Category Archives: California

Day Trips in Anza-Borrego State Park | Fonts Point Badlands

Like most people, I had heard the term “badlands” before visiting Fonts Point, but I had no visual notion of it in my head. Badlands are actually a very distinctive landform and remind me of something out of Dante’s Inferno. The brownish red hills are devoid of all vegetation. Being so dry and rootless, when the rain comes in torrents every five years or so it carves grooves into the sides, flowing in several directions. With each rainfall and the daily winds these grooves deepen further, making the distinct scraggly look the Badlands hills are known for.

At Fonts Point, just outside of Borrego Springs, California, you can get an overlook of the Badlands that stretch across Anza-Borrego region and down into Mexico.IMG_2758

For this trip, I recommend that you take a Jeep or another 4WD or AWD vehicle. A Subaru should be fine to get to the overlook, but if you don’t want to do any additional exploring you might need a Jeep or truck.

There is a hiking option, but it’s through a dry, dusty, flat, region with no vegetation or sights (and no shortage of sun)—so unless you really want to get some exercise, driving is preferred.

Getting to Fonts Point is easy. Take the S-22 (Borrego Salton Sea Seaway) out of town going east. When you get past the campgrounds and the small edge of the Santa Rosa mountains just to the north, keep a lookout on your right (south) for the Font’s Point Wash dirt road. It’s approximately here on Google Maps. Take the dirt road 4 miles to Fonts Point.IMG_2759

The overlook is, well, spectacular for someone who has never seen anything like it.

Beyond this, there are numerous Jeep drives you can take through the region, including the Palo Verde Wash, Vista Del Malpais, and Thimble Trail. But make sure you bring plenty of gas and water!

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Posted by on May 10, 2016 in California, Deserts, Drives, Tourism


Day Trips in Anza-Borrego State Park | Calcite Mine

Although considerably less popular than Palm Canyon, the Calcite Mine trail is a hidden gem for those seeking those odd, moonlike environments commonly found in the Southwest’s deserts.IMG_2716

The whole hike is only about 2.5 miles and can be done in 1-2 hours. I went in around 4 p.m. and had plenty of sunlight to make it there and back. In fact, because this hike is essentially free of vegetation and through dusty old mining trails in one of the driest, hottest parts of the world, you’ll probably want to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Besides, the low angle of the sun makes for more surreal sights.

There are basically two parts to the hike, the trail and the slot. The trail is kind of boring, and there isn’t a whole lot to see of the actual “mine” when you get there, but on the way back (or on the way there), you’ll want to make your way through the slot, where you can see the sandstone rock formations of the canyon and wind your way through the slot.IMG_2751

The hike is very simple. Just stay on the main trail all the way to the mine at the end. Then, on your way back, make sure to turn left to head up the slot. About a mile up the slot, take a right to get back onto the main trail and back to the parking lot. Make sure not to miss this trail, as you can go on for miles into the slot and it can be easy to miss.

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Posted by on May 4, 2016 in California, Hiking


Day Trips in Anza-Borrego State Park | Palm Canyon Trail

The most popular hike in Anza-Borrego is the Borrego Palm Canyon trail to the Borrego Palm Oasis. This hike is right by the Anza-Borrego park headquarters, which is off the main strip in Borrego Springs. The visitor’s center is also worth a quick visit to get a grasp of the region’s history and terrain.

You can walk to the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail from the headquarters, which adds some distance (about a mile) to the trip, or you can pay the entrance fee to park directly at the campground close by and save yourself a fairly boring walk each way. In total, the trip to Borrego Palm Canyon and back can be as short as 2.7 miles, depending on where you park, or can be extended to 4+ miles. (More on extensions later.)IMG_2663

You do get quite a lot of sun and wind on this trip, so you’ll want to make sure to have a hat and some long sleeves, not to mention loads of water.

When you get to the main trailhead, keep right. The hike to the first palm grove starts out upward sloping over sandy terrain with views of the cactus plain and the mountains closing in on either side as you move up the valley. The rock, mostly sandstone, has some color to it, a soft shade somewhat pinkish. Although the hills are covered in flaky rock and almost entirely barren, the color gives it a netherwordly feel that is at least more inviting than the completely brown hills of the deserts in Nevada.

While walking, remember to keep your eyes open for any Bighorn Sheep. (Borrego actually means Bighorn Sheep in Spanish.) I unfortunately did not catch sight of any while I was out. Apparently the earlier you go the better. Arriving after 11, I was evidently too late.IMG_2680

You’ll have no trouble finding to the first palm grove. The oasis is a peaceful place that provides some moisture and water. You can bathe under the waterfall if you’d like and have a picnic. One thing worthy of catching sight of were the wonderful little frogs that make their homes in the river. They are tiny creatures, and must barely manage to survive as tadpoles throughout the summer.

After the oasis, you can begin the journey back or, if you want to extend the journey, you can hike further up the ravine through treacherous, unforgiving terrain. There are, ostensibly, two more oases upriver, but the hiking is very strenuous and requires the agility and gear to hike over wet, slippery rocks. Keep in mind that this extension is for adults only and it’s best not to go on your own as I did.*

On the return, it’s recommended to take the opposite route back. You can find the alternate route by continuing straight back from the oasis. A sign points you in the direction to the right not far past the oasis, right before a river crossing over a plank that has been laid across.

The alternate route affords you a view of the unique desert forest that blooms in this area. The Ocotillo cactus blooms in spring, its short flower shooting out like the painted fingernail on a made up lady. Desert plants here remind you of life under the sea; if you were floating you would not feel out of place, and the thought of water is refreshing.IMG_2671

*Extension (SPOILER ALERT): Since there was recently a flood, there’s really not much to see when you go through all this. But just so you know, the possibility is there to stretch your hike out to 5 miles or more if you really want to do so.

Not being aware of what awaited me, I went for it. Not far in, having surmounted many slipper rocks and other obstacles, I saw a group of people and asked them if the “next grove” wasn’t far off. The guy paused for a moment and said it was pretty close, about half a mile. I asked him if the terrain got easier, and he said it did. There was a strange look in his eye. I powered on, now hiking straight through the river and having to work my way through a lot of weeds and brush at times.

At last I made it to the palm grove, but there was nothing but a single palm which was partially burned. I was exhausted and stopped for a snack. There was a nice cool shade against the side of the ravine. I searched the hillside for Bighorn Sheep but the hillsides were barren and lifeless, no animals and hardly any plants there to speak of.

I continued on a ways, thinking that I might not have met the grove yet. After another half an hour of ragged, rocky terrain, I came in view of a bend and decided I didn’t want to continue on further to round it. I figured that the third grove was not far off, but I had been debating ever since if I even wanted to get to it, given how rough the walk was and how sharp the rocks were. At times, I had to make my way over dangerous rock faces just to continue further and I was worried I might slip and fall and not be heard due to the rushing water.

More reading about this hike:


Posted by on May 1, 2016 in California, Hiking, Parks


Day Trips in Anza-Borrego State Park | Staying in Borrego Springs

If you’re interested in exploring the vast, mysterious Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, you’ll need somewhere to hang your hat during the adventure. Borrego Springs is an obvious choice, featuring plenty of motels, resorts and camping spots.

When coming from the coast, you arrive in town after winding out driving over the Santa Rosa mountain range on your way out of Temecula. If the roads are clear, it makes for ecstatic, frenzied driving, provided you’re willing to accelerate around the occasional dopey motorhome. Time and time again, I’m shocked at what great (and sparse) driving you can still find just outside of the huge metropolis of Los Angeles. Once you get over the mountain range, you’ve reached the rain shadow and the fascinating terrain that Anza-Borrego is known for.

The town itself is more of a retirement community and there isn’t a whole lot there apart from a coffee shop, a few Mexican joints, and a bar or two. There are some permanent residents, but given that it can get up to 120 degrees in the summer—and stay there, for weeks on end—it is more or less inhospitable place for full-time settlement. But that doesn’t matter—you’ll mostly want to be out hiking and exploring the surrounding areas. Winter and spring are the best times of year to visit. See the next entries for things to do while you’re there.



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Posted by on May 1, 2016 in California, Hiking, Parks


All the Hiking You’ve Been Missing in the East Bay

Get out there and start conquering the East Bay’s underused regional parks.

When you’re in the mood for a day hike, do you head over to Marin more often than not? Or even drive all the way to the Santa Cruz mountains, where you spend more time in traffic than outdoors?

Here’s a notion: You can easily avoid all the drama of these crowded, picked-over places by staying the East Bay. Within 20 miles of Oakland—the land of Oaks—there’s an abundance of sparsely populated hiking trails, with a great variety of terrain, all waiting to be trod by your hiking boots, still muddy and moldy from your humid hikes along the coast. And there’s no need to cross any bridges and pay tolls or sift through any traffic to get to there.

You’ll notice right away that East Bay hikes have more open and rougher terrain, drier land, plenty of oaks and great vistas, fewer people, and no problem finding free parking. So heed the call—Yes, In My Back Yard (YIMBY)—and get out there exploring.

Some regional parks to get started are Redwood Regional, Lake Chabot, Briones and Las Trampas. Once you’ve conquered those, you can move on to parks as distinct and diverse as Sunol, Black Diamond Mines and Morgan Territory.

If you’re looking for a particular route, you can always go to the Regional Park District’s website at for trail maps, but I tend to prefer, a private website that does an impeccable job of organizing 60 Bay Area hikes within 60 miles of San Francisco.

There are many great things about First of all, the map lets you see all of the locations, so you can find something close to you and waste as little time as possible in the car. Jane Huber, the author, provides a route that winds you through the highlights of each park, and gives important information such as the mileage, estimated time and standard weather conditions per season. The routes are mostly easy to follow, but there’s always some adventure involved, since most of the articles are over 10 years old. (And hiking guides in general seem to enjoy leaving a fair amount of ambiguity in the directions.)

For those of you who know of the site and haven’t visited it in a while, you’ll be surprised to know that it’s been updated. The browser version is a lot snazzier and the mobile version now readjusts to your device, so you can look forward to a lot less squinting and twisting your phone when attempting to follow the trails. On that note, if you’re relying on the phone to guide you, don’t forget that you’re bound to lose reception in most parks.

Happy trails. I hope to see you out there.

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Posted by on January 14, 2016 in California, Going out, Hiking, Tourism, Travel


Making the rounds through Bay Area Hiker

Now that I’m out of the City and in the East Bay, I’ve a renewed interest in hiking. The fact that I don’t have to spend 45 minutes choking on exhaust on clogged major arteries just to get out of town plays no small part in this.

Bay Area Hiker has been without a doubt the most invaluable resource in my insatiable quest for more hikes. Although it’s mostly in early 2000s HTML, it’s something of a cult website among a small subset of followers. It has well nigh every trail in the greater Bay Area and usually a good description of a general, all-encompassing path around each park’s terrain. Though I don’t religiously follow the paths as demarcated, I’m certain there are more than a few who do, and I think I’ve seen them readjusting their phone screens on hikes to read the non-mobile-friendly site.

Some recent East Bay adventures have included Las Trampas, with green hills and views of the surrounding larger mountains, and Redwood Regional, such a nice, refreshing, short hike it’s hard to believe how close it is to urban area. With over 7 million people in the greater Bay Area, we’re lucky to still have these open, preserved spaces.

Here’s a classic back-of-head view of me at Las Trampas:


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Posted by on March 28, 2015 in California, Hiking


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GasBuddy: a must-have app for road trips

I don’t generally go out of my way to recommend apps, but when it comes to road travel, there’s one that’s indispensable to saving money: GasBuddy.

When you’re on the road, the app is great for finding the cheapest close gas station. Stations right along the freeway can have a markup of up to 30 cents. In the past, rather than driving around not knowing where I was going, I would just find the nearest Arco or other discount station, and live with it. More often than not, I’d drive for about two miles and pass a significantly cheaper station. In total, this would probably lead to me paying 10-20% more on gas than I needed to.

Those days are over. Now I can find the best gas station along my entire route and plan accordingly. Furthermore, I can try to get one which will allow me to use my credit card (most of the time they’ll state whether price is cash or not) and save me another 3-5% depending on which gas-friendly card I use.

The website is also great because it shows whether prices are falling or rising. During the week, I’ll wait or hurry to get gas based on their local predictions, which are usually pretty accurate.

Road travel ain’t cheap anymore—but this is one simple way to make it more affordable.

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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in California, Cars, Economics, Travel