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There is no other place like Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Many overlanders and outdoor enthusiasts seek it out for its endless exploration opportunities. Fish Creek Wash is the starting point for many since it connects to many of Anza-Borrego's most famous offroad trails. Wind, rain, powerful earthquakes, landslides, and father time have shaped Fish Creek Wash into a living, geological museum. With its wind caves, dinosaur tracks, fault lines, towering mud hills, sandstone canyons, and wildflowers, Fish Creek is a perfect place to begin your exploration of the astonishing Anza-Borrego.
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Fish Creek runs through a desert wash with a mix of soft sand with exposed and hidden rocks. Trail conditions can change drastically after any rain. This trail is simple to follow. But if the weather has concealed the typical traffic pattern, stay in the wider paths to regain the route. Starting at roughly 200 feet, the trail climbs to over 2,300 feet over 18-plus miles. Fish Creek connects to Diablo's Drop Off's exit, Loop Wash, Sandstone Canyon, Olla Wash, and Hapaha Flat.
No significant obstacles exist, but all-wheel or four-wheel drive is recommended due to the sand and air down your tires.
The area is prone to flash floods. Never travel in this wash if there is a threat of rain in the area.
The eastern trailhead for Fish Creek starts at Split Mountain Road and heads off to the west. The large area has plenty of places to stop, hang out, air down, and leave a trailer.
Six first-come, first-serve sites exist with fire rings. The area is on a first-come, first-serve but is usually empty except for holiday weekends. The area is rocky, so large tent camping groups might struggle to find a soft spot to put a tent down.
Split Mountain is a popular attraction in the area. Drive slowly and start to take in the scenery. For the next two and a half miles, you will be awe-struck by this area's beauty.
You can see the living, geological history through this section. At points in history, the salt waters of the Gulf of California and the fresh waters of the mighty Colorado River were present in the area. These unique formations were created by the upheaval of the San Felipe Fault network, a spur of the San Andreas Fault network that runs parallel through the Park and pushes through this canyon. Because of these immense pressures, the rocks are contorted in fantastic shapes giving you this spectacular and unique geological formation. Please consider that when parking underneath overhanging rocks.
The best camping spot inside the Split Mountain area is elevated off the canyon floor. The site is flat dirt and situated just off the road. But you can't drive up to the site. You must park on the canyon floor and carry your gear to the camping spot. The camping spot has a space large enough for at least 10 tents.
What might be the favorite part of this trail, "The Steps," is an area of sandstone ledges that stick out of the side of the mountain. The ledges almost look like a stack of flapjacks. It is an excellent area to stop for photos and enjoy the shade. The only negative of this spot is that it is narrow and often dusty from all the traffic passing through.
Plenty is going on at this location.
You often find several vehicles parked in the wash due to the popular hiking trail to the Wind Caves and Dinosaur Tracks. The hiking trailhead is on the southeast side of the wash. It is roughly a 1-mile round trip hike with 150 feet elevation change. There are many caves, tunnels, and alcoves to explore on the hike. They range from hand-size holes to caves that are big enough for you to stand inside.
On the north side of the wash is the trailhead to North Fish Creek Wash 4WD trail, which recently re-opened.
The hardest part of the trail is usually somewhere in or between this area and the previous Waypoint due to rains and rocks shifting up and down the wash.
On the hillside to the east are mounds that look like Elephant Knees. This area was underwater as recently as 5 million years ago. Marine fossils are found all along Fish Creek Wash. Walrus fossils were found northeast of the Fish Creek Campground at Waypoint 2.
Loop Wash splits around a small island and rejoins Fish Creek just up the trail. Loop Wash is a bit rockier than Fish Creek.
Likely due to fault lines in the area, a quartz vein runs across the trail. The vein extends to Loop Wash and North Fish Creek Wash.
If the rocks and sand covering this line were washed away, this could be a problematic ledge for 2WD vehicles.
If you took Loop Wash at Waypoint 9, it rejoins here. On your way back out of Fish Creek, consider trying Loop Wash since it provides a different experience than this section of Fish Creek.
A campsite large enough for several vehicles sits trailside. In the late winter, the Desert Gold blooms.
Diablo Drop-Off exits here. It is a one-way-only trail that you can access from Arroyo Seco del Diablo.
A campsite that can fit 2-3 vehicles is hidden behind a large sandstone rock. The ground is hard and dotted with double basketball-sized boulders, but you can fit 2-3 small tents in this area. Larger family-sized tents could be problematic.
Sandstone Canyon is famous for its near-vertical sandstone walls and narrow passageway. It is short out and back, taking about an hour, and well worth the trip.
Olla Wash is a short trip to get up close and personal with the famous Mud Palisades. The Mud Palisades is a profoundly eroded mud cliff wall resembling old European churches' artisan cathedral walls.
The small shrubs in the immediate area are Smoketrees. Originating in Eurasia, they are not native to the area.
You have completed the most used sections of Fish Creek. From here on, the traffic becomes lighter and the solitude more profound. Take the time to enjoy the various terrain changes along Fish Creek Wash's walls. The canyon transitions from the Palm Spring formation to Plio-Pleistocene and Pliocene's loosely consolidated deposits.
As you transition from the sandstone, the mud walls become more evident.
The walls along the Fish Creek Wash tell the story of Earth's changing geology. Towards the end of Fish Creek is perhaps the most dramatic story, as this canyon shows off the chaos of its creation.
With soft sandy ground dotted with Smoketree enveloped by colorful canyon walls, and large enough for several vehicles, this is an excellent dispersed campsite.
Nearing the end of Fish Creek, the hillsides are flush with Cholla. Cholla is a desert succulent that blooms in the spring with lime-green flowers and lavender petals.
Fish Creek merges into Hapaha Flat and McCain Spring, which are both beautiful and filled with Ocotillo and Cholla. You can explore both those trails, but you will still need to return the way you came, as Pinyon Mountain Road is one-way only.
Dispersed camping is allowed along Fish Creek Wash. It is one of the more popular camping roads in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. However, the Park does mitigate over-use, and what may be a suitable dispersed campsite today could have a no camping sign tomorrow.
Six designated campsites with pit toilets and fire rings are available at Fish Creek Camp, Waypoint 2.
Anza-Borrego Camping Regulations:
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park hosts several developed campgrounds: Borrego Palm Canyon, Tamarisk Grove, Bow Willow, and Vern Whitaker Horse Camp. These charge a fee, and reservations can be made in advance.
Hotels and RV Parks:
Hotels and motels can be found in Borrego Springs, famous for its metal sculptures, or Julian, famous for the Julian apple.
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