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Cedar Springs Trailhead

Hiking in Southern California isn’t always easy. It’s mostly desert, which means very few trees. That can make for some very hot hikes. Fortunately, it can also make for some gorgeous vistas if you can get up high enough.

This is a beautiful hike that takes you up on a ridge in the Santa Rosa mountains. At the top, you can look down towards the West, and see over Highway 74 to Thomas Mountain, or down towards the East, over Palm Springs and Joshua Tree. It’s a very comfortable 2.2 miles one-way, but more than half of that is on the side of the mountain with little shade. Still, if you have enough water and sun protection, you can make it to the beautifully windy ridge at the top for some lovely views.

View from the ridge

We checked out the maps in the Idyllwild ranger’s station, and spotted this beautiful little squiggle on our way home. The trailhead is marked “Cedar Springs”
Map of the area.

Right at the trailhead, there’s nowhere to park. We drove a little further down the road to where the gravel shoulder widened out a bit and left our car there. Here’s the first gate:

The first half mile is directly in the baking sun, but the next ~1.2 miles wander through tall brush and trees that shade the trail nicely. The trail goes through 4 gates and past one more. Here’s the first gate you go through:
First gate

A bit later you’ll pass by this sign. We were very curious about who would use those picnic tables!

This lower part of the trail went past a stream bed, winding through trees and meadows. It was very pleasant. We passed a group of deer that bolted at our presence, and a little tub of water they were probably drinking from. This gate was held closed by barbed wire:
Another gate

1.5 miles to go! Not pictured: The sign warning about hazardous conditions beyond this point.
Actual trailhead

Maybe .25 miles beyond that sign, we went up a steep section of the trail and emerged into the direct sunlight. It was very hot from this point on with almost no chances of shade.
Desert hiking

The remaining stretch to the top was just endless switch-backs heading up the mountain. Even though we were in direct sunlight the whole time, the constantly-improving views and deliciously cool breezes made for a lovely hike.
Switchback #32

There’s a shady tree right at the top, with a little makeshift bench under it. We sat there for a few minutes, reapplying sunscreen before continuing a few 100 yards south on the PCT to find a spot for lunch. Looking south and slightly East. We could see Salton Sea in that direction:

The PCT continues South along this ridge:

And North along this one, but this section has been closed for a while recovering from a forest fire:

When we got back to the car, we discovered that our Adventure Pass hangtag had melted in the sun!
Melted adventure pass

We estimated that our total hike had been around 5 miles round trip. I drank 3 liters of water, and none of us got sunburned! All in all a lovely hike. I highly recommend it!

Two panoramic views:

Quick facts
Length: ~4.4 miles round-trip to the shady tree at the top. Hikers could continue on down the PCT to the South, but the other trails (to Cedar Springs or North on the PCT) are closed to recover from a forest fire.
Difficulty: Easy trailwise, but challenging conditions, so better for more experienced hikers.
Views: 4/5

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Posted by on Tuesday, September 22, 2015 in fractally weird


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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Culp Valley Campground

Quick info:
Campground: Culp Valley Campground in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Date: 20 June 2015
Temperature: 95 (daytime) ~58 (nighttime)
Distance walked: ~5.5 miles
Cost: $0
Water consumed: 4.5 liters
# of times peed: 8

Recommendations: It makes more sense to put up your tent where it’ll be shaded from the sunrise in the East and then get up to the ridge where you can feel a breeze. Even in this unseasonably warm weather it got plenty cool at night.

After reading this excellent post from, I decided to head to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for a night of star-gazing and maybe even some light hiking. According to everyone, it’s free to camp there, but no fires are allowed unless you have a “metal container”.

I called ahead to the ranger station, where they told me it was unseasonably warm, and there was an “extreme heart warning” in the region. She said “if you can camp anywhere else, do it.”

Never one to shy away from a challenge, or think carefully through the consequences of my choices, I decided to go anyway. Culp Valley Campground is actually 3,000 feet higher than the town of Borrego Springs, so I thought it might be a little cooler up there. (I was right).

Here’s the approximate route I took:

It was a very easy drive. Only one part of the 67 has some treacherous curves (and signs reminding drivers to keep their headlights on at all times, and stay under 55 mph) but for the most part it is very relaxing. It goes through some lovely country as well.

The campground is very primitive. I’m used to marked spots for tents, but at Culp Valley you just throw down wherever you find a flat enough patch of ground. That’s not hard: there’s plenty of clear, flat ground. The area is scrub brush scattered through bare sand. I chose to put my tent behind a bush, because when I arrived in the evening that’s where the shade was. Turns out the shade made almost no difference at that point: it was WAY too hot to be down in the valley. I put up my tent and almost immediately climbed up to the ridge where a breeze was blowing.

The views of the desert are amazing.

You can see the town of Borrego Springs down there. This view came from following Trip #8 from the San Ysidro Mountain section of Afoot & Afield in San Diego and following the signs for the Vista Point. If you, like me, can’t see any signs on the trail, just keep walking up and out towards the edge of the mountains. Follow your heart. You’ll get there.

Finally the sun began to set, and I ate dinner on the ridge in the cooling breeze.

I actually woke up twice in the night from temperature changes: once because I suddenly got way too hot and once because I suddenly got way too cold. There was a gentle breeze almost all night. Right before I fell asleep I dragged my tent out from behind the bush so I’d get more of a breeze. The only downside was that headlights from any cars coming down the mountain would shine into my tent, but a) they were rare, and b) they were very far away so it didn’t seem like a big deal. I’d estimate the temperature got down in the upper 50s, though I can’t say for sure.

I woke up the next morning at around 5am because of the light and the sudden heat. I packed up my tent right away so I wouldn’t have to do it in direct sunlight after hiking. I was pretty shocked by how hot it felt so early in the morning. My car’s temperature gauge read 66, but there was a blazing hot breeze blowing through the valley. In fact, I started to do the hike to Pena Springs (also part of Trip #8) but I turned back before even reaching the springs because I could feel the heat starting to get to me.

Overall it was a LOVELY trip. I’m so glad I went.

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Posted by on Sunday, June 21, 2015 in fractally weird


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