cascaded through here and have done so for thousands of years. Boulders of all sizes are strewn about making parts of the hike more of a boulder scramble with Willow even needing a boost to get over a few large obstacles a couple of times.

The winds and water have carved the canyon and exposed its history as a geologic book for the observant and interested to read (if you know the language) or just look at the pretty pictures (like me, if you don’t). Some interesting rocks are laying on the ground while others are seemingly concreted into the side walls, some among rocks like themselves, others standing out glaringly as they are so completely different from their neighbors.

We eventually came to a dry waterfall which prevented us going any further up the canyon without climbing apparatus which we did not bring with us and so that became the end of our up-canyon leg.

Willow in front of a dry waterfall stopping our progress
End Of The Line?

With no encouragement or approval from me (and before I had my phone ready to take a movie of the whole process) Willow took it upon herself to give it a go and it did not end as well as either of us would have hoped… but she wore her toenails down just a bit so we had that going for us.

She was just fine after that and learned a valuable and non-painful (or expensive) lesson about biting off more than you can chew.

While mostly a quiet campsite with only the sounds of wind and vehicles down in the wash there are also the occasional, brief bursts of military aircraft overhead or even coming out from the wash itself, once even below the level of our campsite – we looked over directly into the face of the pilot as he streaked by in an F/A-22 (I think) which was one of the loudest things I have ever heard or felt. Willow hated that. The short video below is from the Tacoma dash when we were parked out on Split Mountain Road just at the entrance to Fish Creek Wash. Please pardon my little verbal enthusiasm at the end.

Now imagine that same thing, but about 100 feet from your face, within the confines of tall canyon walls with the engine eventually pointing directly at you and you might get a hint of an idea about how loud and earth-shaking it was. Military helicopters and prop training planes also made numerous appearances overhead or streaking by more closely.

Called Fish Creek Camp or Fish Creek Primitive Campground depending on who you talk to or where you get your information it lies a little over 9 miles outside of the town of Ocotillo Wells from the turn off of Highway 78 on to Split Mountain Road. The final mile and a half is on the dirt, sand and rocks in Fish Creek Wash itself after the turnoff from Split Mountain Road. As a base of operations on the east side of the State Park it met our needs well and was relatively uncrowded at this time (December) of the year. There is enough military aircraft traffic in the area that if you are looking for complete peace and quiet this would not be the spot to choose. Most of that dies down after dark though so if you are someone who likes to look towards the sky the complete lack of light pollution in the area makes this a great spot for your hobby. Except for gas (which you can get in Borrego Springs or Salton City) you can find most any supply you need in the town of Ocotillo Wells.

Get out there on an adventure with your dog(s)!

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