Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rockhouse Canyon South

Anza Borrego is amazing. I fell in love with it while in Torote Canyon and decided to come back and check out Rockhouse Canyon South which is a tributary wash of Carrizo Creek. The 'south' distinction is mine as there is a Rockhouse Canyon near Borrego Springs and the two separate areas with the same name confused me. Anyway, I arrived around 9am and parked in some soft sand, leaving my future self to worry about getting my truck out of it, and started the gently sloped uphill slog in the same soft sand.

Around the first bend I came to the boundary between Anza Borrego Desert State Park and the Carrizo Wilderness. The cloud cover helped keep the heat at bay and brought out the magnificent colors in the rocks and plants.

The rocky hills were covered in vibrant stands of cholla, catclaw and brittle bush that are ready to bloom at any moment.

Soon the canyon opened up into a large basin and I had to consult my gps frequently to be sure I was following the correct wash. It was super quiet here and my ears strained looking for any type of sound, making any noise I did hear really jarring. On more than one occasion I nearly shat my pants when a big white desert iguana would blast out of the bushes and run way on two legs like a dinosaur. They did this at least 10 times over the course of the day! That's a lot of iguanas! 

As I maintained my heading I noticed several sets of animal tracks going from hill to hill. I'm not sure who they belong to but I did see a few black tail jackrabbits so maybe they are the culprits.

I passed by an island of boulders in the middle of the wash and spotted a rock shaped like a skull from some distance away. I altered my route to check it out and felt a heavy vibe in the area, like maybe there were some Indian artifacts nearby.

I climbed the boulders for a while looking for signs of Kumeyaay history but I didn't really know what I was looking for. I made it to the highest point but only found some interestingly shaped formations and tiny caves.

The clouds were starting to forsake me and let the sun peak through which made the temperature rise. I found a semi shady place amidst the boulders and blooming chuparosa to eat a snack and drink some water after my climb.

The flowers are starting to pop up this season. This tiny cactus was rocking a crown of blossoms and all I could think was eat your heart out Snapchat! 

While taking pictures of the flowers I found what I think is part of a black tailed jackrabbits skull. I like that I always find skulls, ever since I talked to that NOBO on the PCT when I was doing Morena Butte. It's true, if you see dead stuff, it means there is a lot of live stuff too.

The whole hike through the canyon I could see something strange on top of the ridge line. It was green and shiny and my mind kept telling me it was some type of mineral deposit on a rock wall or an algae stained waterfall...something like that. Finally I came to a point where my eyes could focus and make out what it really was; a palm oasis way up on the hill. That makes much more sense! Nice try brain.

At last I ran out of canyon and my destination came into view; the McCain brother's cabin. Supposedly it was built in 1933 but my Google searches have also said 1959 so I'm not super sure. The McCain brothers were cattle ranchers in the area back in the day and there are several sites of their handiwork near here, including the concrete trough I failed to find in Indian Gorge.

I made my way inside and popped a squat on a rock facing the window. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to be one of the McCain brothers living out here. I came to the conclusion that while it would be quite a satisfying existence, it would have also been a struggle. I imagine the McCain brothers were ones to take on struggle head first though, especially judging by the copper pipe that ran waaaaaaaaaaaay up a boulder filled gorge to that palm oasis on the ridge line. I guess if you had water all situated though it would be quite a pleasant little canyon.

There were some pictographs on the rock walls but I don't think they're genuine based on the other graffiti in the cabin.

I situated my water and nibbled on some more salty snacks before stepping back out into the warm day. I still felt like there may be some Kumeyaay artifacts here and pushed myself to hike to the next canyon bend.

When I arrived to the base of the boulder field I saw the suggestion of a few caves I could explore, but I was kind of pooped! I'm making a mental note to return to this area via the Bow Willow trails and do some more investigating.

On my way back to my truck I varied my route a bit and checked out some potential rock shelters in the wash. This boulder is about as big as my truck and when I neared the cave dozens of squirrels poured out of every possible opening. I poked my head in and saw their nest lined with cholla balls to ward off any predators or curious-Georges like me.

My legs and joints were feeling tired from slogging in the soft sand all day so I took another break beneath a gorgeous smoke tree and took some advil.

In my final leg of the trip I kind of zoned out a bit. It was nice to be on a downhill but the soft sand was still hard to walk in. My daydreaming was rudely interrupted by a sharp pain in the side of my foot and I instinctively cried out "OKAAAYYY I'M SORRY!!!" What I was sorry for I don't know, but when I looked down I found a cholla ball stuck in the soft foam of my shoes. It took some doing, but I managed to get the bulk of it off with my hiking pole and pulled out the rest of the needles in my foot by hand. I'm still picking cholla needles out of the soles of my shoes days later.

The last bend before the wilderness boundary I found the rock version of the 'wat' lady and laughed, followed by the realization that I spend way too much time on the internet.

Finally, my beautiful truck came into view and I felt accomplished. This trip came to 8.14 miles but I'm rounding it to 8.5 because walking in soft sand is a beast! Seriously though, this is a relatively easy hike that is big on views, flowers and history and I highly recommend it! Luckily, my future self didn't have to worry about the soft sand, my truck rolled right out like there was nothing to it and we headed on our merry way to get dinner and a cold 7up.



  1. Another awesome post. So jealous of these hikes!

  2. That wat lady photo is hilarious...haha..!!

  3. That was a great post! You are very funny!
    You also take some nice photos. Love the little barrel cactus with the "crown of thorns."
    I've gotten the heebie jeebies in some of the places also. I usually respect the feeling and move along.