30-Aug-2009 -- As I was in Redlands, California, for nearly 2 weeks working at the headquarters of Environmental Systems Research Institute, and as I considered it unhealthy to work in the hotel all weekend long, I voyaged to this confluence with my supervisor and Education Team Lead, Dr. Michael Gould. Mike and I had been planning a hike for a few weeks, and I was glad when he readily agreed to tackle this point with me, despite the heat we knew we would encounter.
Thousands of acres of southern California were currently ablaze, and the temperature the previous day had reached 110 F. Therefore, Mike and I met at 5:00am, determined to complete our hike before before the day became unbearably hot. We soon were bounding eastward in the darkness along Interstate Highway 10, toward Palm Springs, discussing All Things Geography and Geospatial.
The dawn broke as we passed Palm Springs, turned south along the western edge of the Salton Sea at Highway 86, and then west on Highway 78. This was the region of the Anza-Borrego State Park, a wonderful landscape of canyons and desert landforms and plants. Anticipation rose as we could see the base of the Fish Creek Mountains on our left. However, there would be no access road to them until we overshot 116 West and made it to Ocotillo Wells. Once at Ocotillo Wells, we turned south, but only after spotting an abandoned gas station, the kind that one sees in old Western films, which we took a picture of on the way out. As we drove south and then east, we discussed at length the hundred or so mobile homes that were parked out here. What did the people who lived here do everyday? Not a soul was in sight. Some of the trailers had containers from container ships to store their items, and some even looked inhabited. It must be incredibly hot to live in there.
Even though I had been studying the maps online to this location, I made a slight error. When we reached the narrow gauge railroad, I continued on for a hundred meters, but then realized that we were heading for the mine. We made a U-turn and then turned east along the road paralleling the railroad. And this is where things really became interesting: From the satellite image, it truly appeared to be a road. However, on the ground, the road was not much more than a trail. Didn't we always tell students in our classes not to simply trust the digital imagery and maps, but to get out in the field whenever possible to verify? This was the perfect example. Mike made a comment to the effect that we were four-wheeling in a Chevy Cobalt, and that was indeed the case. At times, we encountered some significant rocks, and at other times, and more worrisome, was deep sand. At times we drove right along the tracks, and at other times, to the north, depending on which route looked more passable. Mike advised me to keep the vehicle rolling along at a decent clip so we wouldn't get stuck. If we did, we were a long way from help, and given the heat of these past few weeks, it was unlikely that anyone would be coming this way today. At cooler times during the year, as reported by previous visitors, the area can be quite crowded with off-road recreators. But today it was only visited by two geographers.
After what might have been 15 minutes but seemed like an eternity, we neared the mouth of the canyon at 116 West. We parked in the blazing sun and exited the vehicle. It was amazing how humid it was in the early morning (7:00am) and we wasted no time in getting started, hiking through the low wash to the base of the mountains with the GPS reading about 1.2 km to the goal. Once there, the heat already made us stick close to the base of the cliff to the left, but this soon gave way to sun. We debated about hiking straight up the cliff face, but deemed it too steep, choosing the valley instead. This proved to be steep enough. About midway up the valley, I fell and banged up my shin pretty well. Writing this nearly two months later, it is still healing. We hiked straight up the main valley and turned left up the narrow chute, picking our way up some slippery boulders. Something that looked like bees but behaved like horseflies began swarming around us, and became really uncomfortable by the time we neared the crest of the chute. At the crest, we turned north, or right, up a steep saddle. About 90 minutes into our hike, we found the confluence on a steep (30 degrees) north-facing slope.
We were at the point over 25 minutes, filming video and still photographs, admiring the view. The vehicle was barely out of sight in the haze but the view to the north was spectacular. The Salton Sea was not visible due to the haze to the east. It was good to be in a place where there is almost no chance for urban sprawl and not to see another soul. We discussed how dry and hot this point was, but one degree to the south, ironically, in Mexico, the terrain was much more vegetated and the elevation higher. I would have enjoyed the experience more had it not been for the bees, horseflies, or whatever they were. There wasn't much vegetation for them to pollinate, so their presence was puzzling. Things got so bad that I was glad to depart, which is a rare thing for me at a confluence.
We hiked back the exact way we came, but found a shady spot at a cliff back on the valley floor for a quick break. We turned off the GPS to see how close we could come to the vehicle from dead reckoning. We ended up about 100 feet too far west. We took a few more photographs. It was approaching 100 F even at 10:00am. The round trip hike time was 3 hours, exactly what one of the previous visitors had logged. We prayed the car would start, and it did, and was, as expected, ferociously hot. We navigated successfully back on the trail along the railroad track without incident. Since we could not do a circular hike, we decided to drive in a circular route back to Redlands, going west on Highway 78 and then north on Highway 79. We found a funky local place to have lunch just south of Temecula, complete with a live band. We drove on I-15 and reached Redlands just after 2:00pm. After I was back at ESRI Redlands, I uploaded our track and waypoints and built a project in ArcGIS Explorer, a 3D virtual globe that allowed me to visualize our route. I had a nice collection of about 10 confluences now in southern California, from Joshua Tree National Park to the southern end of the Central Valley, and from Barstow down to San Diego. Unique and wonderful points, all. This was an adventuresome point that I have long wanted to find, and I thank Mike for being keen to explore it.