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Panoramas That Dazzle at Pinyon Ridge

November 29, 1998|JOHN McKINNEY

Highway S-22 crosses Anza-Borrego Desert State Park from east to west and reveals a land as intriguing as its names: Hellhole Canyon, Indian Head Peak, Truckhaven Rocks and Seventeen Palms Oasis.

Like many desert roads, S-22 has over the past half century evolved from a trail to a Jeep road to a highway. One of my favorite views is off S-22 at Font's Point, where an overlook offers a breathtakingly beautiful panorama of Baja California, the Salton Sea, Borrego Valley and the sculptured maze of the Borrego Badlands.

One of my favorite off-Highway S-22 views of Anza-Borrego is from atop 4,573-foot Wilson Peak. Rewarding the hiker's peak-climbing efforts are excellent vistas of the central part of the park, and from Borrego Valley to the Salton Sea.

The hike to Wilson Peak, one of the longer out-and-back-trails in the state park, traverses an old Jeep trail up well-named Pinyon Ridge. Pinyon Ridge is just that--a large block of boulders and pin~on pine that stands just high enough above the desert floor to offer a 360-degree view. Its lower slopes are cloaked in cactuses and creosote bushes, its upper elevations dotted with yucca, chemise and the pin~on pines promised by its name.

Pinyon Ridge and some of the surrounding environs are included in a state-designated wilderness area. Dirt roads abound in the area, but the one climbing the ridge, an old four-wheel-drive road, is closed to all but foot traffic.

Wilson Trail and Wilson Peak take their names from Borrego Valley rancher Alfred Wilson, who grazed his cattle in these parts in the late 19th century. The trail gives out a bit before the summit, but a short cross-country scramble will take you to the top.

Your route to the trail head--three miles on Culp Valley Road--usually can be traveled with two-wheel-drive vehicles; however, the brush does crowd the road in places. Watch your car's paint job! If the road has deteriorated or is too overgrown with brush for your taste, numerous turnouts along the way allow you to leave your vehicle before the trail head. It's a nice two-mile road walk from Cottonwood Spring to the Wilson trail head. Motorists and hikers should check with park authorities about the condition of Culp Valley Road, which is suitable only for high-clearance vehicles.

Directions to trail head: From Highway S-22, about eight miles from the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center in Borrego Springs, at mile marker 10.4, turn west onto signed, dirt Culp Valley Road. At 0.4 mile, a spur road leading left (south) leads 0.2 mile to Culp Valley Picnic Area, a couple of tables beneath some shade trees offering a great view of Culp Valley's grassland floor.

At 0.6 mile, a right-branching spur road leads to a dead-end parking area for Culp Valley visitors. A mile from the highway, after passing two more left-forking roads, you'll spot three large cottonwood trees standing near Cottonwood Spring, a pipe-fed concrete water basin; the overflow nurtures a patch of lush greenery.

After two more miles of travel on Culp Valley Road, you'll reach a small turnaround and the signed Wilson trail head.

The hike: Wilson Trail heads southeast over hard-packed sand. The climb is through an intriguing mix of both desert and mountain flora: cholla, yucca and beaver-tail cactus as well as manzanita, pin~on pine and juniper.

The path winds south and east, passing boulders stacked upon boulders like a child's blocks.

Nearly five miles along, the old road/trail ends, leaving you just north of Wilson Peak (if you choose to climb the peak, make your way between the boulders and weather-worn pin~on pine to the top of the peak. This is no easy task). The panoramic view includes the Laguna and Cuyamaca mountains to the southwest and the Santa Rosa Mountains to the northeast.

Beyond the peak, a primitive path leads east, then bends north before ending in about 0.5 mile at a rock-rimmed vista point perched on the edge of Pinyon Ridge. The view from here is often better than that from atop Wilson Peak.


Wilson Trail

WHERE: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

DISTANCE: To Mt. Wilson, and Pinyon Ridge is 10 miles round trip with 700-foot elevation gain.

TERRAIN: High desert environment, crowned by pinyon pine-dotted ridge.

HIGHLIGHTS: Panoramic views.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate to strenuous.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, 200 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs, CA 92004; tel. (619) 767-4684.

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