A Coyote Mountain Adventure

By Ashley Kvitek, ABF Education Coordinator

During the desert season, we here at ABF rarely get the opportunity to get out and enjoy the delights of the desert in all its glory. We get so busy running programs and making sure everyone else is having a good time in this place we love so much, we sometimes forget to make time to appreciate the reasons we're here in the first place.

Our Member Hikes have certainly helped me with this problem, as I happen to be the lucky one that gets to go on the majority of those hikes! Days off, though, are irregular and it’s hard to coordinate with other people (or even with myself) the opportunity to get outside and experience this place in its awe-inspiring splendor. I’m very lucky in that I have a few friends that also enjoy the outdoors and have flexible schedules, because that has afforded me opportunities to truly experience this desert landscape.

One of my most recent experiences with my friend Scott Turner (co-author of the 5th edition of Afoot and Afield in San Diego County, and writer for hiking blog Modern Hiker) included a Borrego Valley landmark that I look at every single day: Coyote Mountain. It stands alone, nothing really all that impressive about it aside from its interesting location separate from both the Santa Rosas and the San Ysidros, and it’s very pretty shape rising out of the valley.

Typically, my adventurous side leads me on hikes that will afford me views that scream WILDERNESS and NATURE. But looking at Coyote Mountain every day gives me the same feeling I have about Indian Head Peak- I want to see what the view is from the top… What can I see? How will the view be different than what I see from below? What’s on the other side? I knew I would be looking down at the Borrego Valley, filled with people, but I also knew that from the top I would get to look the other way, towards the Santa Rosas and up Rockhouse and Coyote Canyons. The opportunity to find out what the view would be like was too much to resist.

As a part of Afoot and Afield, Scott is doing a tremendous amount of fieldwork. This particular instance allowed me to tag along on that mountain that I look at, day after day. The best part? Scott has to do his research on the route finding so I get to relax, follow along, and do a little naturalizing along the way, something I don’t take the time to do as often as we all should. And since Scott needed to do see what the east and south approaches were like, we went up the east side and came down the south side of the mountain, taking care of two of his hikes in one day.

As is the case on what seems like EVERY day I have off, there was a wind advisory the day we had scheduled to go for our hike. Typical. Normally, I would use this as my excuse to curl up with a cup of tea and a good book. With another person committed to a hike requiring a shuttle, I had no choice but to dig out my hiking flannel, pack my rain coat, and steel my face for what was bound to be an unwelcome and sandy day of exfoliation therapy.

To my delighted surprise, hiking the east side of Coyote Mountain during a windstorm is wonderful! For the first three miles of rocky uphill, the wind was blocked by the daunting landform in front of us, and we got the chance to see the sun bathe the badlands in a hazy glow. As the wind picked up, we were rewarded with views of tufts of sand filtering up from Clark Dry Lake as the wind whipped down Rockhouse Canyon. The rocks are beautifully painted with desert varnish in varying colors, highlighted during our trek by the rising sun. On top of that, we passed by many a pile of bighorn sheep scat and tracks of the majestic icon of the Anza-Borrego Desert.

It didn’t take long for us to traverse the three miles of switchbacks and make it to the top of the rise where the peak register is located. Normally, it’s always fun to sit and peruse the register to see if any names look familiar and of course leave your own name and a brief description of your day. But that day the wind was howling and on the top of Coyote, the sand was whipping our face just enough to make staying up top for any length of time all but unbearable.

After a quick sign-in we had a snack, took in the views (including a snow-capped Toro Peak and what would be our next adventure, San Ysidro Peak), and started our long journey down the south side of the mountain, picking our way down until we met up with the jeep trail that leads down to the Peg Leg Smith Monument.

Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your viewpoint) we decided to take the long way back down. In our quest to stay sheltered from the brutal winds, we picked a different route than we had planned, and ended up getting down the first part of the mountain in a slightly more adventurous way than we had originally planned. It’s okay, though, because we got the chance to stay out of the wind, add a little more interest to the route finding, and see some Ocotillos that were flowering beautifully.

The rest of the hike was, for the most part, very uneventful. The views were beautiful but somewhat hidden due to the dust billowing all around us. We eventually met up with the old jeep road and followed it for the rest of the way down. It is astonishing to me the places that people have decided to take a jeep. It was hard to walk down some of those sections because of how steep they were, and I can’t seem to imagine a jeep doing anything but rolling over as it tried to make it uphill!

The whole thing was about 9 miles. Even in the wind, we took our time and the trip took us into early afternoon to finish. Overall, it was a trek worth the effort it took to make it happen.

Side note: I’m always astonished at how many well-defined social trails there are here in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. There are few established trails in the way we typically think of trails- Borrego Palm Canyon, the CA Riding and Hiking Trail, and the few guided nature trails come to mind- but for the most part, Anza-Borrego is a wild and open country, perfect for cross-country travel that makes one feel like the only person that has ever traversed the area. Although it would be great if we could keep this place wild and trail-less, as is the general intention of the Park, it is still encouraging to see how many people are using this place for recreation in areas that are arguably more difficult to get to. We simply need a bit better education on Leave No Trace ethics to keep our increasing impact to a minimum.

To Adventure and Education!