Day 5: Borrego Springs to Ocotillo - Joshua Tree, Anza-Borrego, Imperial Valley 2016 - CycleBlaze

November 4, 2016

Day 5: Borrego Springs to Ocotillo

Today is the last day to have both long distance and huge climbs. I got on the road later than planned at 8:10. On the way south out of town I probably spent 45 minutes stopping at all the roadside sculptures that are scattered in the desert on both sides of Borrego Springs road. The sculptures are set back from the road and spread out. It takes a while to get to each one.

Friday morning rush hour in Borrego Springs.
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The sculptures are made by Ricardo Breceda. They have become a tourist attraction. Even more sculptures are north of town. If I knew about them in advance I could have taken a slightly different route into Borrego Springs that would have passed near those sculptures as well.

Metal sculpture by Ricardo Breceda. Dozens of his sculptures are scattered in the desert around Borrego Springs.
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Some of the sculptures depict mythical animals.
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Most of the sculptures are action poses.
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This elephant sculpture must be new because it isn't rusted like all the others.
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One disappointment of this tour is that November just isn't the season for flowers. It also isn't the season to see the desert turn somewhat green. Most bushes are dormant now.

The only place I saw flowers on the roadside during this tour. November is not flower season.
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Bill ShaneyfeltBrittlebush can flower almost any time there is a little rain. Notice they are only close to the pavement. Water runs off the pavement and soaks into the ground instead of just evaporating off the surface like the surroundings.
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2 years ago

Borrego Springs road is relatively flat, but climbing begins immediately after I turned south onto Yaqui Pass road. 1200 foot climb at a steady 6% grade. I re-entered the state park halfway up. Bright sun, no shade, no wind. It didn't take long to get drenched in sweat.

Today I pedal about 40 miles in the state park.
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Then a mere 300 foot descent to the Tamarisk Grove campground where Yaqui Pass road dead ends into highway 78.

Descending from Yaqui Pass to highway 78.
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Tamarisk Grove campground has delightful shade in a desert canyon. Even showers. But the water is not safe to drink.
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I was spoiled riding on Yaqui Pass road, a low traffic county road with a generous paved shoulder. State highway 78 has more traffic but has almost no shoulder. The opposite of what you'd expect. I was glad to have a mirror.

I pedaled uphill on highway 78 for 8 miles going southwest towards San Diego. A hundred motor homes towing ATV trailers drove the opposite direction, towards the Ocotillo Wells off road vehicle area.

I was happy to finally turn left onto San Diego county road S2. Still uphill, but less traffic and no trucks or motor homes. The first few miles were in Shelter Valley which is private property surrounded by the state park. Many homes and a few ranches, but no store. 2000 feet elevation, much higher than Borrego Springs. Just before re-entering the park I stopped for a burger at Stagecoach Trail RV park. They have tent camping with showers and a store/grill.

Ranch in Shelter Valley.
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The road steadily climbs to a 2600 foot summit. The desert is noticeably more lush above 2000 feet. Bunch grass appears, cactus and bushes are denser, and the creosote bushes are larger and greener. Near the summit is Butterfield Ranch RV park. They advertise a store but I didn't stop.

San Diego county road S2 is a historic stagecoach route.
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This is a famous and historic wagon road. It was the first road to connect southern California to the rest of the nation. 10 years later, in 1858, the nation's first cross-country stagecoach began operating along this route. The Butterfield Overland Mail. 9-passenger stagecoaches traveled day and night, changing horse teams every 20 miles to travel an astonishing 120 miles per day. The mail contract made it a commercial success but the U.S. civil war forced it to shut down in 1861.


The Overland Mail made two trips a week over a period of two and a half years. Each Monday and Thursday morning the stagecoach would leave Tipton and San Francisco on their cross continent, carrying passengers, freight and up to 12,000 letters. The western fare one-way from Memphis or St. Louis to the Golden Gate was $200, with most stages arriving at their final destination 22 days later. The Butterfield Overland Stage Company had more than 800 people in its employ, had 139 relay stations, 1800 head of stock and 250 Concord Stagecoaches in service at one time.
Box canyon was the last segment to be completed on the Butterfield Stage route.
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Barrel cactus is rare, but here I saw many of them.
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I appreciate that this road goes long distances in the state park with no fences, no power lines, no driveways, no houses. Unspoiled desert to my untrained eyes. And I appreciate that it's a no-traffic "road to nowhere".

Loving the old wagon road through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
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There are two San Diego county parks along this route. Apparently the county parks were here before the state park was expanded. I stopped at Vallecito Stage Station county park. It has a 1934 replica of the original 1852 stage station. It also has a campground with shade and drinkable water but no showers.

Vallecito Stage Station. 1934 replica of the original 1852 structure.
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The Stage Station has super thick walls to stay cool in the hot desert.
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The second major summit of the day is a few miles after the stage station. There is no sign at the summit. The elevation is about 2600 feet. A short distance past the summit is the turnoff for Agua Caliente county park. They have camping and a hot spring fed swimming pool. It's hotter and has less shade than all the campgrounds I passed earlier in the day.

As expected the landscape became quite barren by the time I got to the bottom of the long descent. Then a steep switchback 500 foot climb that offered some good views as the sun was setting, but still remarkably barren. I'm returning to the Colorado desert.

Looking back while climbing Sweeney Pass.
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I rushed to get to the Carrizo Badlands overlook before the sun sets. Barely made it! I rested there for a few minutes, watching the colors change as the sun set.

Carrizo Badlands near sunset.
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Still 15 more miles to today's destination. Fortunately it was gradual downhill and the wind was calm. The temperature dropped to about 70F soon after sunset.

The hill behind the Ocotillo glowed red for only 1 minute.
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Final descent to Ocotillo, on the southwest edge of the Imperial Valley.
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Portable Border Patrol checkpoint at the San Diego/Imperial county line. Closed now.
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Traffic dropped to nothing as it got dark. Not a single car passed by the last 5 miles.

It was dark enough to see stars for the last 3 miles before I arrived in the little village of Ocotillo. Got one of 4 motel rooms at Ocotillo Motel and Trailer Park. $50. The restaurant was closed, so I had a surprisingly good spinach pizza at the bar instead. The sleepy town has a population of 300, next to an I-8 exit.

Today was one of the more challenging, but satisfying days of the tour. I really enjoyed my excursion through the Anza-Borrego Desert. It has a great combination of desert scenery, history, and good cycling roads.

Today was totally sunny with a high of 88F (31C) and light wind. Normal November weather.

Distance: 70.5 mi. (113 km)
Climbing: 3551 ft. (1076 m)
Average Speed: 9.6 mph (15.4 km/h)

Today's ride: 71 miles (114 km)
Total: 262 miles (422 km)

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