Monday, March 13, 2017

15 of 52 - Smuggler's Cave and Butler Canyon

Are you guys sick of my desert hikes yet? I'm not! But I think this post is likely my last trip until flower season is over. It's straight madness in Anza Borrego and while I love, love, love the desert in bloom, it's a bit too crowded. My friend Amy Lea Mahan posted this on her Facebook the other day. Gorgeous, but oh so crowded!

But on to this trip: The rocky terrain of the In Ko Pah and Jacumba Mountains calls to me every time I take I-8 east to Anza Borrego. I'm cautious hiking here alone so Josh and I met up and did the two truck thing again. We exited I-8 at In Ko Pah road and drove under the freeway to a dirt road that curves its way around the mountain. The road is actually paved in some parts, albeit narrow and crumbly with exposed re-bar, but mostly it is a rocky mess. We climbed as high as we could before parking in a little turn out and continuing on foot.

I've never seen so many water caches in my life as I did on this hike. If I had half the assistance on the PCT I could have slack packed! Everywhere I looked there were gallons of water, bags of clothing and food, it was kind of ridiculous. For every item placed there also seemed to be a corresponding border patrol agent so I don't really think it was an effective approach.

We hiked with exploration in mind and actually passed our destination, the smuggler's cave, opting to hit it on the way out. We took an old dirt road now turned trail until we met with a wash that looked interesting.

I've never actually seen a legit succulent in the wild before! There were quite a few here tucked into the rocks.


As we shimmied our way through this sandy wash Josh noticed a strange feature in the creek bed. There were several mortared holes which lead our eyes to a little clearing where we found we had stumbled upon the remnants of an old cabin.



According to our guide book this cabin was where government officials would stay whilst rounding up Mexican cattle and deporting them back over the border.



I decided to explore the surrounding hills and climbed up to some shallow caves on the mountain top. I saw something shiny in the rocks and bent down to retrieve it thinking it was a mylar balloon which are super prevalent in the desert. When I finally got it free from the rocks I found it was an emergency blanket half out of it's package. I'm all for helping people so I left it there but I kind of felt like the people who are helping the immigrants here are bordering on littering. I'm not really sure how best to handle that, do I pick it up or leave it?


We consulted our topo and followed the wash to the base of a mountain that would lead us to the Smuggler's Cave. We poked our heads into every nook and cranny on the way just to see what we might find. The sun was warm but the air cool and it was shaping up to be a gorgeous day.

Pretty soon signs of life started popping up and we found ourselves at the cave.

It was much larger than I imagined it would be and reminded me of a sea creature. This cave has been used for 100's of years, first by the Kumeyaay as evident by the presence of morteros, and after that it hosted all manner of smuggler's, bandits and immigrants.


As we headed inside I could feel that tinge in my belly that I get when I'm near some good Native American juju. I wondered what kind of pictographs may have been here before the graffiti. Some of the graffiti in the cave now borders on relic status, there was some dating back to the early 70's. I guess I wasn't the only one who could feel the native vibes here as someone drew the pictograph from the Lion King and it made me giggle and feel sad all at once.

After poking around the cave we climbed to a look out and took in the views. In the distance we could see Border Patrol was watching us from up on a hill and we waved to them. 

On our way back toward our trucks we continued poking around and found some potsherds in the dirt.

The wind has made some impressive sculptures in the rock. On one side this rock looked like an elephant and the other looked like a skull.

It was getting into the hot part of the day when we arrived back to our trucks. We decided to do a little 4x4 recon until things started to cool off and planned to explore a bit of the Yuha Desert via Hwy 98. We ate and watched several Border Patrol vehicles pass us on the rough road before we started down the mountain and out toward our destination.

After consulting our book we found the location of the Yuah Geoglyphs which are etchings, if you will, into the ground created by early inhabitants of the area. These glyphs are in really bad shape after being driven over but it was still kind of cool to see the desolation of the area they are in and wonder what they meant and why they were drawn there. There is a set of glyphs like these in Blythe that I want to go see sometime soon.




We continued on through this very arid desert and crossed hwy 98 to look for the Crucifixion Thorn Natural Area for no other reason than the name sounds super metal.


We were going slow looking for our turn off and decided to use the dirt frontage road that parallels hwy 98 so as not to slow traffic. It was here that we met a nice, but nosy, Border Patrol agent. He waved at me to stop and proceeded to ask me what we were doing there. I told him we were just checking stuff out and he found it odd that we were together. I tried to explain to him that we take two trucks when off-roading in remote places, especially close to the border, in case one of our vehicles gets stuck or breaks down we have options for self recovery, but once he saw Josh's Dashcam he made a beeline to him to ask a host of questions, none of which were immigration related. He made Josh turn off his truck which turned off the camera and asked him things like, what he did for a living, how we know each other, what we were doing there, where we'd come from, why we were there on a Tuesday, why we were driving two vehicles and on and on. I understood he was just checking us out and seeing if our stories matched but when he took both of our ID's and got back into his truck I was confused. He rolled up the windows and backed away from us and I started to feel anxiety rise up inside me and hoped he would leave us alone soon or I was going to have a panic attack. Eventually he gave us our ID's back and continued on saying how weird it was we were in two trucks but that we could go. I just wanted away from him, so we turned around and took the fastest route to the hwy we could. As Josh went to pass him on the dirt road the agent veered toward him and encroached slowly into his space so Josh was pushed into a sand drift which was just icing on the anxiety cake. Finally, we made it to the road and zoomed our way to Anza Borrego. We stopped at Ocotillo Community Park and asked each other what the hell that was all about! It had really bummed our vibe and made us both feel kind of scared and angry. All this time I'd been nervous about being close to the border for fear of smugglers and traffickers but my only bad encounter had been with Border Patrol! I've never had an issue with them before and it really left a bad taste in my mouth. I guess from now on I'll have to approach going south of I-8 like I'm going into Mexico and be mentally prepared for all that entails. 


We tried to get the happy vibe back and checked out some side roads before cruising out to Indian Gorge to explore a bit and set up camp. There were signs indicating a sensitive area and designated it 'no camping' which rang a bell for me that it was an archaeological site. Sure enough we found a small cave with some good sized morteros and maybe a yoni but it was hard to tell from our vantage point.



We drove all the way to the top of the south fork of Indian Gorge but someone was already camped there so we came back down and found a nice little alcove to set up camp. I have some new pinstripes from today, luckily most are just dust.

We built a fire in our new portable fire pit and set about to make dinner. I was feeling anxiety ridden and while it was probably a bad idea in hindsight, I opted to treat it with a white wine spritzer. We didn't have a corkscrew but we did have an extra long Philips head and that worked out just fine.

The sun went down and we enjoyed camp. Josh took the blacklight and hunted for scorpions but it's still to cold for them yet.

He did find some cool minerals that floureced. I think this is a hunk of calcite.

The next morning I was HUNG OVER, holy shit. I didn't even know I was hung over, I just felt really tired. It was Josh who said it was probably the wine. You can tell I don't drink, like ever. I really needed coffee and being on my period, a bathroom too, so we headed to Borrego Springs to get those needs met.

We arrived to see crowds of people standing next to every possible road with their cellphones pointed at flowers. It was crowded and we followed a sedan with half an ocotillo bush stuck in its bumper to Christmas Circle where we ate and got our shit together. After breakfast we hit up the bookstore and decided to head out to Rockhouse Canyon to see what we could find. There are petroglyphs and some shelter remnants there but we weren't hellbent on finding them this trip, we were mostly just cruising around. We made our way up the road to the junction of Butler Canyon and Rockhouse Canyon and parked. When I stepped over to the passenger side to get my pack I noticed this greeting in the sand.

We picked a random wash and climbed up it taking care not to dislodge the large rocks in the canyon walls that could hit us in the head. We hiked the channel to the top and found ourselves on top of a small ridge.


There were flowers everywhere and we too snapped the obligatory desert bloom photos, albeit off the beaten path.


We made our way to the edge of the valley and found we were now on a cliff overlooking Butler Canyon. I found it interesting that I had hiked back here when Josh and I were breaking up and I remember I was so mad at myself that he wasn't with me on that trip. To be standing there with him looking down on that canyon was cathartic in a way and I half expected to see myself walking below.

I'm looking forward to returning to explore this area more. Sometimes I wish I had giant's legs so I could see it all!

It was pretty warm out and the Flower People had started to make their way down Rockhouse Canyon so we retreated back to the trucks.

On our way I spotted a big horned lizard running across the sand. Josh loves horned lizards and I managed to catch it for a photo and so Josh could hold him. When we put him back on the rock I was amazed at how well he camouflaged!


On our way out we stopped at a little cabin on land we weren't sure was State Property. We only stayed long enough to snap a picture before heading back down the road. I'm not sure who this cabin belongs to but the land near it appears to be for sale. It would be awesome if the state bought it and made it more park for us to explore. There are some neat canyons I'd love to check out.


It was an interesting trip. Some good, some not so good. I ended up finally having that anxiety attack after this hike and ended my trip early. I think it was just a collection of my crappy week at work then the border patrol thing and the crowds that pushed me over the edge. I've done some good work on getting my levels back down so hopefully I'll be good to go for my next adventure.

Here's the topo for the Smuggler's Cave:


And for Butler/Rockhouse Canyon area:

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