Exploring the Anza-Borrego Desert

Hike to Pena Spring

At about the ninth mile marker of the Montezuma junction to Borrego Springs Trip is a hike to Pena Spring.

The left fork from the entrance kiosk leads about a half mile up to a roadhead, circling a desert plum, from which a hiking trail drops to the north. After a few hundred yards the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) crosses our route. If followed east for about a mile, the CRHT climbs to Lookout Point (see below). Ground water appears in the descending trail after a half-mile. Pena Spring, a year-round source of abundant water, is through thick bushes to the left. The excellent water source attracts a large number of birds and other wildlife. Deep morteros may be found in bedrock to the right. This area has clearly been attractive to people for a very long time. The spring is named for Pena Paroli.

The old Paroli homestead was located off the Old Culp Valley Road (see below). Another mile down-canyon brings the hiker to a seasonal cascade of water, plunging into the depths of Hellhole Canyon below. An arc from the cascade around the north side of this bowl passes more morteros. Jerry Schad's Afoot and Afield in San Diego County describes a hike from here north to Hellhole Flat.

A loop hike may be accomplished by departing from the bowl to the west, up the South Fork of Hellhole Canyon through stands of fluttering cottonwood trees. From the Northwest quarter of section 16 (UTM 5-47.5E 36-75.7N) climb south toward Jim and By-Jim Spring and then work back east along"Wee" ridge to the Pena roadhead. This loop totals about five miles.

Culp Valley Campground and Hellhole Canyon Ridge Trail (CRHT)

The dirt road right fork from the entrance kiosk leads into the primitive campground area, nestled in a boulder-studded valley. As there are no facilities, campers must be self-contained and practice ""Pack It In, Pack It Out."

A trail from the north end of the campground leads about one-half mile north to Lookout Point, which overlooks Hellhole Canyon and much of Borrego Valley, backdropped by the mile-high Santa Rosas to the east.

Large, whitish pegmatite rock dikes appear as giant, man-made cement walls winding across the landscape. Also conspicuous are the number of dark-colored inclusions, or xenoliths (Greek for "foreign rock"), that appear like huge prunes in the oatmeal of light-colored granitic rocks. These xenoliths are fragments of an ancient sea bed that solidified into sedimentary rock bodies that were subsequently almost entirely consumed by molten granitic material rising from below. These pegmatites and xenoliths are common throughout the Peninsular Ranges and are evidence of major sea-floor subduction under the land mass of the Californias from 100 to 70 million years ago.

Lookout Point is the beginning of the Hellhole Canyon ridge trail, which descends about six miles to a large parking lot at the bottom off Hwy S-22 at post mile 16.5. It is not unusual for fitness buffs to do this trail up and down in a day. Normal hikers arrange a car shuttle.

The trail, which is part of the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT), generally follows the ridge to the east but gets sketchy at times. The trail was originally an Indian trail and was later used by cattlemen to move their stock down to the desert for winter grazing. The 2,500 foot descent is a great way to experience the transition from chaparral to desert-slope to low-desert plants. Beginning at the Culp Valley Lookout Point, plants to note include juniper, sugarbush, mountain mahogany, nolina, Mojave yucca, and scrub oak. Santa Rosa sage, jojoba, barrel cactus, agave, and Mormon tea are found midway down. Plants at the lower elevations include desert lavender, indigo bush, brittlebush, creosote, ocotillo, and burrobush. Participants in an ABF-sponsored hike down Hellhole Canyon in April 1997 saw nine mountain sheep on this trail at the 3,000 foot level.


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