SnowBird Diaries
Orocopia Wilderness
Wed, 25 Jan 2006
Dear John and Delia,

> Because of Thurs and Mon appointments in Indio-Palm Springs area last week, we decided to explore some camping closer than Anza Borrego State Park and headed off towards the Orocopia Mts., just 20 mi E of Indio. The first access seemed to be off of Painted Canyon Road. Surely a well-named wonderland.

A short ride down a well-graded but VERY wash-boarded gravel road and we spotted a short easy camper-friendly dirt trail heading towards the hills (only rough part was the first few entrance feet). A little distance in we found ourselves a great parking space with no one around, altho plenty of signs of previous human occupancy judging by remnants like decaying bedsprings and metal chairs and other sun-bleached heaps of old trash.

The marvelous Georgia O'keefe scene of the fantastic dry red and brown hills viewed from the RV windows had us trotting up the wash to see what we could see. We quickly reached the wilderness boundary, well-blocked off from vehicle traffic with huge deliberately placed boulders, and continued up the canyon into the beautiful arroyo.

Quite an experience. The lovely colors of the almost vertical canyon sides, twisting and turning to give picture perfect views in red, and all the possible shades of coffee and cream, with a sliver of deep blue sky visible above, really quite breath-taking. Occasionally a creosote bush added a little green, and the dried stalks of "desert trumpet" Eriogonum inflatum, scattered over some more gentle slopes contributed a dusting of orange. Other than that there was just silence and very little sign of wild-life - I saw a few rabbit tracks, some coyote and fox prints, a pair of ravens, one lizard scuttling into a crack in the wall, a few ant colonies here and there, that was it.

The floor of the wash exhibited every possible example of water erosion, with stretches as hard as glass and as smooth as a clay slip on a pot before firing, at other times as softly pitted as a sand-blasted bottle on the beach. Where muddy waters had briefly collected and dried in shallow depressions the geometric fragile shapes were so lovely we took care not to crush them with our bootprints.

The lowest level of the lower wash was stratified like layer cake with decades of alternating deposits of silty clay from sluggish streams, pebbly deposits from brisker flows and bouldery signs of former high water torrents. Bill was fascinated with the occasional white flakes of caliche along the bottom of the wash, the limestone mortar that dissolves out of the chalkier muds, then solidifies, breaks up and tumbles out as the soft mudstones around it dissolves.

Proceeding upward on a very gradual rise we came to sections where one could just squeeze thru, an eerie feeling as scraping the sides with my clothing produced mini landslides making crumbles around my feet. Finally a small fallen-archway partially blocked my path - at most a mile and a half from the entrance. Bill crawled under the arch and continued the gradual climb up to where he could get a view. He said the canyon broadened out again after the arch. But I was content to sit and enjoy the dry cool of the depths, the complete peaceful silence and the lovely shapes and colors.

Walking down and out of the wash towards our camper one can see the irregular blue outline of the northern edge of the Salton Sea, the green tomato fields and citrus orchards, with the blue and purple Santa Rosa Mts. beyond to the West - a picture-postcard view.

So we settled in for a few days, raised our solar collectors so I could pursue my computer language lessons mid-day while Bill sketched and painted in the canyon. Each late morning and early evening we walked up to the narrows again to enjoy the beauty of its depths.

It is so wonderful that areas like this have been preserved from the ravages of the off-road vehicles, shopping malls and houses that everywhere seem to be destroying the desert in the Coahella Valley. On our next visit we will take our camper to the end of Painted Canyon road where a short jeep exploration revealed additional camper parking places and the wilderness boundary marker with more trails and canyons to explore.

Love, H