This is the second of two posts about camping in the Anza-Borrego Desert. Missed part one? Read it here.

The previous night’s dinner of hot dogs and Blue Moons was fantastic. The rest of the night, however, was not.

Gusting winds made setting up the tent feel like trying to wrangle a bucking bronco. Once inside, we played a few card games. The wind howled. Several times we heard the murderous cries of some predator’s prey. The wind twisted the sounds so much it was hard to tell if we were hearing the last yelps of a prairie dog or the screams of a bighorn sheep. What was out there? A fox? A coyote? A mountain lion?

Around 10 p.m. we crawled into our sleeping bags. I shut my eyes. All was not quiet. The wind whistled around our tent. Every five minutes or so, a violent gust would come funneling down between the mountains and blast us. It was like camping on the runway at O’Hare.

At 2 a.m. I rolled over and looked at Kirk.

“This is ridiculous. I haven’t slept at all. You?” I half-shouted above the din.


Just then, another gust blew up under the bottom of the tent and lifted Kirk’s head off the ground. We both scrambled to hold it down. If we weren’t in it, the tent would have blown like a tumbleweed clear across the desert, stakes and all.

“Screw this.”

It was time to exploit the versatility of the Passat wagon. Illuminated by a full moon, we tore down the tent, piled everything into the front seat, put down the back seats, laid down our sleeping bags and closed the back hatch.

Now that was quiet.

Four hours later, I woke to the sun blaring through the car windows. There would be no sleeping in. The desert beckoned to be explored.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is named for Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish word for bighorn sheep, borrego. It’s the largest state park in California.

The 1.8 mile Pictograph Trail led us to a giant boulder covered in paintings made by the nomadic Kumeyaay people a few thousand years ago. It’s anyone’s guess what the symbols mean, archeologists don’t even know.

We also found morteros, round bowls where the Kumeyaay had ground nuts and seeds into meal.

Kirk tried semi-successfully to grind some dry stalks of grass.

We drove a few miles down sand roads to get to our next hike, Ghost Mountain.

On this two mile trek, we saw lots of wildlife: swallows, lizards and a snake. Well, the snake is iffy. We didn’t actually see one, but are pretty sure it was a rattler that we scared from its sunny spot on a rock as we tramped along the trail. It made a racket slithering through the brush in hasty escape.

This molting lizard loved himself some camera. He posed for me, moved a few inches, stopped, looked over his shoulder, posed again. He even waited patiently while I switched to my telephoto lens to zoom in on his speckled pattern.

We also spotted a black-tailed jackrabbit with its ridiculously tall ears and and a roadrunner (who looks dissapointingly nothing like this guy) . They both proved too evasive for my camera.

At the end of the Ghost Mountain trail we wandered through the ruins of the Marshal South home. The South family lived at the top of this mountain for over a decade in the 1930’s. Marshall and his wife, Tanya, both writers, raised three children in their adobe cottage. Their decision to live here was an experiment in desert self-sufficiency and a way to live closer to nature.

They even had a pool, although I don’t know how they managed to keep it filled. Nevertheless, I laid myself down at the (lack of) water’s edge.

View from the top of Ghost Mountain.

We skipped our way down the mountain — mindful of sunbathing rattlesnakes — and got back in the car.

Time to head back to the coast. ☼