agua caliente.

Although I am currently thousands of miles away in Thailand, I keep thinking of what an important transition it is in my life when summer turns to fall, and the desert, off limits due to the heat of summer for so many months, once again welcomes us to explore.

Though I frequently espouse the beauty and grandeur of the big-ticket destinations like J-Tree and Anza-Borrego, there are countless other unsung places that will welcome your thirst for adventure or solitude.

A more obscure region that will take a little more effort to access is Agua Caliente.  Part of the San Diego County Parks system, it’s on the fringe of Anza-Borrego, out the Butterfield Stage Route along S2, and has hot springs to make the arduous journey worth your while.  Stock up before the drive –  it’s a desolate road.  Spend the weekend, hike the trails, or tackle them on mountain bike, and be sure to soak in the pools.  Discover the desolation and enjoy the millions of stars at night.  Now you are initiated into desert life.

Oh, and they now have cabins if camping isn’t your thing.


Why Do We Need Folk Art?

The man who made Salvation Mountain died the other day.  In a sense that means that a dream that we all share died.  A dream of randomness; a dream of hope and spontaneity and freedom and purpose.

Did anyone even understand Salvation Mountain?  Could you help yourself from loving it even if you didn’t?

It’s so perfect, out there on the edge of the epitome of weird, the desolation and disaster of the Salton Sea, the hot springs, the brutal sun, the unforgiving landscape, and the squatter colony they call Slab City.

Most of us give because we feel compelled.  And we give a little.  But to give relentlessly, and without making much sense at all?  Now, that’s something beautiful.  Maybe that’s art.

A few years back, we spent some time traveling around the Salton Sea and the Anza-Borrego Desert region.  We stopped by Salvation Mountain and let our kid, our only child back then, run free.  It was a place with quite a bit of magic.  It was sort of legendary.

The man who made Salvation Mountain died the other day.  His passing is iconic.  His life has a certain relevance to us all, regardless of if we ever made it out to that lonely desert beyond Niland, California, or saw his appearance in Into the Wild.  We all need folk art, we all need beauty, and we all need Salvation Mountain.


Anaya was always one to run off at that age. Here I am chasing her down as she makes her way to the top of the mountain.

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A walk Across the Range

Winter is coming late this year.  This means that the trails in the high country of the San Jacinto Mountains are still open and passable even in December.

Last Saturday, a friend and I threw caution to the wind in the face of a storm rolling in off the Pacific and walked the route connecting Idyllwild with the Palm Springs Tram.

The route begins at the Humber Park Trailhead, just outside of Idyllwild, and continues up the Devil’s Slide Trail to the “saddle,” where trails diverge in many directions.  The first couple of miles out of Idyllwild are a climb with no respite, but clear areas afford many commanding views across the valleys and out to the coast range and the ocean beyond.  This is true a true highlight of Southern California.

From the saddle, we head past meadows and through pine forests along the Long Valley trail.  It doesn’t take long in this narrow range before you are looking down at the desert on the east side of the escarpment and can see the shores of the Salton Sea.

Late in the journey, there is a long upward haul toward Hidden Lake Divide and then the descent begins to Round Valley and eventually to the tram.

All told, we were on the trail a scant 5 hours.  Not bad for traversing a range.  The tram is a treat for anyone who has not had the experience.  And upon arrival, they have set up a restaurant and bar to reward you for your efforts.  The ride down is free for hikers and of course you’ll need to have a shuttle vehicle at the bottom.

View from the Devil's Slide of a storm rolling in off the Pacific.

View from the Devil’s Slide of a storm rolling in off the Pacific.


View to the east. Hazy desert and the shores of the Salton Sea.


The arid, east side of the San Jacintos, with the storm that was chasing us east just making it over the ridge line.


The storm closing in, and making the wind howl as we neared the end of the trail.


The ride down the tram to the desert below.


After seeing how quickly this route could be traversed, I devised in my head a trip that would be perfect for a weekend getaway.

I would…

  1.  Begin in Palm Springs and take the tram to the top.
  2. Walk the 8-ish miles to Humber Park trailhead in Idyllwild.
  3. Walk the couple of miles into town, or perhaps catch a ride from another hiker or climber.
  4. Get a room at a local hotel or bed and breakfast.
  5. Clean up and go out for a nice dinner.
  6. Retreat to the cabin to chill by the fire.
  7. Grab a nice breakfast in the morning before getting on the trail back to Palm Springs
  8. Perhaps take a different, longer route back – there are several to choose from.
  9. Arrive at the tram for a nice meal with a commanding view of the desert below.
  10. Grab a free ride down the tram and return to reality.

I’m going to keep that one in the back of my head for future reference.