Exploring the Anza-Borrego Desert

Borrego Palm Canyon: Beyond the Nature Trail
Gorp.com

At the shaded and cool palm-tree grotto, with cascading water falling from the top of massive boulders into the pool below, it is hard to believe that there is a desert"out there." Sycamores, cottonwoods, and desert willow help make this a refreshing desert oasis for both today's hiker and yesterday's Indian. This site is the reason why "Borego" Palms Desert State Park (forerunner of today's ABDSP) was first created. Park proponents called this cascading waterfall Abbott Falls, in honor of Clinton G. Abbott, a Fellow of the San Diego Society of Natural History, who was instrumental in the park's formation.

Oases were favorite habitat sites for the park Indians. The California fan palm was called "maul" in Cahuilla. The Indians ate both the fruit and the seed, which were usually ground together. The moist, pithy center of the tree could be boiled and eaten as a famine food. Fronds were used to make sandals, baskets, and ceremonial effigies, and as housing construction material. Palm trees were burned periodically to kill insects. A large sugarbush is located against the canyon wall across from the creek. Its drupelike fruit was gathered from June through August. Ripe berries were eaten or stirred into water to make a lemonadelike drink. Dried berries were ground into a flour for mush. Tea made from the leaves was used to cure coughs and colds. Note the interpretative panels found here and just above the grove.

1.5 First Palm Oasis
Hiking is much more difficult up-canyon beyond the first palm grove, with dense undergrowth, thorny vegetation, and huge boulders to scramble over and around. Sturdy boots, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt are recommended. Pick up the trail around the boulders on the right side of the waterfall and hike up-canyon. Twists and turns prevent seeing more than one-quarter mile ahead. This is the most difficult part of the canyon to traverse because of the huge boulder field. However, the effort is well worth it, as this is the most colorful section of the canyon. In one brightly hued area, the canyon walls close in and the stream tumbles over a rocky cataract of tan-colored schist rock. Most of the 800 or more palms in the canyon are in these upper reaches.

2.5 Indianhead turnoff (elev. 1,800')
A dry tributary canyon branches off to the right. A large cairn marks the turnoff for the climb to the top of Indianhead. Climb to the top of the ridge and over the saddle, working your way around boulders to the southeast to reach the flat top of Indianhead at elevation 3,960 feet. From this vantage point you can see the broad extent of the San Ysidros and Borrego Valley below.

3.2 South Fork Borrego Palm Canyon (elev. 2,200')
After the fourth palm grove and a very large cottonwood at elevation 2,160 feet, the main (middle) fork trends west (right) while the South Fork trends southwest (straight ahead), leading toward the summit of the San Ysidro Mountains. A waterfall is about 0.7 mile up the South Fork past thick, almost impenetrable brush.

4.3 North Fork Borrego Palm Canyon (elev. 2,680')

Backpack from Middle Fork Borrego Palm to Indian Canyon via North Fork

The North Fork branches up a fairly prominent side canyon marked by a light-colored triangular peak at its head. Experienced backpackers can work up North Fork to Palm Mesa and descend to Indian Canyon in Collins Valley for a shuttle pickup or hitchhike return. Plan a minimum two-day, better three-day trip. Three-season water is fairly reliable from Palm Canyon until Palm Mesa. The traverse and descent to Indian Canyon is dry until Valley of the Thousand Springs at the bottom.

Several dry waterfalls on the ascent will require careful route selection and occasional backtracking. Bushwhacking and boulder scrambling slow progress to yards per hour at some points. At elevation 3,750 feet, about two miles or three hours from the Middle/North Fork junction, is an option. The left fork leads west and north to the 4610' saddle into Indian Canyon. The right fork leads another mile north onto Palm Mesa at elevation 4,200 feet, where pinyon pines welcome the climber into the "'high lonely." Morteros evidence earlier Cahuilla occupation of this remote bowl. Sweeping views of Coyote Canyon and the Santa Rosas unfold from the north and east rim of Palm Mesa.

Hike over the west rim about a half mile from Palm Mesa to the edge of deep Indian Canyon at about the 4,000 foot level and then pick a two-mile route north down the ridge to the bottom. It is about two more miles north to the Sheep Canyon roadhead.

Total distance from Borrego Palm Canyon roadhead to the Sheep Canyon roadhead is about twelve hard but unforgettable miles.

The Middle Fork of Borrego Palm Canyon continues for about another 2.5 miles to the boundary of Los Coyotes Indian Reservation (LCIR), and eventually leads to the old Indian village of San Ignacio, or Pat-cha-wal. Permission is required to cross this boundary from the LCIR tribal spokesman.


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