San Felipe Creek - Winterlude 2021 - CycleBlaze

January 26, 2022

San Felipe Creek

While waiting for the morning to warm up I hear a seductive coo outside and step out to investigate.

Just another mourning dove, perched on a pole above our room.
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It’s 42 when I first check the weather this morning, but the prediction is for another spectacular day - warm, partly sunny, calm.  We get an even earlier start this morning, leaving just after nine; and by the time we start climbing Yaqui Pass five miles later it’s already warm enough to shed the last of our outer layers.

Heading south with the walls of Coyote canyon rising behind us, we put in a subtle plug for a motel we like. Product placement, I think this is called.
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Jen GrumbyMakes me want to go there!
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3 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyYou should! Pretty sure you’d like it down here. A nice midwinter break.
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3 months ago

Yaqui Pass is another of the best rides around Borrego Springs.  Climbing a thousand feet in five miles at a steady 4-5% pace, it is enough of a workout to give you a feeling of accomplishment without wearing you down before the rest of the outing.  Views are outstanding as you climb the broad, open bajada (my new word for the day) and rise above the valley floor.  

Nearing the top of the climb the road passes through a narrow gap before dropping steeply down the other side for a mile through a series of tight bends (which our new Garmin Edges helpfully warn us of in advance in case we aren’t paying any attention and crash into a cliff or careen off into space because we didn’t notice the switchbacks ahead).  At the bottom we stop in for the usual reason at conveniently placed Tamarisk Grove Campground, the only spot with facilities we’ll see before returning this way twenty-five miles later. 

Yaqui Pass is an ideal climb - smooth road, generous shoulder, minimal traffic, fantastic views.
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Near the top of the climb we’re up high enough that we can see San Gorgonio Mountain through the gap above Coyote Canyon.
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At elevation 11,500’, San Gorgonio is the highest peak in southern California. Assuming I’m identifying it correctly, we’re seeing it here from a distance of about 70 miles.
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The view south from the top of Yaqui Pass. We’re looking down into the canyon of San Felipe Creek. If you look closely you can see Route 78 working it’s way west up from the Salton Sea to its upper end at Julian. It’s good news for us that the highway looks virtually deserted this morning.
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The next dozen miles are an unbroken climb as we follow dry San Felipe Creek uphill - first westward on Route 78, and then northwest on Route S2, San Felipe Road.  This stretch of the 78 is a fantastic riding experience as it snakes through a narrow gorge - if you’re here on the right day at least.  There’s little or no shoulder and often little room between you and the nearest cliff is a giant truck or RV comes by - as happens from time to time.  Today though with so little traffic it’s not really a concern as long as you’re paying attention.

The main thing to keep in mind though is that everything changes on the weekend, when the road can be filled with an unbroken stream of pickups and vans hauling off-road vehicles to or from the vast Ocotillo Wells SVRA (State Vehicle Recreation Area). It wouldn’t do to be here on a bike at the wrong time.

Westbound on Route 78, climbing up San Felipe Gorge.
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Continuing the climb, enjoying fantastic scenery on a near-empty road.
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More of the same.
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It’s not a bad climb, but today it feels easier than I remember.  For awhile I’m feeling bullish about the state of my climbing legs, until gradually it sinks in that we have a not insignificant tailwind doing much of the work for us today.  We really have gotten out here at the perfect time for this ride!  We’ll be biking into it on the way back, but of course going downhill then.

The traffic stays lIght all the way to the turnoff to San Felipe Road, but still it’s a relief to be on this quiet road with the same characteristics as the ones in the Borrego Springs basin - wide, smooth, and with a generous shoulder dedicated as a bike lane.  It’s a beautiful, relaxing climb - and once more nearly effortless as our tailwind is still with us.

Another of my favorite views from this region, looking across San Felipe Creek to the Volcan Mountains.
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Climbing San Felipe Road. If we continued on this way we’d eventually top out at Teofulio Summit before dropping down to Montezuma Road.
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Rachael’s ahead of me a ways, but not that far for a change - perhaps a quarter mile or so.  I don’t really know how far we’ll climb until I see her coming back at me 25 miles into the climb - farther than she had been expecting to go today when she was complaining of feeling off her peak on the climb up Yaqui Pass.

It’s an out and back, so the rest of the ride is what you’d expect - mostly downhill except for that short but steepish southern ascent up Yaqui Pass.  It’s a beautiful ride the whole way, gorgeous really - and even more thrilling going this way, downhill and into a headwind that must be around 20 mph by now.  It makes us appreciate our new radar taillights because the wind is so loud that it’s hard to hear the occasional traffic until it’s almost on us.

We stop for lunch at the entrance to Anzio-Borrego State Park, its entrance sign providing us a much needed break from the relentless wind.  After that we drop a few miles more to Tamarisk Campground and the turnoff to Yaqui Pass, and then face the only real work since we turned back.  Surprisingly though it’s nowhere near as bad as either of us remembered.  Maybe we really are working ourselves into some kind of shape.

Video sound track: Heart of Gold, by Neil Young

(A note on the music: chosen today as a tribute to Neil Young for his refusal to share the Spotify platform with Joe Rogan.)

Reversing course, dropping down San Felipe Road.
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A well established boot tree along San Felipe Road. We’re looking here at part of a collection of perhaps a hundred pairs.
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Back on Route 78, eastbound and downhill. What’s not visible here is that we’re pushing into a loud 20 mph header.
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If the ocotillo is in bloom, can spring be far behind?
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Lunchtime. Yes, it’s standard for Rocky to remove one shoe and sock when she has lunch. Nothing to see here, folks.
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Still descending. I think I’ve stopped for a photo of this well-marked bend every time we’ve come through here.
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The much feared south face of Yaqui Pass proves to be no big deal.
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Some interesting clouds above San Ysidro Mountain this evening.
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Jen GrumbyBeautiful shot!

And I love saying 'San Ysidro'. The sound of it .. and this lovely photo .. .. make me want to go there.
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3 months ago
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Ride stats today: 50 miles, 3,500’ 

Today's ride: 50 miles (80 km)
Total: 2,056 miles (3,309 km)

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Angela NaefThanks for sharing your adventures! Rachael, enjoyed the ride to Heart of Gold, and the nod to reason!
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3 months ago
Rachael AndersonTo Angela NaefThanks. It sure was a spectacular descent!
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3 months ago
Jacquie GaudetAnother thanks for supporting Neil Young's decision! And with one of my favourites!
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3 months ago