Volcanic Hills Loop (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park)

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This may not be the most exciting or exotic hike in Anza-Borrego, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. First of all, it’s very accessible as far as desert hikes go. It begins just off the highway, so there’s no concern about having a high clearance vehicle or anything, and since it follows the course of a well-established 4WD jeep trail, it’s pretty much impossible to lose the trail. It’s a respectable length, measuring in at just under 8 miles, so you can feel like the long drive was worth it. And, as the name implies, it’s full of all kinds of neat volcanic rocks like basalt and andsite, so there are some unique landscape features to enjoy here.

We found the turnout for Jojoba Wash without any problems and were happy to find a nice wide turnout on firm ground. From the turnout, we could just make out the dark ridge of the Laguna Mountains to the northwest, with the tiny white dot of Laguna Observatory visible on the ridge.20151112DSC_4564-EditVolcanic Hills

We set off along the wide, sandy jeep road, enjoying the still quiet of mid-morning in the desert. Although this first section of the jeep track paralleled the highway, there was very little traffic to disrupt our solitude.20151112DSC_4565-EditVolcanic Hills

Our enthusiasm was quickly dampened, when after a few hundred feet or so, we plunged into deep, soft sand that slowed our pace considerably.20151112DSC_4566-EditVolcanic Hills

We grumbled a bit, but pressed onward, hoping the trail would improve as we progressed. A jackrabbit, startled by our approach, bolted across the trail and disappeared into the surrounding brush. This cheered us somewhat.20151112DSC_4567Volcanic Hills

The trail began to bend towards the southwest, and we were dismayed to find that the soft sand was not abating. We did, however, discover that some spots were better than others. By occasionally hopping from one tire track to another, or following the intermittent sets of hoof prints (because animals are much smarter than I am about determining the best route), we could find the least bad path.20151112DSC_4569-EditVolcanic Hills

The major advantage of walking along a jeep track was having a nice, wide, easy to follow track devoid of malicious plant life. We were surrounded by endless fields of creosote, cholla, desert agave, ocotillo, and barrel cactus, but had no fears of accidentally brushing against one like you do when travelling cross country or on some of the more narrow desert trails.20151112DSC_4579-EditVolcanic Hills

At the 1.5 mile point, we came to the start of the loop. We chose to go counterclockwise for no discernible reason, and turned left.20151112DSC_4580-EditVolcanic Hills

Happily, the road soon became more hard-packed as we made our way around a large, rocky hill.20151112DSC_4584-EditVolcanic Hills

Before long, we noticed a distinctive change in the landscape. The dirt was much darker here, and a layer of small rocks appeared.20151112DSC_4588-EditVolcanic Hills

Around the two mile point, we started up a small hill. The surrounding area was becoming much more rocky, evidence of volcanic activity long ago.20151112DSC_4595-EditVolcanic Hills
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The road wrapped around the backside of the large hill we had been skirting, and a little past 2.5 miles we descended into a wash.20151112DSC_4614-EditVolcanic Hills

The wash was of course filled with more deep, soft sand, but we slogged on, following the road to the right.20151112DSC_4616-EditVolcanic Hills

We spotted some more interesting geological phenomena within the wash, including multicolored banded rocks.20151112DSC_4618-EditVolcanic Hills
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Not far from where we entered the wash there was a short box canyon branching off to the left, we stayed on the main road heading right.20151112DSC_4621-EditVolcanic Hills

Soon we came upon some more interesting formations along the top of the canyon walls.20151112DSC_4627-EditVolcanic Hills

We followed the wash until approximately 3.3 miles, where we followed the jeep track up a steep climb to exit.20151112DSC_4638-EditVolcanic Hills

We continued along the jeep track, admiring the colorful, rocky hills around us.20151112DSC_4643-EditVolcanic Hills

At 4.3 miles we came to another junction and turned right.20151112DSC_4653Volcanic Hills

The trail curved northeast from here, winding through bare ocotillo and fuzzy cholla plants, back towards our starting point.20151112DSC_4654-EditVolcanic Hills

It was, admittedly, a lot of rocks and cacti, but it was still nice to be out in the warm, peaceful solitude of the desert.20151112DSC_4658-EditVolcanic Hills

As we made our way back to the start of the loop, we had some beautiful views of the valley beyond.20151112DSC_4663-EditVolcanic Hills

At 6.3 miles we found ourselves back at the start of the loop, and turning left, retraced our path through the annoyingly soft sand back to our car.20151112DSC_4683Volcanic Hills

Take I-8 east to the Ocotillo/Imperial Highway exit. Turn left onto Imperial Highway/S2 (which eventually changes name to Sweeny Pass Road). Follow S2 for approximately 11 miles to the signed Jojoba Wash turnout on the left (note: you will pass through a Border Patrol checkpoint on this road).

Total Distance: 7.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 598 feet
Dog Friendly?: Dogs not allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
California State parks: Anza-Borrego State Park
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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