David and I have been boondocking atop a mesa overlooking the Salton Sea for the past week. The views are just spectacular. Located in southern California, the Salton Sea covers 342 square miles and it sits directly over the famous San Andreas Fault. Surprisingly, the lake is also 236 feet below sea level. The creation of the Salton Sea was an accident. In 1905, the poorly constructed irrigation canal barriers guarding the Colorado River were breached and it took over 18 months to stop the water from filling the Salton Basin. This accident created an enormous lake that has remained there since 1905 despite receiving no additional water from the Colorado.
The lack of water flowing into the Salton Sea resulted in rising salt levels which combined with agricultural runoff has caused algae blooms, putrid smells, and a lot of dead fish. In the 1950s and 1960s, this popular lake was a resort area with swimming, boating, and fishing with more annual tourists than Yosemite. Today visitors do not come here to indulge in aquatic pastimes. Due to the lake’s salinity, which is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, there are few fish species in the lake. Although we saw beaches along the lake’s shore, there were no tourists there. So the lake is beautiful to look at but not to play in.
Now the tourists that come to the Salton Sea area are HOV/OHV enthusiasts who spend the weekends exploring the mesas and canyons nearby. We saw many different types of all terrain vehicles particularly during the weekend. We were surprised at how many people came and camped all over the area. While we do not have a Jeep or HOV/OHV, we can certainly understand why people would be attracted to the Salton Sea and its unique desert landscape.
Not far from the Salton Sea is California’s largest state park, Anza-Borrego State Park. This park is 600,000 acres and has 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and 110 miles of hiking trails. The park was named for both an 18th century Spanish explorer, Juan Bautista de Anza, and the Spanish word for “sheep,” “borrego,” because there are Desert bighorn sheep in the area. Juan Bautista de Anza opened a route to San Francisco, became Governor of the Province of New Mexico, and is considered one of the founding fathers of Spanish California. The trail that Anza took on his way to San Francisco crosses through much of what is today Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
David and I decided not to hike the trail that Anza blazed but we did decide to hike The Slot, one of the park’s hidden gems. The Slot is a narrow slot canyon cut into the siltstone by wind and water. It has some very narrow passageways and its steep walls soar above you on both sides. There were several unique rock features that we saw as we wound our way through the slot canyon.
The first one was a slanted scepter-like rock slab that appeared to have fallen over the top of the canyon. The others were boulders that were lodged overhead in the walls of the slot itself or the canyon’s walls. Once we exited the narrowest part of the slot, the trail got much wider. We followed the trail down to a jeep trail. Once there, we could have turned around or looped back to the parking lot but we decided to climb up higher. We wanted to get a better look at some bee-hive like rock formations. There were several rock arches at the top as well. From that vantage point, we had a clear view of the valley below and the Santa Rosa Mountains in the distance. After taking in this incredible view, we decided to hike back through the slot canyon in part because it was shady and cooler and also because it was such a neat experience that we wanted to do it again. While there are other slot canyon hikes in the park, The Slot hike is amazing. It is definitely a “must see” if you are in the area.
While we were in Borrego Springs one day, we met a man from San Diego that visits this area often. He loves Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and he encouraged us to go see Font’s Point. Seeing as how it was not far from where we were camped at the Salton Sea, we went to check it out. He also asked us if we had a four-wheel drive vehicle and we told him that we did. He said that that was good because the four mile road to Font’s Point was actually through a river wash and it could have some soft sandy spots. What he told us proved to be correct. While we did not have to use our four-wheel drive, the dirt road was very sandy and rocky in spots. It was slow going to get there but it was worth it because the view was breathtaking.
Font’s Point is known as California’s Grand Canyon and was named for Juan Bautista de Anza’s chaplain, Father Pedro Font. From this high pinnacle, you look down on the Borrego Badlands below and you can also see the Salton Sea in the distance. This canyon is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon in the sister state of Arizona in that its valleys and canyons too were carved out by the Old Colorado River. Over time wind and rain further sculpted the sedimentary rock canyons. Interestingly, many years ago this area was a marine Gulf and scientists have found over 550 types of fossils in this dry desert land. Font’s Point was another highlight of our time spent in southern California.
We found a few truly unique places to explore and fun things to do in and around the Salton Sea and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. There are many, many more that we did not have time to see. Our next post will feature the town of Borrego Springs, California and its magnificent art work.