At Borrego Springs: San Felipe Road - Looking Back With 2020 Vision, Part I - CycleBlaze

January 5, 2020

At Borrego Springs: San Felipe Road

After breakfast I bike out to the airport to pick up our rental car, and then drive back to the hotel where Rachael is waiting at the curb with her bike, both suitcases and the panniers.  We’ve got a standard sized SUV to keep us company for the next two weeks.  It feels like such a huge vehicle, but we need it.  As it is, it’s a bit of a challenge fitting in two large suitcases and two folded bicycles.

And, it’s a bit of a challenge just driving the damn thing.  First off, I haven’t been behind the wheel of a car for four months.  Mostly though, it’s a challenge because new cars are so different than the simple, stick shift Jetta we’ve been driving for the past 20 years.  So much new technology!  GPS.  Back up camera.  Push button starter.  Steering wheel warmer, for Pete’s sake.

And, we’re not orienting ourselves to all of this on some quiet county road.  We’re starting off in downtown San Diego, and merging on to the freeway a few miles after leaving the hotel.  We have to shift gears quickly here, folks.

Half an hour later though we’re still alive and unscarred, climbing East through the foothills toward Ramona and beyond, anxiously eying the narrow, unshouldered road and the surprisingly heavy weekend traffic.  I’m sure glad we’re not biking this thing; I’m not really even all that comfortable driving it.  Our plan for the day is to park at one end of San Felipe Road and bike to its other end, but we’re wondering if it will be safe.  

When we arrive though, it looks perfect.  For the first time, there’s a broad shoulder and the road is marked as a bike route.

The Great Blue Whale, our traveling companion in the coming days.
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We’ve ridden San Felipe Road before, on our Christmas Day ride down from Wynola to Borrego Springs.  We began that day in a near freezing fog, but by the time we arrived here the fog had burned off, we were thawed out, and we enjoyed a spectacular ride the rest of the way.  I’m going to save a bit of time here, and just reuse the way I described this road four years ago:

Route S2 is an absolute cycling delight.  It comes with a lot of history, following the route of the old Southern Emigrant Trail that brought many early settlers to southern California.  They came this way for the same reason we have today - it provides the lowest elevation passage of the Peninsular Ranges.  The scenery is spectacular, there is very little traffic, and there is a lovely 6 foot shoulder for its entire length.  It's a ride I would love to repeat someday.

The route begins with a gradual climb up Warner Valley to the high point, Teofulio Summit (recently renamed from Warner Pass to honor a member of the Mission Indians who homesteaded near here).  From there it is a fast, beautiful 1700' drop to the end of the road, transitioning from green oak woods at the top to the arid Anza Borrego Desert at the end.  

It’s just as fine a ride today, with a couple of exceptions.  First, it’s much warmer, and we’ll even work off a sweat climbing back up to the pass on the return to the car.  Second of course, today’s ride is an out and back so we’ll ride it differently.  Rachael will keep her own steady pace, and I’ll stop here and there with the camera.  She’ll reach the end of the road before me and turn back, so I miss the final mile and a half of the road.

Looking back at the earlier ride, I think I did a fine job taking photos then - maybe better even, I’d say.  I could have saved even more time by keeping my camera pocketed, stayed with Rachael, and just reused the photos from last time along with the narrative.

The big difference though is the traffic.  There’s almost none going in our direction, but many vehicles pass going the other way.  Something like 80% of them are hauling some sort of off road vehicle behind them, apparently returning from a weekend or long holiday break down by the Salton Sea.  This might be about the busiest day of the year on this normally quiet road.

Our ride today is an out and back of San Felipe Road. For its entire length it has a safe shoulder on both margins, and is signed as a bike route. An ideal day ride.
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The first six miles climb up the long valley southeast of Warner Springs. At elevation 3,000’, this is upland ranch country.
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No one lives in the valley any more but the horses and cattle though. The closest home I can see is five miles northwest in Warner Springs.
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After a gradual six mile climb we summit out here. Its a modest summit and I’m surprised it’s worth a marker, but we can hardly pass it up.
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Not long past the summit the land opens up and we see the course of the rest of the ride - a steady drop down San Felipe Valley.
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No, this isn’t our route. I’m just off road and communing with nature for a minute, looking for snakes. Up here near the summit it’s quite green, with the north facing slopes above 3,500’ blanketed in oaks.
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Granite Mountain rises ahead. Our ride will end before then, in the depression at its base.
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Banner Creek runs down the upper part of the valley off in the brush somewhere. I can’t tell if any water actually makes it to the surface, but there’s enough around to support some colorful riparian vegetation.
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I imagine this must be about the most colorful time of year here.
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Bill ShaneyfeltFeb/March might surprise you... If they get winter rains.
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltWe’ll see. We’ll still be in the desert into early February before heading north again.
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7 months ago
Bill ShaneyfeltTo Scott AndersonLast year was a superbloom. I got to see the tail end of it in April. Magnificent, even as it was drying up. I posted a ton of pictures on facebook. https://www.facebook.com/william.shaneyfelt/media_set?set=a.10218444616762835&type=3
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7 months ago
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We’re still gradually dropping, but the last miles of the ride flatten out and dry out as we approach the floor of the basin and enter the desert.
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Coming back at me. As usual on out and backs, Rachael has ridden ahead while I stop with the camera Here and there. This will be a common theme for the next two weeks - most of our car-assisted day rides will be out and backs.
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We meet up and pull off on the shoulder to sit on the rocks to eat lunch before the long climb back up to the pass.  It’s nearly ten miles back up to the top, but not a bad climb at all.  Surprisingly though, Rachael keeps falling well behind me.  We talk about it at the summit once she catches up with me, and she’s really struggling.  Has a side ache, is really having difficulty with the climb, is discouraged.  Fortunately, it’s all downhill from here.

Back at the car, we’re folding the bikes and discover that her rear tire is very low, maybe flattening.  She says she noticed that the ride was feeling bouncy but just assumed it was the chip seal road.  No wonder she was struggling!  I thank her for riding it out so we didn’t have to fix a flat on the road.  We’ll take a look at it in the morning, but I suspect she got thorned at our lunch spot.  Not the best omen for a two week stint in desert country.

The long ten mile climb back to Teofulio Summit.
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She’s leading the climb now, but won’t be for long. It’s a pretty easy climb really, but surprisingly she’s struggling with it. We won’t know why until we get back to the Whale.
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Near the summit there are some impressive old oaks near the summit. I should have paid closer attention, but I think they’re Quercia agrifolia, the coast live oak.
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Over the summit, dropping back toward the car. It’s only about three, but already it’s getting chilly in the shadows.
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In Warner Valley
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In Warner Valley
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It must be quittin’ time. The Holsteins are all slowly heading the same direction, for wherever they shelter for the night.
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Back at the car, we have company. About a half dozen horses are loitering by the fence, scratching their necks on the barbed wire and seeking treats. They collect quite a crowd, with cars pulling up and families with children popping out to pet some ponies.
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Another look open to interpretation.
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Back in the belly of the Whale again, we drive on to Borrego Springs, down Montezuma Road.  We didn’t take this approach last time, so it’s a new road to us.  And it’s astonishing.  A steep, twisting three thousand foot drop to the Anzo-Borrego Desert, with a spectacular view with each new bend in the road.  It’s especially dramatic late in the day, with shadows creeping up the slopes of the mountains.  It looks like an awesome ride, assuming we decide it’s safe enough to bike and we have the stamina for it.  It would probably go easier with air in the tires.

And, we have great video for today’s ride to show you, someday.  The WiFi at our place in Borrego Springs isn’t solid enough to upload it though, so you’ll have to wait.  This will probably be the case for the next two days, and almost certainly when we get to Death Valley as well.  In fact, I’m not sure we’ll have WiFi in Death Valley at all, so don’t be surprised or concerned if the journal goes dark for a few days.


Some late breaking news:  I spoke too soon.  We have video?

Video sound track: The Lawnmower Song, by Eric Tingstad

The drop down Montezuma Valley Road to Borrego Springs is absolutely stunning. All the way down this steep, narrow, twisted road we consider whether we have the legs and nerve to bike back up this way.
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Borrego Springs, our home for the next three nights. Awesome.
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Ride stats today: 33 miles, 2,400’; for the tour: 671 miles, 29,500’

Today's ride: 33 miles (53 km)
Total: 671 miles (1,080 km)

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Bill ShaneyfeltFollowing this segment with interest. I grew up in Mojave, (age 10-20) about half way to Death Valley. It is where I became a desert rat, but only after about 5 years to get used to it. Eager to see what critters you find! It is couple months early to find reptiles unless you flip boards, etc.

I left the desert in 1970 and really miss it. That is one of the reasons I started following cycle touring journals.
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltI remembered you have roots down here, and have been thinking of you. I’m no board flipper, but we’ll see what turns up. I did see a small lizard scoot across the road today east of Borrego Springs, which is promising.
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7 months ago
Bill ShaneyfeltTo Scott AndersonThis time of year, that little lizard is likely a side-blotched lizard. They take advantage of every warm up possible.
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7 months ago
Jen GrumbyMaybe this will be where you catch up with Bruce on the snake count?

Though, I vote for mostly live snakes seen from a safe distance.
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7 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyThat’s the goal, though I imagine most of them are still sleeping it off for another month. I’m really hoping to win the live snake count though, and would rather not see the flattened ones. I’ve always liked snakes, for some reason. I used to keep garter snakes as pets when I was a kid.
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7 months ago