Some call it Arches. After just a glimpse of a few of its thousands of stone arches, soaring pinnacles, massive monoliths, and giant balanced rocks, I call it Kingdom of the Gods. Here are a few highlights from a quick sunset photo shoot en route to a white water adventure on the Colorado River (stay tuned for that post). Can’t wait to explore more of this amazing park, but I’ll have to make do with this teaser post for now.
NOTES: Ticketed reserved entry runs from 6 am to 5 pm daily between April 3 to October 3, 2022. You can enter the park without a reservation before 6 am or after 5 pm. The park is open 24/7.Planning to visit Arches ? Get the scoop on making a timed entry reservation.
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous depending on your fitness level, definitely a little longer than your standard day hike, mostly smooth, sandy terrain, great for trail running
The trail begins at the Lee Pass Trailhead off of Kolob Canyon Road / Scenic Drive. You’ll drop quickly into the canyon (770 ft in .75 mile) and traverse through the forest on a gentle, sandy path for the first 4 miles or so.
And then it gets even better. Zion vibes without the Zion crowds. After descending another 1k ft, you find yourself surrounded by dancing aspens and majestic red cliffs. This is where you’ll get your first glimpse of lovely La Verkin Creek. Oh, my—a perfect spot to pause and take in all the beauty. I’ll be back just for it. Fall is a splendid time for this hike, but I’m sure spring and early summer are delightful as well.
Continue following the trail along the creek another mile or so until you reach the junction for Kolob Arch. This trail is less distinct and a little more rugged. The distant view of the arch (possibly the largest free-standing arch in North America) is ok, but wow factor is a bit muted without a blue sky backdrop.)
You can continue up the canyon to Beartrap Canyon and Willis Canyon or head out to Holob Canyon and Kolob Terrace Road.
There are 13 camping sights along the trail. Reservations are required and can be made online, but 2 backpackers said they got their pass the same day.
Notes: Sadly, the toxic cyanobacteria have been detected in La Verkin Creek. No dogs are allowed in Zion Wilderness. Bring plenty of water as you can not filter water with cyanobacteria. Ps. Watch where you step!
Revisited the trail recently to see La Verkin Creek show off her Spring look. She did not disappoint.
Funny wildlife encounter story. Well not funny, if you’re the frogs or me. While I was “Wim Hoffing” it in the creek, I sat on 2 frogs in the midst of a tryst. Unfortunately, it would be their final, though eternal, encounter. (Gives new meaning to “happy ending”, doesn’t t?) In the meantime, as I was exiting the delightful natural pool, I almost grabbed onto a snake. There’s bound to be one in paradise, right? Notes to self, look before sitting and before placing a handhold. The harmless snake was lying in wait for the plentiful frogs. Little did he know that I’d arranged a 2 for 1 for him. Back on shore, a frog eyed and ID’d me as the culprit.
Other than that, the play/day was uneventful and beautiful. And, yes I still feel guilty about the frogs.
Anza Borrego State Park is named after the 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista deAnza and borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep.
The park covers 600,000 acres and is the largest state park in California and, the second largest in the contiguous United States. It contains 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 designated wilderness areas, and 110 miles of hiking trails.
The endangered peninsular bighorn sheep, often called desert bighorn sheep, make their home here. It’s said that visitors and residents seldom get to see them as they avoid human contact.
We arrived at the park about 45 minutes before sunset (golden critter hour) and decided to go for a quick run up the scenic and pleasant Borrego Palm Canyon Trail (3.25 miles) before dark.
We looked up the steep rock studded canyon walls at precarious boulders, wondering if they ever dislodged…We walked part of the way back hoping to see some wildlife. I told Ken to keep his eyes open. I have terrible eyesight and the stone and sunset shadows are perfect camouflage for anything that wants to evade notice. Then I heard something that sounded like a boulder crashing down…and Ken saw something in the distance…The head bangers in action! A group of 5, the one sitting on the rock officiating looked frail, perhaps an elder. I felt like I was in a National Geographic show. It was amazing!
The next morning we had breakfast at the local coffee shop. While we were there, we struck up a conversation with a ranger and local at the next table. We shared our adventure and the video on my phone. There was an elderly couple standing nearby, watching me with annoyed faces and their arms crossed. (Was I talking too loudly or did I steal their table?) Nope, the woman finally broke her silent glaring and told us in an exasperated voice that they had been hiking the canyon nearly ever day for years and had never had a big horn sheep sighting – not even 1. That’s how lucky we were.
Turns out one of the fellows that we were chatting with was the co-creator of the Desert Bighorn Sheep Book that I was browsing through. How cool is that?
And if all that wasn’t magical enough, on our drive out of the park, this healthy coyote couple appeared to see us off.
Was gunho to get away to somewhere new this weekend. Perhaps a little too gunho…Wasn’t quite as thorough with the research as I usually am, but had done enough to know that the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area is a great spot for mountain biking and enjoying great scenery as you traverse 3 ecosystems: mixed-conifer/black oak forest, alpine meadows and desert.
And it certainly served up some heavenly single track around Laguna Meadow and beyond.
I’d call it Bait & Switch Trail
Still blissful in the meadows
Sublime, right? And so it went for about 6 miles before things took a gnarly turn for the worse. Scattered rocks, became bulky blocks with jagged edges, boulders and ankle bashing bruisers galore. I didn’t get pictures of these tortuous areas because, I was too miserable fending off hordes of face flies while hike-a-biking my hefty 35 pound bike. Even if I’d had a Go Pro, you wouldn’t have been able to see beyond the blur of flies – that’s how bad it was. Brutal – yes.
We only saw 2 other mountain bikers on the rough lower portion. They were wearing completely padded body armor suits with full face helmets. Another clue that I was way out of my element…I’m tough, but I’m not technical and have horrible eyesight and depth perception so this it was more than a bit hazardous. I’m extremely lucky to have escaped with only a handful of bruises and scratches.
( I later discovered – post-research – that this area is notorious among mt.bikers and is affectionately called Stairway to Hell and Roman Road.)
Here are a couple links to youtube videos on the area.
We kept looking for a route that would loop us back as a couple people at the trail head had mentioned, but we never found it. And there was no way we were going back up the Stairway to Hell…I even thought of abandoning my beater mt. bike and hiking out even though I only had my bikes shoes.
Instead, we made it out to the Pine Valley picnic area and then out the road. Realizing then that we would have to ride up the mountain via Sunrise Highway. Not much of a shoulder there, but a lesser evil than Stairway to Hell. Climbing 8 miles and 3K feet back to the car after the tortuous Noble Canyon was its own purgatory, and certainly, I’ve learned my lesson about doing my research. Perhaps next time, my BF will read the links I send him prior to departure too. (Snarkyness aside – selfreliance is critical even when you’re with a partner. If we both had read the trail reports thoroughly, one of us likely would have retained which trail to loop back on – though we still might not have found it…)
This day certainly put us to the test. Even though we both keep a fairly high fitness level – it kicked our butts. And to both our credits, we didn’t bite each others heads off. I did come close to meltdown with the face flies on attack while I was hefting my bike over boulder after boulder, but I held it together. We both did, taking the punishment mostly in silent, focused suffering. What was going to be a pleasant morning adventure, ended up being a whole day ordeal. Great workout – not so fun.
I’ve reread some of the trail reports and it sounds like there are other options if you want to avoid the burly section of Noble Canyon. I may be back, but need a cooling off period and time for my bruises to heal first.
Where: 40 minutes from downtown San Diego, near Pine Valley, off of Pine Creek Road North of I8 or off of Sunrise Highway to go top to bottom
What: Noble Canyon Trail, Laguna Mountain Recreation Area
Distance: 19.9 Miles out & back
Elevation gain/loss: 3,346
Rating: For hiking: Moderate. For Mt. biking: Advanced+++
Notes: Adventure Pass required.
Tip: Bring bug spray and plenty of water. Consider a car shuttle for a 10 mile option. Given that it’s single track and a mountain biker destination, it’s not the most peaceful option for hikers…The trail head maps aren’t great, do your research first. ; )
Have you had any small adventures turn into challenging ordeals? Do tell.
If you live in the San Diego area or have visited, you’ve no doubt driven by picturesque San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve countless times via the coast road or the freeway. Perhaps you’ve ventured on trails as well. I have, dozens of times for a run or stroll and I thought I knew all the trails there. (Pretty, but mostly flat and easy fare.) I hadn’t heard about Annie’s Canyon until someone asked me about it. Of course I had to investigate…
But first a couple words about these coastal wetlands. The reserve spans 1000 acres with a total of 7 miles of trails that connect the varied habitats from salt marsh to freshwater marsh areas to coastal sage and chaparral. Wedged between the freeway and the coast highway and surrounded on all sides by Solana Beach, Cardiff and Rancho Santa Fe, the lagoon remains home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals – many endangered. Despite all the encroachment, it’s still a nice spot to savor nature and take in lagoon and ocean views.
Now for the unexpected delight of Annie’s Canyon. After a short, easy, less than mile hike to the canyon (look for signs), you’ll find yourself transported to a miniature canyon-land experience. Sure doesn’t feel like Southern California anymore, more like the slot canyons of Utah or Arizona. While it’s narrow, footing is fairly easy and there’s a steel ladder at the very top. Nothing treacherous here – just fun. It’s a super quickie (5 minutes), but super cool. What a great place to take young kids for a mini adventure with a little supervision and assistance. I know this kid at heart had some fun.
The view from the top. And no, it’s not a nudist colony, my hottie BF is wearing pants. ; )
Dog friendly in the lagoon – not so much for the canyon unless, they are trick pups trained to go up narrow steel ladders
There’s a bunch of construction underway as part of the highway and rail improvements program in the North Coast Corridor. Click here for trail closure updates before you go.
Apparently this spot was previously vandalized and closed and has only recently reopened, which explains why I didn’t know about it. Please enjoy, respect and protect the nature around you.
There are a number of entrances to the lagoon. Here’s ine
Solana Hills trail head address is 450 Solana Hills Drive, Solana Beach. From I-5, take the Lomas Santa Fe Drive exit (exit 37) West. At 0.2 mile turn right onto Solana Hills Drive for 0.3 mile. Park along the dead end street. There’s also a great nature center on the Cardiff-by-the-Sea side, which is quite nice and you can rent it for private events.