This was our sixth (counting an early trip through Salvador Canyon) trip through the Sheep Canyon wilderness and our last, at least for some time. We had entered from four other routes on prior trips. Peter, looking at the topographic maps, picked out a promising route in by climbing a ridge north of Salvador Canyon. It looked reasonably flat, and used an entry point from a trip described in Schad’s guide.
On several of our other trips we were pressed for time, and had long, exhausting days. Trying to learn from this, we started in Friday night after dark. We first met at Carmelita’s, a Mexican restaurant in Borrego Springs with a surprisingly busy bar, and then drove in to the second stream crossing-as far as I felt comfortable driving my 2WD Escape. The moon was nearly full, which provided some light as we crossed through the willows, a densely vegetated area with a clear trail, well worn by horses. We hiked for a few hours, arriving at the base of the mountain, and made camp in a sandy wash. On the way we spotted a dead hawk, and a big fat scorpion sitting in the road. The moon was beautiful, and we each took several photos-all fated to not come out.
I’ve long thought of playing music on a hike-even to eke out a few simple notes, but I had never learned an instrument. This year though I’ve been accompanying Finn to his recorder lessons and learning to play a little. I brought my mom’s old recorder on the hike, encased in a hand woven sleeve she made back in the 70’s, and three songs from Finn’s class (I can’t play anything by memory yet): Juba, When the Saints Come Marching In, and Old MacDonald. I played a bit by moon and headlamp. I’m no good, but it was still a pleasure to play, and Peter was a patient (that is, captive) audience.
We headed out at five the next morning, expecting it to get hot. We had a little less water than I would have liked, but we expected to get to a stream by midday. The climb up the ridge went well. There was a little navigating, but the decisions were relatively simple. Along the way we spotted two agave roasting pits (there’s a photo of one below).
The Cahuilla used to collect agave in the mountains (where they grow) and roast them in a big, shallow pit. You can find these on the top of ridges. Once you learn to spot them, they’re relatively easy to find: a flat spot, with dark soil, devoid of any large rocks.
We crossed Sage Flat around noon, spotting a snake along the way, and were running a little short on water. The next section was a stretch where we wanted to learn the route, having missed it on other trips. We picked up a trail, but lost it, and, being a bit tired and dry, pushed on to the stream, coming to in the same spot we had stopped twice before. We filtered water, drank a bit, and, a rarity for us, took a nap–a perk of having started early the day before. Picking back up, we dropped into the bowl and came across a long hose that wrapped around the mountain. I’m guessing this is for some irrigation for the mountain sheep. I followed one end of the hose for a bit, and didn’t find the end. Past this we detoured to see a curious rock formation and continued until we found a decent site in the bowl and made camp.
Even though I have a small, lightweight tent, I was glad to leave its weight and bulk behind on this trip. I always imagined I brought the tent even when it didn’t threaten rain to quell any fear of mountain lions at night. But I haven’t been really worried about a lion at night in a while—and I always knew any worry was irrational. And, as it turns out, the thought of a lion sneaking up and crushing my skull in my sleep wasn’t a concern. But I missed that moment of getting away from feeling exposed—to be in a separate environment for a moment. I played the recorder and read for a little while, but a cloud of bugs came and made it a bother. A big spider also climbed into my bag—I presume attracted by the light, or all the bugs. I finally slept, a little fitfully. I woke several times to a big bright moon.
The next morning we headed down the canyon. Peter was in a route-finding zone, and led most of the way. We made good time and were out in a couple of hours. We stopped one last time to get water, and headed across the wash back to the car. The day before my heel was hurting a bit, and it turns out two sizable blisters had formed under it, deep under the skin, caused by my socks getting caked with dirt. Peter fortunately had some moleskin, which kept it from getting worse.
It was fairly uneventful back to the car, although hot (Peter’s watch read 103). It’s always pleasant to end a hike with a walk across the flat wash, and this was more pleasant than most, as we had made good time. I drove back home via the Salton Sea and Palm Springs, tired, sore, and happy to see everyone.