Pictograph Trail (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park)

The Pictograph trail at Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego contains a plethora of fascinating archaeological sites. Over 50 Native American rock art sites have been discovered in the park, many of which are relatively easily accessible to the public. While many parks have had to close off or not publicly disclose the location of pictographs like these for fear of vandals defacing the historical sites, this trail leads you right up to the fragile artwork.  And if the unique privilege of seeing such a rare artifact doesn’t sell you on this hike, then perhaps the beautiful views from the dry fall at the end of Smuggler Canyon will convince you!

This is one of three short, easy trails along the southern portion of Blair Valley. To make the most of your trip to this area, I highly recommend hitting the Ghost Mountain and Morteros trails while you’re out here. While the road that winds through this part of the park is unpaved, narrow, and sandy, it was overall in decent condition and we didn’t run into any problems with our small passenger car. Your experience may vary, especially after a rainy winter.

From the Morteros trail parking area, we headed east for about two miles, where we found the Pictograph trail head at the end of the road.
Pictograph trail head

We started along the soft sandy path that led into a small boulder-strewn pass. We made our way through the large boulders, dodging the occasional cactus.


The path widened as we climbed very gradually up a gentle slope. The hills on either side of us were covered in loose rocks, looking like giant piles of colorful gravel.20141109PictographDSC_3829-Edit

Around .5 mile, the trail leveled out and the sand became more compact, making hiking easier.20141109PictographDSC_3841-Edit

But then we shortly found ourselves down along the canyon floor making our way through deep, soft sand.20141109PictographDSC_3844-Edit

Before we knew it, we found a line of rocks guiding us to the right.20141109PictographDSC_3847-Edit

We found a giant boulder marked with reddish brown designs. 20141109PictographDSC_3848-Edit

We had been so busy enjoying the views of the canyon that if it hadn’t been for the rocks along the trail guiding us in this direction, we probably would have walked right by. Looking more closely, we could also just barely make out the faded yellow of additional designs. 20141109PictographDSC_3851-Edit

While the the full meaning of the pictographs may never be understood, it is thought that they were part of a female puberty ritual. The cross-hatch diamond patterns, which can be seen in several spots on the rock, are believed to represent the rattlesnake – a common spirit guide for the journey into womanhood.

While the pictographs may be the focal point of this hike, and the seemingly obvious turn around point, we continued on. 20141109PictographDSC_3852-Edit

The well trod path continued through the open valley. 20141109PictographDSC_3854-Edit

A few more minutes of hiking brought us to what first appeared to be a solid wall of rock.20141109PictographDSC_3856-Edit

But just a little bit further we could see that the trail bent to the right, passing through a narrow canyon.20141109PictographDSC_3858-Edit

After a few more hundred feet we found ourselves on the edge of a dry fall, looking out over Vallecito Valley.20141109PictographDSC_3863-Edit

We sat on the rocks above the precipitous drop off, looking at the Laguna Mountain ridge across the valley. We could just make out the antenna-topped promontory of Monument Peak across from us. I couldn’t help but think back a few months, to when I was sitting on top of Monument Peak, looking out across the valley to where I was now eating a sandwich. The variety of places to hike in San Diego was astounding.20141109PictographDSC_3868-Edit

We finished our lunch, and returned the way we had come.

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From Scissors Crossing (intersection of 78 and S2), head south on S2. At just under 6 miles you will see the dirt turnout for Blair Valley on your left. Follow the dirt road south for 3 miles then turn left. After another .2 miles, turn left again. Continue east for approximately 2 miles until the road ends at the Pictograph trail head. map

If you are combining this trip with the Morteros trail, just head east from the Morteros parking area for 1.5 miles until the road ends at the Pictograph trail head.

A note on road conditions:
Once you turn off S2 you will be driving on a dirt/sand road that becomes increasingly exciting as you go. We made this journey in a Scion xD and other than a lot of bouncing around, didn’t run into any problems. However, that was after endless dry months of no rain and conditions may vary based on weather. Its a good idea to contact the Anza-Borrego Visitor’s Center at 760-767-4205 to inquire about current road conditions before you head out.

Total Distance: 2.9 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Total Ascent: Negligible
Dog Friendly?: Dogs not allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes not allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
California State parks: Anza-Borrego State Park

One thought on “Pictograph Trail (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park)

  1. Ghost Mountain was on my absolute to-do list during my list trip to Anza-Borrego. I was hoping to drive down the dirt road for a while, then stop to hike a few of the shorter trails but a recent rainstorm, along with some muddy ruts in the washboard road and my forced me to leave my car by the paved roads which made for a very, very long hike.