This past weekend, I had Friday off from work and me and my friends really wanted to go camping. We had epic plans and wanted to go hiking on something with spectacle views, we had our sites on Half Dome and Yosemite.
Our first plan was to go to Half Dome, I was really excited but also nervous the crowds would spoil my opinion of Yosemite. I mostly like to go camping to get away, I loved the vast solitude I experienced at the Grand Canyon, and the beautiful untouched wilderness in the High Sierras.
Half Dome is this dream hike of mine, but that fact that permits are so hard to obtain make me weary of crowds. Either way, I still want to hike Half Dome, and me and my friends entered the lottery. According to the lottery rules you can enter yourself two days before the day you want to hike for the daily lottery. I stayed up till midnight to enter my permits on Thursday, for the hike on Saturday. Come Friday morning, I was greatly disappointed to see that I had not one the lottery and am now officially 0/2 for Half Dome. Plan A was a bust but we still wanted to go camping.
For our Half Dome plans, we planned on getting a camp site and day Hiking Half Dome, my friends I was with were not all experienced hikers or backpackers. On Friday while I was off from work I was crafting plan B for our camping trip over the weekend. I had hiked up and camped Mt. San Jacinto in the past and loved the views, and thought this would be a good plan B.
Since my friends were beginner backpackers and campers, I planned taking the tram up from Palm Springs and camping at Round Valley. Round Valley is a 2-3 mile hike from the tram stop at the top and is only another 2-3 miles from the summit of San Jacinto. I called on Friday and was told there were 8 spots left for Saturday night at Round Valley.
Saturday morning came and we all packed into my Jeep around 8am and drove off to Palm Springs. When we arrived at the gate for the tram, I asked where the ranger station was in order to obtain our permit for Round Valley. The ranger station was at the top after you exited the tram, so without thinking we excitedly bought tickets for the tram and boarded for a beautiful ride to the top.
The tram ride was awesome! You start in the desert of Palm Springs, in the desert heat. The tram is a round pod and rotates as you slowly climb the mountain.
Only the interior of the tram rotated, the windows did not, which made taking pictures an interesting challenge in its own right. I do not like taking pictures through glass windows, so I would try to stick my camera out the open windows to take a shot. The only problem is, as I tried to keep the camera still I would slowly be moving away from the spot as the interior rotated. This turned photography into a bit off a game, but I was still able to get a few decent pictures on the way up.
Once you get to the top, and out of the tram building you are greeted by amazingly cool mountain air. The cool mountain air you experience once you get off the tram is a stark contrast to what you feel at the base in the desert of Palm Springs.
Once at the top, it hit me we didn’t have permits to camp yet… There were some beautiful forest views that I wanted to take pictures of, but instead we briskly walked down the path straight to the ranger station. Once inside the ranger station, I received the bad news, that there were no more camp sites at Round Valley… I quickly asked about Strawberry Junction where I camped last time on my hike, but it to was full. After trying to negotiate with the park rangers, we walked out with our heads down, and Plan B was a bust.
Since we were at the top of the tram we debated a bunch of different ideas. We tooled with the idea of making a quick summit, it would have been 10-11 miles round trip and we still wanted to try and camp some place else. We were all in pretty good shape and I am confident we would have been able to summit and still make the tram back down, but we didn’t know where we would be camping so we decided to just eat lunch at the tram station, head down and look for another site to camp at. At the top of the tram station, there is a small cafe, I purchased a surprisingly good pulled pork sandwich and we went outside and enjoyed the views of the desert below.
While at the top we called around at a couple different camp sites at the base of San Jacinto, but they honestly were not what we were looking for. Mostly drive up car camping type sites. At this point, I was pretty sick of the whole permit system, I understand why it exists but all I wanted to do was get away and camp with my amazing friends. So it was time to formulate Plan C! I was determined Plan C would be bullet proof, I was going to say screw the permit system and go camping where I knew we did not need reservations or permits, and would be away from any crowds.
Anza Borrego State park is a beautiful desert park in California. Anza Borrego is one my favorite places, because I can take my Jeep off roading and bring a cooler of beer and a fire pit to enjoy a night under the stars. Best of all, you do not need reservations or permits, just drive and pull off to camp almost anywhere!
After lunch we were ready to head back down San Jacinto and and take the drive to Anza Borrego.
Once back at the bottom in Palm Springs we didn’t rush out of there, we explored a little at the bottom. I took a few more pictures enjoying the scenery, and observing the beautiful and striking height of San Jacinto rising out of the desert.
I never honestly thought I would get to Plan C, but we did and I knew it was perfect, no crowds, no permits, just solitude and beautiful views. Since we had not planned on Plan C, we decided to make a few stops along the way.
To preserve the beauty of Anza Borrego, you can only make fires if you have a fire pit. I have found in the past that a $20 metal wash bin which can be found at Home Depot makes a perfect cheap fire pit to bring to the desert. I had left my fire pit at home so we stopped to pick another one up at Home Depot along with some fire wood. We also made a stop to buy some beer, its funny how things change when you do not have to carry everything in on your back. I also really needed a beer at this point, I mean come on we were on Plan C…
My favorite place in Anza Borrego is Coyote Canyon, I try and go once a month. I know the trail really well and can pretty much drive it with my eyes closed. As my Jeep tires hit the dirt, leading to the Coyote Canyon Trail head, I was finally feeling freedom and all my cares were rushing away.
As we approached the gate to Coyote Canyon, my heart sunk when I saw this:
The sign on the gate says “CLOSED”. Coyote Canyon is Closed until 30 Sept to preserve watering rights for the rare bighorn sheep. Plan C which I thought was bullet proof was shut down just like that. As I turned my Jeep around, I thought maybe this is a sign we just weren’t meant to go camping this weekend. At this point we could only just laugh, but we were all really disappointed.
I drove back out and back onto paved road, until I got cell phone service back. Once I had cell phone service again, I pulled over and did some last minute research. Anza Borrego is pretty huge, and there are a lot more trails out there. I had not explored the rest of Anza Borrego but the other trails were another hour and a half drive.
We took a quick poll and decided we were going camping this weekend no matter what, so we pressed on toward Fish Creek Wash.
After another hour and a half of driving we made it back off the blacktop and into the desert. As I drove off the road, and followed the path we entered a beautiful canyon.
This was absolutely beautiful and amazing! I felt like I was driving through a mini Grand Canyon, and it was so much fun to drive through! At this point I was in 100% explore mode, and was having a blast. As we followed the meandering canyon we were looking for a good place to camp. We eventually made it to the end of the path and found an awesome camping spot, and I even was able to rig up my hammock in its own mini canyon.
If you have never been out to Anza Borrego, one of the best parts is that the stars at night are absolutely stunning! We were fortunate enough to have a late moon rise and I was able to take a lot of awesome picture! We may have had to cycle through plan A, B, and C to get to an awesome plan D but we were determined to have a great night camping and it paid off!