By Roving Ranger in Borrego
I was out on a semi-annual Guzzler Hunt the other day. There are 11 of them scattered throughout the mountain ranges that surround the town of Borrego Springs. They were placed in the backcountry in the late 70s and early 80s to augment the water supply for our endangered Peninsular population of Desert Bighorn Sheep. Given the continuing drought conditions here in Southern California, I wanted to see what- if any- water was available to the Bighorn going into the summer.
Because of conflicting schedules with my hiking partners I decided I'd go it alone. I chose one of the closer guzzlers up on the Pinyon Ridge, partly because of driving distance and partly to see if I could find it again without a guide. It's not that they are difficult to spot- they consist of two large water tanks painted to blend into the environment attached to a large pool liner at one end and a shiny metal drinker box at the other- it’s the location. This is the backcountry; a wilderness landscape! Every plant that pokes and scratches or harbors any insect that bites or stings can be found here, and false drainages are everywhere. Pick the wrong one on your Google Earth map and you could spend your day hiking in some very steep circles. Established trails are non-existent.
I started my journey before sunrise from the Bill Kenyon Overlook and headed in the direction of Yaqui Peak. If you're in need of a calf workout, let me tell you there is none better. There is no easy way to make the ridge line except straight up. About a half hour into my climb I was looking down at my slowly shrinking vehicle, wondering what I had gotten myself into. Just about the time I told myself I was done going up, I took a look around and found that indeed I was done going up. I made the ridge line about a half hour after sunrise and stopped to take in the beautiful views. A storm was approaching from the west, and while the clouds were spotty and passing quickly, the winds on the ridge were relentless. They were not strong by Borrego standards, but they were strong enough that I couldn't hear my footsteps on the gravel and I kept getting an ear and mouth full of flying vegetation. I kept on hiking to Yaqui Peak and the expansive views of the Borrego Valley. Every once in a while I'd spook a jack-rabbit, or have a near miss with a flying bird, blown my direction by the winds. About an hour and a half into my hike, I'd arrived!
I took the time to fill out the Peak log I found in an old ammo can placed next to a barely breathing Juniper. Most of the poor old bush was dry and brown with just a couple remnant green leaf branches low to the ground. I had a quick snack before beginning the last 40 minutes of ridge climbing down toward the guzzler. As I stepped off the peak and onto a well-used game trail leading off to the west, the winds that had (unsuccessfully) tried to blow me back to my car suddenly just stopped!
I hadn't realized until that moment just how loud my trip had been. Within the span of a footstep I went from the constant roar of rushing winds to dead silence. For just a few seconds everything around me was quiet and calm. Then I started noticing little sounds. Scratching and scurrying sounds in the agave leaf litter. Then more sounds as feeding flocks of birds started to jump up into the blooming agave stalks. Ravens passing overhead with their very distinct wing beats as they flew by. I could even hear lizards, clawing the rocks as they scampered to get out of my way. And the bees where everywhere. Wind had kept them hidden, but as soon as it stopped they were flying to and from every flowering cacti and Agave around. If it hadn't been for the calm winds and the bees, I would have probably over-shot the guzzler.
When I finally arrived at my destination, the buzzing of the bees was so loud it echoed off the guzzler tanks. The little metal drinker box was full of hundreds of dead bees being used as dry land by hundreds more, intent on gathering water. I took a moment and listened to their wonderful sound, the birds flapping overhead and all manner of scurrying creatures around the guzzler as I put on my gloves and made ready to clean the drinker box for the summer season. The tanks were full, the winds were calm and the sounds of silence were deafening!
Photos and blog by Ranger Steve