Exploring the Anza-Borrego Desert
From: Warner Ranch Junction (Hwys 79 and S-2)
To: Scissors Crossing (junction of Hwys 78 and S-2)
Via: Hwy S-2 (paved)
This route starts in oak and pine meadowland near La Henshaw in east San Diego County and descends slowly through the desert near sea level at Ocotillo in Imperial County. Most of Hwy S-2 coincides with the historic Southern Overland Trail, the most important historic road to southern California and the only year-round historic route to California. It is no cioncidence that it follows the great Elsinore fault zone, one of three major fault zones that slash southern California northwest to southeast, all of which are major historic routes of travel. (The San Jacinto fault zone contains the Coyo Canyon route of Anza and subsequent Spanish expeditions. The San Andreas fault zone contains the Southern Pacific Railroad and the I-10 corridor through San Gorgonio Pass).
Prominent county post mile markers appear almost every mile until the San Diego/Imperial County line, so odometer mileage is not necessary.
Post Miles From:Warner Junction
0.0 Warner Junction Hwys 79 and S-2 (elev. 2,800')
This junction in the historic Rancho Valle de San Jose, better known as the Warner Valley or Lake Henshaw Valley, is 3.3 miles southwest of Warner Sprin, at a SDG&E; electrical substation. Drive east on Hwy S-2, San Felipe Road, in gentle ascent through the oak meadowlands of Buena Vista Creek.
0.7 Warner Ranch (California Historical Landmark No. 311)
General Kearny's Army of the West passed here in the winter of 1846, followed by the Mormon Battalion a few weeks later in 1847, both bound south and west to San Diego. Gold Rush Argonauts streamed through, commencing in the summer of 1849. The first Butterfield stage rumbled through in 1858, bound northwest through Temecula on its 2,600-mile, 24-day trip from Tipton, Missouri, to San Francisco, California.
The old ranch house here, built in 1857 by the Carillos, was indeed the Butterfield stage stop. But it was not Warner's home. His home, built in 1844 and burned in a Kumeyaay uprising in 1851, was just behind the present house, overlooking Buena Vista Creek.
2.2 Kimble-Wilson Store (site)
The tumble-down structure behind the hill to the north (on private property) was described in the 1868 69 diary of the Stanley Rogers family as"a very popular stopping place where supplies were purchased in a pleasant cottonwood grove."
4.7 Montezuma Junction of Hwys S-2 and S-22 (elev. 3,200')
This is mile 0.0 for Hwy S-22, the Montezuma Valley Road, Trip 1B.
5.5 Teofulio Summit (elev. 3636')
This is the lowest crossing of the Peninsular Ranges between San Gorgonio Pass, fifty miles north in Riverside County, and San Matias Pass, two hundred miles south in Baja California hence the historical importance of Teofulio Summit as the major east-west gateway to southern California until the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad through San Gorgonio in the 1870s. Teofulio Summit, like San Gorgonio Pass, is a watershed divide between easterly drainage into the below-sea-level Salton Basin versus the west-flowing streams that reach the Pacific Ocean.
6.2 San Felipe Store (elev. 3,477')
The route drops gently into San Felipe Valley, a linear fault-controlled feature of the right-lateral Agua Tibia /Earthquake Valley fault. Vegetation changes from pine and oak woodlands and meadows of the Transition life zone to the high-desert Upper Sonoran life zone. Volcan Mountain is to the southwest and the San Felipe Hills are to the northeast.
The deep canyon, which slices into Volcan Mountain to the west, is part of the Rutherford Ranch, which is slated for public park land. The Kumeyaay name for Volcan is Ha-ha-chc-pahg, "place where the water comes down." Observe the extensive tailings from a major tourmaline mine on the ridge to the right of the main canyon.
15.9 San Felipe Valley and Stage Station (elev. 2,338')(California Historical Landmark No. 793)
Before this cottonwood-shaded grove became the site for a Butterfield stage station, it was an active seasonal Kumeyaay Indian village area, as indicated by the several morteros and slicks found on the granitic rocks near the creek. The Kumeyaay are a branch of Yuman-speaking Indians related to the Paipai and Kiliwa of Baja California, the Mojave, Quechan (Yuma Indians), and Cocopah along the Colorado River., and the Maricopa, Yavapai, Hualapai, and Havasupai of Arizona. They were the first of the historic Indian groups to enter the Anza-Borrego area 1,000 1,500 years ago, after the formation of ancient Lake Cahuilla. As the lake water became increasingly saline, most of the Kumeyaay dispersed to the mountain areas to the west, but a few stayed along the Colorado River.
The Mountain Kumeyaay, who were traditional gatherers were heavily influenced by the Spanish mission system, adopting western clothing and learning Spanish soon after contact. The Desert Kumeyaay, on the other hand, were growers who had a close association with the Quechan along the Colorado River, adopting basic agricultural techniques to cultivate melons, pumpkins, corn, beans, and peas. Here at San Felipe, the Mountain Kumeyaay (previously referred to as Southern Diegueos) and the Desert Kumeyaay (previously known as Kamia) came together to trade and share a common language, culture, and a long history of friendly relationships.
California-bound emigrants and members of the International Boundary Commission reported an active village site in the fall of 1849. Emigrant William R. Goulding described the village of "San Fellippi" as having "30 small rude constructed huts," several gardens with melons, beans, and onions, and women actively employed in sorting, drying, and cleaning corn, acorns, pinyon nuts, and various berries.
By the time the stages were rolling, the lifestyle of these Indians had permanently changed. Waterman L. Ormsby, one of the first passengers riding the Butterfield Overland Stage, wrote in 1858 that ". . .in the Valley of San Felipe we saw a number of prosperous Indian ranches where they raise corn and melons and live much like white folks."
The San Felipe Station was located on a knoll next to a giant cottonwood tree, at the base of which was once a spring. It was an "L"-shaped, two-story, wood-framed building that was reportedly the only wooden station on the western length of the Butterfield line.
17.0 Scissors Crossing (East) and Sentenac Cienega
Hwy S-2 intersects Hwy 78 on the north edge of Sentenac Cienega. Earthquake Valley and San Felipe Valley merge at this marsh, which drains as San Felipe Creek through Sentenac Canyon, a water gap through the Grapevine Mountains. Desert naturalist Paul Johnson notes that, at some fifty miles, this is the longest watercourse in the Anza-Borrego region. The Sentenac Cienega is one of the largest undeveloped marshes remaining in California. The cienega and the canyon were part of the privately held San Felipe Ranch purchased by the Anza-Borrego Foundation (ABF) in May 1998 for the state as an addition to the park. The Kumeyaay village site and the stage-station site are still part of the ranch and the focus of a future purchase.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication