TR: South Fork Sheep Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert

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TR: South Fork Sheep Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert

Postby jfr » Sun Feb 09, 2014 10:20 pm

It's Desert Season! Being backpackers, but not snow-lovers (or cold-lovers), we did the only sensible thing and headed out to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for a three-day weekend. We went back to Sheep Canyon, which we had been to a couple of years ago (see this earlier trip report), but this time we decided to explore the South Fork of Sheep Canyon rather than the main canyon.

Coyote Canyon Road at DiGiorgio Road in Borrego Springs

We were amazed that we could get our car all the way beyond Third Crossing (we crossed the ever-flowing Coyote Creek three times).
There was quite a bit of vary careful driving involved to get us this far, but we didn't dare drive beyond this spot.

We had to hike the now-much-improved bypass road to Collins Valley. Still, it would be best to have a truck with some clearance for this.

Sandy wash outside of Sheep Canyon.

View back over Collins Valley from the trail to Cougar Canyon.
(We camped a half mile around the corner at Cougar Canyon as it is more private, because vehicles can't go there).
Santa Rosa Mountain and Toro Peak are in the distance.

The stream is flowing nicely (as always) in Cougar Canyon.

Sunrise and Moonset over Cougar Canyon from our campsite

Sheep Canyon Camp, which is now a fee area ($10/day if you camp in a site with a picnic table and fire ring).
The main part of Sheep Canyon heads off to the right, and the much steeper South Fork heads up to that palm grove on the left.

Entering the South Fork. Sycamores and Palm Trees. There's a nice use trail if you stay uphill a bit on the left side.
Lots of big boulders and bushes in the canyon bottom make travel more difficult down there.

Lower palm oasis. There was water flowing in spots, but it was quite low this year, and often sunk beneath the sand.

A granite chute, well-worn and smoothed by the flow of sandy water, but there was only a trickle this time. I'd like to see (and hear) it flowing well.

Panorama view of the upper Palm Groves

The upper palm groves had burned a year or two ago. I'm not sure what fire it was (if it was a named fire or only a localized fire).

Looking down at the black burnt trunks of palm trees. When your trunk is filled with water you can survive a wildfire.

View from our lunch spot out over Collins Valley, with Rabbit and Villager Peaks in the distance.

A large chockstone at the headwall above the palm grove.

We climbed up a steep scree slope to get around the chockstone, but there wasn't much more to see up-canyon. We turned around at that point.

Let's face it: The best view was back down the canyon.

So we headed down and hiked back to our campsite near Cougar Canyon, where we relaxed, ate dinner, and had a good night's rest.
Another peaceful night in the desert, with Orion shining bright above us.

Taken while hiking out: Panorama view west toward Indian Canyon, Cougar Canyon, and Sheep Canyon.

Google Earth view of our GPS track, with Cougar Canyon on the left and Sheep Canyon on the right.

Topographic Map showing our GPS Track. For a full-sized (readable) map click here.

The rest of the pics from this trip can be viewed on my Flickr Page.

And here's an ACME Mapper link for those who might want to visit Sheep Canyon one day.
A = Where the pavement ends and Coyote Canyon Road truly begins
B = First crossing of Coyote Creek
C = Second Crossing
D = Third Crossing
E = Our Parking Spot
F = Foot Trail to Cougar Canyon
G = Cougar Canyon
H = Sheep Canyon Camp
I = South Fork Sheep Canyon
J = Sheep Canyon
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Postby lilbitmo » Mon Feb 10, 2014 7:14 pm

JFR, having been back there in the past 12 months I'm surprised you did get your car that far back safely.

Great TR and pictures, we canyoneered Cougar last spring from the top to the bottom and it was flowing big.

There's some trippy foliage in all those canyons, having never been in Anza Borrego other than on the PCT I was amazed at what's in those canyons.

Thanks :D
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Postby Sally » Mon Feb 10, 2014 10:03 pm

Thanks for a great TR, JFR, and the reminder that Anza Borrego Desert is a great alternative to mountain hiking in winter.

Brings back memories of my eldest daughter and myself backpacking Sheep Canyon about 15 years ago. Whilst driving to the trailhead on a washboard dirt road the center break-light fell off my ol' Chevy Caprice station wagon from the vibrations. We parked in the sandy trailhead parking lot.

Then we started hiking on the "trail" which was actually a dirt road, and were amazed that a vehicle could navigate the rocks.

As I recall, we hadn't picked a nice cool day and wound up taking a nap under a creosote bush to get out of the heat for a short while. We finally found a nice place to pitch a tent (probably not needed) near some water, and had a most enjoyable evening.

The next day we headed back to the trailhead, stopping at a small waterfall to literally soak our heads. I think I spotted the place where we did so in one of your pics.

When we got back to the car we found that it was stuck in sand as we tried to pull away. With no one in sight to help us, we did the best we could to get un-stuck. When I was finally able to get the car rolling I stepped on the gas and barreled right through an ocotillo bush, which left scratches on the car that reminded me of the trip for many years.
Last edited by Sally on Wed Feb 26, 2014 6:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby arocknoid » Mon Feb 10, 2014 11:05 pm

Thanks for the fine pics and TR, jfr.

That area has its own special beauty that few of us travel out there to see. Plus plenty of pointy reminders to "look-see, but touch *carefully.*"

In the chockstone photo, your wife helps us appreciate the size and perspective of the boulderzone. whoa.

Nice to have pleasant temps and readily available water.

This gives a good sense of your time out there. Lovely sky:


Glad your car reliably got you there and back. And Sally-good job getting unstuck on the trip with your daughter. (cue Dutch filmmaker tale...yikage.)

kind regards,
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Postby zippetydude » Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:15 pm

How did I miss this post before? One of the best posts I've seen, jfr. Amazing pics and such an interesting place. I love it when someone clues me in to a place where I'd love to go and explore. Thanks!

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