El Canyon de los Coyotes: The Oasis

What a ride…

This past weekend, I met up with a good friend for a helluvan epic ride. My goal was to start in Anza (about 4100 ft. elevation) and descend down Coyote Canyon to Borrego Springs (just over 500 ft. elevation) then climb back up on dirt roads.

I haven’t met anyone who has taken the entire coyote canyon route, so I wasn’t sure that it was even passable. I’d received some beta that seemed to be from a hiker perspective, but had written cues and mileage for interesting things and intersections in the canyon. Talking to a friend, we decided that if you just head downhill, you’ll pretty much be okay.

The planned route back up, I also wasn’t sure about. I knew that there was a lot of elevation gain, and the first 30 miles would be pavement, but the last 30 mostly dirt. I wasn’t sure how remote/dog ridden this area was as, again, I hadn’t talked to anyone who had biked it – only a guy who rode it on motorcycle. So, I did know that it linked together and was passable, at least.

My riding partner ended up getting here really late Friday night, actually 1am Saturday, so it was going to be tough to get a pre-dawn start, which ws going to take out any room for error even with lights. As we were driving down to Anza and I was looking at the map, I realized that our later start was going to put us on some possibly sketchy roads around sunset, or after dark, which didn’t sound good.

Bren and I decided to start in Borrego Springs instead. This would get the climbing on steep narrow roads out of the way early in the day before there was much traffic.  The minor change in all of this is that we’d have to go off-route in Anza almost 5 miles to get to a store to restock. Not the worst thing in the world, since it would keep us off of crazy roads after dark.


I hadn’t ever even driven Montezuma Grade (yeah, the name says a lot) out of Borrego Springs, so it was good that we drove down it and got a head’s up for what we were doing first thing in the morning. We were a little under-caffeinated, so hitting a grade that takes you from just under 600 feet to over 4,000 in 13 miles, was a bit rough first thing in the morning.


Once we got to Ranchita, (and home of the crazy birdhouses), it was time for the big ring!


We descended down to Warner Springs passing through beautiful high pastures where the flowers were in bloom. Spring in this area is absolutely stunning. I had major divide flashbacks hammering out on a remote road like this – and was wishing for my aerobars, actually.

Getting to Warner Springs, we started looking for our turnoff that my friend Ian told me about. This was the part that I wasn’t sure of – dogs, shotguns… who knows?


About 5 miles after Warner Springs, we took the turn up Lost Valley. It was paved for a few miles then turned to a pretty good quality dirt road. This was a cutoff to avoid highway, but would basically go up and over ridge after ridge – lots of climbing – good training – very scenic beautiful views too. We stopped to check out a super cool campground, then descended into Chihuahua Valley. After crossing over Chihuahua Valley Road, we climbed back up towards Anza. Carey Road, would be a lot longer than it looked on the map (neither of us are running computers so we basically timed the mileage.)

This was the big friggin rock ranch in Chihuahua Valley.

The sun started beating down out here, so we had good periods of quiet – just turning the pedals (you know – the zone… or maybe not enough food and too much sun!) Then we started getting close to Anza and began to see signs of civilization. A car started approaching and it was pulling a trailer, which looked a little wonky. As it got closer, I felt a little uncomfortable – both tires the driver side of the trailer were flat… not just flat, but hanging off of the outside of the rim flapping in the sand. The trailer was loaded up with large items – you know, the kind you have to pay to dispose of… mattresses, fridge – which I’m sure he was going to dump in the desert, and probably the trailer too. I pretty much stood back to avoid getting hit by debris and not make it obvious that I was staring at this mobile circus. I just let the guy pass by so I didn’t get shot.


We then climbed to a high point overlooking Anza, somewhere around 4500 feet in elevation, then descended big ring into Anza. We headed to the market to stock up for our descent down Coyote Canyon, when I realized it was already 4:40. I wasn’t sure how long the canyon would take since I’d not talked to anyone who had done the entire canyon. I knew that it was only 30 miles, but also knew that we’d have some sand and lots of crazy rock areas. I had only brought a 3 hour battery, so it didn’t sound like the odds were in our favor and we wisely decided to get a ride from a friend back to Idyllwild from Anza and save the Canyon for Sunday.

Sunday morning we started out early and took the ghia back down to Anza. We were set up for a good shuttle since we’d left his car in Borrego Springs, and besides, we’d earned this descent with our 8 hour climb on Saturday. The beginning of the canyon is well traveled and the roads are very usable; 4-wheel drive quality, which made them fun, and great views.


The first major monument in Coyote Canyon comes after an initial drop of about 1,000 feet and at mile 4.5 or so of dirt – Bailey’s Cabin. It is the site of the Cahuilla Village of Williya. The cabin is now pretty stocked by hikers with a stove, cots, a little water, some ramen and tapatio.



Heading down the wash, the walls get higher and the sand deeper and the rocks more frequent. It sure made me ponder what a flash flood would be like in here!


There was a bit of walking towards the middle of the canyon, once we got into the motor vehicle restricted area. Then, after a while of walking when I had just commented on how I couldn’t believe that people shuttle this and how it wasn’t worth the amount of time for a shuttle… we hit some of the most beautiful stuff of the ride – the middle willows.

The middle willows area had huge palm trees, a lot of water, and was very green – absolutely beautiful!




After the middle willows and then a bit more walking, we got to the lower area of the canyon that was open to motor vehicles. The only motorized vehicles that we saw in there were rock crawling jeeps, because it was gnarly! We had to descend some pretty crazy baby-head-rock stretches where I was happy to have a 29 inch front wheel.

Then we got to the lower willows and decided to take the main route through them, because the Jeep traffic was going that way and it looked fun. We ended up pedaling through water so deep that I lost my 29inch wheel – I mean, couldn’t see it! It was almost more like swimming, but was very fun – ooohhh… I should totally be pulling my bottom bracket and looking things over right now 🙂



After the willows, was about 5 miles of dirt road, then 5 miles of pavement. We had a good headwind for this section, so it was an excuse to stop and lube our chains – they were pretty much begging for mercy after swimming.




Lower Coyote Canyon was covered with blooming ocotillos – my favorite desert plant!

The paved road then went through local orchards, where we found a citrus stand. They were selling citrus right where it was grown – talk about local! We stopped and bought some tangelos for the rest of the ride into town. Good sugars to finish off the ride… just when we needed them.





7 Comments Add yours

  1. pedalonelong says:

    Good Stuff…….


  2. jruss says:

    i dig the epicness. nice.


  3. oz says:

    awesome…..I rode Coyote Canyon last month……I started in Anza, rode to Borrego Springs, then turned around and rode back through the Canyon all the way back to Anza….it was epic…..


    1. Stan Nowack says:

      I rode The Anza-Borrego Springs Trail in 1984 with a good friend and avid biker Dana Adler. 25 years ago not too many people went down that road and it was a spectacular ride. You didn’t mention the canyon land area which includes cougar, sheep canyons, the most hospitable and grand (in my opinion) of all the areas in the park mainly because of the waterfalls and pools to swim and soak in. I fyou didn’t get there its worth a ride back.


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