Last Sunday the weather was about as good as you could want for a drive in the desert. It's been several years since we've been to Fish Creek and Sandstone Canyon in Anza Borrego Desert State Park (in Eastern San Diego County, California). With over 500 miles of dirt roads you can see all sorts of scenery and terrain in this over 600,000 acre State Park. That's about 938 square miles of space, making it the largest state park in California, the second largest in the contiguous US, and covering a full one-fifth of San Diego County. Which is all a long way of saying . . . it's a really big place. I can think of several spots where all you see is natural desert with no sign of anything man-made for as far you can see. And conveniently, it's only a two-hour drive from our home.
For our Sunday drive we took Split Mountain Road to its end 8 miles south of CA-79 at Ocotillo Wells, and then left the pavement. We drove about 12 miles up (mostly) wide Fish Creek Wash and then turned into Sandstone Canyon, a much narrower canyon carved out of the sandstone. We drove about 1.5 miles up Sandstone Canyon, then turned around drove back the way we came. Total off-road driving was just over 27 miles.
About 3 miles up Fish Creek is a geological formation known as the Anticline at Split Mountain, where you can see how the sandstone folded into layers during an abrupt geological event over 5 million years ago.
This little plant may not look like much, but I've been visiting this area since January of 2006, and it's been there the whole time. Considering the harsh environment I find it quite impressive to still be there. Click here if you're curious what it looked like in 2006.
After the narrow spot at Split Mountain, Fish Creek opens back up again to a wide sandy wash with multiple tracks. 4WD drive is a good idea out here, but depending on the conditions, you can sometimes do this drive in a 2WD with high clearance and careful driving.
At one point we spotted a few of these things. I don't know if this is just a clever and creative work of art, or if it's a marker for some sort of extraterrestrial alien visitation. You know, the sort of thing you would see on Ancient Aliens. Either way, we weren't taking any chances, and kept moving.
Our 2014 Nissan Xterra works well for this sort of exploring. It has 4WD, all-terrain tires and plenty of space for supplies, but is still small enough to be quite maneuverable in tight spaces, and it's quite comfortable on the road too.
Twelve miles up Fish Creek (I say "up" because we've literally been heading upstream, with a slight elevation gain the entire way) we turned into much narrower Sandstone Canyon. When we first visited Sandstone Canyon in January of 2006 you could drive about 3 miles up the canyon, which got so narrow in spots you did not want to be hanging your arm out the window on either side. Since Easter Sunday of 2011 there have been a series of earthquakes that have dropped a significant amount of rock into the canyon floor in places. Also, because of the amount of water which must flow through there during flash floods, the canyon changes almost every year. On Sunday we drove up about 1.5 miles and parked, and walked the rest of the way.
There actually was enough room to get through this tight spot . . .
. . . so we did, and continued up a bit further before we parked and walked.
More to follow in Part 2.
Photography . . . Travel . . .
- Frank B. Baiamonte
- San Diego, California, United States
- About me . . . When I'm not working I like to be out exploring and photographing. I do this blog just for fun, and to be able to share these images with friends. I hope you enjoy viewing these images as much as I enjoyed creating them.
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All of the content and images on this site (c) Frank B. Baiamonte. If you would like to use any of these images please contact me via email at email@example.com to discuss terms of usage. Note that images from the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are not available for commercial usage.
Header image: Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, Cibola, Arizona. End image: Downtown San Diego, California skyline from Coronado Island. Profile picture: Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho, by Heather Baiamonte.