Anza Borrego Part 4-Hiking Challenge Complete! (Pictograph and Southwest Grove/Palm Mountain)

Pictographs on the rock
One of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen
Southwest Grove at Mountain Palm Springs

Every trip to Anza Borrego is an exciting adventure, and this one was no exception. There’s always too much to do and not enough time! But this is precisely the reason why I love exploring this particular state park so much…and keep coming back!

These 2 trails were the last ones left for me to complete for the ABF hiking challenge (as mentioned in my previous post Anza Borrego Part 1). I was very eager to get to both. As it turned out, these were very different from my previous hikes.  No slot canyons. But pictograph, palm trees, and one of the greatest views ever (more on that later).  I would say they were easier in general but harder in traveling to them. Both were south of the Christmas circle and the visitor center. I will start with the Pictograph Trail first.

First photo: Blair valley; Second is the seemingly never-ending dirt road; Third photo: finally! a sign we were going in the right direction. Fourth photo: probably a good 2 miles before we got to the Pictograph Trail from this sign

Off from S2, look VERY carefully for the little brown sign saying “Blair Valley.” In the first picture above, that’s Blair Valley. We actually drove right past it the first time until my hubby acutely thought ‘that must be it right there’ so we turned around and saw that little Blair Valley sign and turned in on the dirt road. Once we turned in, another brown sign indicated the Pictograph trail was 5 miles away. Well, it was a very bumpy 5 miles for sure. We turned on a good movie for the kids and hoped we took the right path. After a few miles, we weren’t exactly sure anymore.  We passed by quite a few campers and then a small sign indicating Monteros/Pictograph trail appeared. The unpaved dirt road was roughly single lane, so when we encountered other cars going the other direction, we made sure to stop a little off to the side so they can pass. And vice versa.  My hubby remarked…’just when you think you might be lost, there’s a little sign.’ Luckily after what seemed like a very long time, we passed by the Monteros trail head, and then finally arrived at the Pictograph trail head. Whew! That felt like an accomplishment!

Start of the trail in first photo…trail is pretty well defined by rocks and plants (second and third photo) until it opens up a bit…

So we were eager to start the trail and it was beautiful! But it was definitely a warmer day, so we had to bring extra water and made sure we had sunscreen and hats for everyone.  The trail was pretty well marked…winding through rocks and native plants. Very scenic!

Less than 1 mile in, we found the Pictograph Rock. The kids had fun deciphering it…one kid saw what looked like the sun, another said the triangle might be a hut, and it was fun trying to figure it out.

The pictograph rock! Giving us much needed shade. We stopped here for a short break.

From that point on, we could’ve turned around and headed back. One child wanted to hike more, while the others were hot and wanted to go back to the car. As a family, we decided  hubby was going to take the tired kids back slowly, while I could continue a bit more with the adventurous one.

First photo: from a distance it looks like there’s no way past the rocks. But it opens up to a nice pathway until you start seeing a great view (second, third, fourth photos)

So off we went for a little while longer. The ranger mentioned it was about half a mile more until we might see smuggler’s canyon with a good view.  From far away, it looked like one would hit a dead end (see first photo). It was hot and we were ready to turn around until I talked to a fellow hiker, who told us there’s a small path that opens up and the view is definitely worth seeing. And he was right. It was really exciting going through that pathway, and then all of a sudden, THE VIEW. One of the most gorgeous sights I’ve seen and it actually made me a bit dizzy.

This was as close as I was willing to get with camera in hand at the sheer drop off. Beautiful view for sure!

The view was fabulous! One could see rocks below, the Vallecito valley, and surrounding hills and mountains. But I was very wary of that drop off you see in the photo. Did I ever mention I used to be afraid of heights before I started hiking? Well I might still be, but this was a little different. At the edge of the rock (maybe 3 feet away), it sloped downward and veers completely straight down. I believe I heard the ranger say it used to be a waterfall? It sure seems like it. I got dizzy every time I went closer as I thought…my phone might drop, my sunglasses or hat might fall, it’s sloping down so I could slip…and worse yet, my kid was edging closer and closer. Kids seem to have no fear, and this one was so excited that my child kept exclaiming “I see the EDGE OF THE WORLD!” We enjoyed our view for awhile and believe me I kept my adventurous one safely behind me, but what an experience! This was the absolute highlight of my day. I should’ve taken a video of this precise location, but I think I was dizzy enough and had one hand on my kid, that I just forgot.

Completely satisfied and amazed after that experience, we headed back to the car. On to Southwest Grove trail.

We headed south on S2 again, and we eventually found the trail head. This one wasn’t as hard to find, except we were driving for a long time and there were a lot of little signs that we passed (not on the map) so we had to really pay attention and not second guess ourselves.

First photo: Interpretive panel. Second and third photos: following the trail. Some parts were muddy beneath us. Fourth photo: Continuing past this first set of palm trees.

We could see some palm trees from the parking lot, but the interpretive panel was a bit to the left of where we parked and so we started there. The trail was soft beneath us, as water was still running below our feet, so our footprints left muddy marks and there were some gnats in the puddles. When we could, we would walk higher on the rock trail alongside the palm trees, but it was not very visible. We walked though a grove of Palm trees (Pygmy Grove) and then we went up on the sandy ridge. One could stay on the path below (the sandy wash) but both lead to the Southwest Grove.


First photo: finally a sign! We were on the right track, grove is 0.75 miles away. The second, third, fourth photos were taken of the trail on the sandy ridge, progressively getting closer to the Southwest Grove.

Eventually we saw a small brown sign. It indicated that the Mountain Palm was 0.75 miles away and another trail (Bob Willow) was to the left. We went towards the grove on the ridge and welcomed the sight of the grove and shade! It was a beautiful sight, to see a big Palm grove in the middle of the desert. We took it all in and relaxed in the shade for awhile.


At this point, I was curious about the Torote Bowl extension that was at the southwest corner of the grove. We climbed halfway up a rock wall before I realized this was not it. I didn’t see any signs but saw footprints, so I decided to follow it as far as I could. Lost the footprints but started seeing what I believe to be borrego droppings. So we got back down and went up some more steep steps a little further down.  But we didn’t go all the way up as we were getting hot and tired by this time. We climbed back down and at the very end, noticed the Torote Bowl sign laying on the ground. It had been knocked over and broken at the wooden post area. No wonder I missed it the first time!  Oh well, I will save that adventure for another time!

First photo: rock wall I thought was the Torote Bowl. Second photo: steep steps to the Torote Bowl. Third photo: Torote Bowl sign that was knocked down and broken (probably why I missed it in the first place)

We soon headed back towards the parking lot. It was a beautiful view that I didn’t see until we turned around. Here you can see our shadows as we took it all in.

On the sandy ridge on the way back to the parking lot

We ended the day by stopping by the main Christmas circle and getting some pizza and a few souvenirs. So with that, we completed the 5 hikes for the ABF hiking challenge. Took us 3 trips and so much adventure! Definitely a fun experience. But it doesn’t mean we are done. What I learned is that there is so MUCH more that we haven’t seen. And now I hear that wildflowers are coming? With the rain we’ve had, it’ll be spectacular! So I’m sure we will be back…

Thanks for following us though another adventure!


3 thoughts on “Anza Borrego Part 4-Hiking Challenge Complete! (Pictograph and Southwest Grove/Palm Mountain)

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