Wild Palms of the San Ysidros
This article appeared in the July 1945 issue of Desert Magazine, almost 75 years ago. A lot has changed since then, including the name by which we now refer to this area. Today we would simply call it the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, although technically it falls within the mountain range known as the San Ysidros. And, again technically, the Park was known in 1945 as the Anza Desert Park.
For those familiar with the area, it is known as either Coyote Canyon or the Collins Valley. For four-wheelers, it is a rewarding and exciting adventure, but not nearly as much as in the past (more on the net.) As we mentioned earlier, many of the articles in Desert Magazine (DM) are about places that still exist today, and can still be enjoyed, just as they were 75 or more years ago. It would be a disservice to the park to declare this as the best adventure in the park, but it is certainly in a very large group that is at the top. For those with a reasonably capable 4WD vehicle, this trip is a must see, and since dispersed camping is allowed in the Park, serious consideration should be given to making this a two day adventure. There is that much to see!!!
One of the many benefits of this trip is the relative solitude that it offers. The trail to the Valley has some spots that present some challenges and that will require, at the very least, high ground clearance. This fact alone will keep the amount of traffic down and the amount of solitude up. Now, all we have to do is to wait for the authorities to return to us the right to visit OUR Park. Oh yes, even without the Corona to contend with, you should be aware that the valley closes annually for the Bighorn Sheep that inhabit the area. Check with the park to find the dates of closure.
Here is a view of part of the trail up Coyote Canyon.
As with so many of our adventures, this one will be appreciated so much more when you know the history of the land. If our recommendation for a visit to this area piques your interest, we suggest that you read the entire DM article, available as a PDF, here:
Portions of the article will appear below, as will pictures and maps. Interestingly, although the cover of the issue in which the article appeared was in color, all of the photos and maps are in black and white, and not quite up to today's standards. Therein lies the charm and nostalgia of this peek into the past.
This is the map from the article which includes the area discussed by the author:
Although the above map was made long before the USGS Topo maps were created, it is a fair representation of the area. For comparison, this is what it looks like today, at least as of 1996, when this USGS Topo was created:
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
Author Randall Henderson offered this brief history of Coyote Canyon:
ON MARCH 1774 when Captain Juan Bautista de Anza made his first historic trek across the Southern California desert the Indians who sulked behind rocks in Coyote canyon attempted to kill his horses. They failed, partly due to the alertness of Anza and his companions, and partly because of the inferior quality of their bows and arrows. Father Francisco Garces who accompanied Anza, carved a record of the attack on a. willow tree at Santa Catarina spring. That was 171 years ago and the willow has long since disappeared. Also, the Indians have gone to their happy hunting grounds where it is hoped they are better fed and washed. But Santa Catarina spring is still there — flowing 200 miner's inches of fine mountain water, and supplying moisture for the most impenetrable jungle of willows to be found on any desert. Although Santa Catarina is within the general area of the Anza Desert state park, the spring is subject to a private filing made in the days before anyone thought of setting this rugged desert region aside as a public recreational area.
Coyote Canyon is large and it's attractions are too many to cover in one net. The article, and to a somewhat larger extent, this net, will be limited as Henderson mentioned in his article:
My story is concerned more with the willows than with the spring. For those willows at present are an impassable barrier to one of the most gorgeous sectors of the 400,000-acre park—that is, impassable to motorists. Capt. Anza mentioned the willows in his diary. There are three groups of them in Coyote canyon—known as Lower, Middle and Upper Willows. Santa Catarina spring supplies water for the Lower Willows.
Over the centuries, Coyote Canyon has attracted a very disparate groups of humans, including Indians, explorers, western bound travelers, and cattlemen. One word reveals why - water! Keep in mind that summer temperatures in this area exceed 100 F, and the discovery of water has resulted in conditions that one does not usually associate with a desert environment - annual flowing streams, dense palm groves, and dense willow groves. All of this has made it a place to call home, a place to refresh while traveling, and a place where livestock can flourish.
Just to give an view of how reliable the water supply in Coyote Canyon is, here is a picture of one of our trips, during the summer months, showing the running stream through the canyon:
Henderson's article also concentrates on the palm oases, running springs, and waterfalls that exist in the canyon. The pictures which accompany the article show the canyon, which is very similar to that which exists today. Henderson says this:
To my knowledge there are six canyons tributary to Collins valley having native palm trees and running water. Three of these canyons have their outlet directly into the valley and are more or less known to Anza park visitors. They are Indian, Sheep and Thousand Palms canyons. The story of Thousand Palms, written by Hulbert Burroughs, appeared in Desert of September, 1941. But there are three other canyons, hidden deep in San Ysidro mountains, which are practically unknown to desert travelers, and which in my opinion are of greater scenic interest than the three I have named. These are Cougar canyon and two unnamed tributaries of Indian canyon.
Here are a several pictures from the article:
So, for the present day traveler, Coyote Canyon is still a place full of adventure and discovery. It is a great family trip, a great place to camp, and all free (as soon as they determine when we are once again entitled to enjoy our park system.) Now, with a little history under your belt, the adventure should be even better. Here is a recent picture of some weary, but well fed travelers to Coyote Canyon, as they siesta in the Palm Oasis near Santa Catarina Spring.