The Devil Went Down to California

‘The devil is not as black as he is painted’ – Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy

This past weekend I headed out to an area of Anza-Borrego State Park that I had never been before: the Carrizo Badlands.  Honestly, before I owned a fatbike I never would’ve ventured into many of these area as the sand can be a real pain in the ass but now that I have the beast to ride the desert has become a favorite playground.  I planned a route that included “Arroyo Seco del Diablo” mainly because it sounded like a fun place to visit.  I looped back to my start area through Arroyo Tapiado as the area is known for its mud caves.  The 45 mile ride did not disappoint.


Solo rides like this in inspiring areas tend to provide fertile ground for introspection, a place to confront your demons.  So in the interest of sharing a few photos from the ride I thought it would be fun to include a quote from Dante’s Inferno with each one.  After all, fatbikers are the poets of the cycling world, right?  No matter what type of bike you’re pedaling, long solo rides are the epic allegorical poems in which we as cyclists carve our tracks upon the world – or something to that effect.

At Split Mountain the gates of Lower Fish Creek Wash open up in a spectacular fashion. I love this area as sometimes I see borrego (desert bighorn sheep) up on the cliffs. My advice to you if you plan on riding this wash: go early before the motorized traffic builds.  Later in the afternoon this is a popular place for people to visit from the nearby Ocotillo Wells State Vehicle Recreation Area and it gets crowded, dusty and noisy.  Beyond this point it’s much, much quieter.

‘Before me things create were none, save things Eternal, and eternal I endure. Abandon hope all ye who enter here’


Just above Split Mountain is a formation known as Elephant Knees.  Get here for the early morning light and the colors can be brilliant.

‘Beauty awakens the soul to act’


‘Heaven wheels above you, displaying to you her eternal glories, and still your eyes are on the ground’


Harsh light in the cloudless desert sky is hard for a novice photographer like me to capture, especially with a point and shoot being used in the middle of a ride where photos are not really my main focus.  I think the shot above captures the scene well.  It was actually quite chilly and the warmth of the sun was welcome.  Hell is not always hot.  Maybe the devil comes here for vacation? 

Some day I hope to muster the courage to get back up to Alaska and ride the Iditarod trail (which follows river drainages such as this).  This black and white reminds me of a snowscape on a frozen river, especially given the cold, dry temperatures in the morning.  Some day…

‘Your soul has been assailed by cowardice, which often weighs so heavily on a man –distracting him from honorable trials– as phantoms frighten beasts when shadows fall’


These sandstone formations are abundant just above the Diablo Dropoff.  The great thing about riding a bike instead of being in a jeep or truck is that you can also notice petrified wood embedded in the high walls of the canyons.  Someday I’ll camp out here and search for fossils as I once did in the coal country of Pennsylvania as a child.  I don’t intend to turn to stone within.

‘I wept not, so to stone within I grew’


The great thing about rides in Anza-Borrego is that the routes are all marked.  Of course if you rely on them to be marked they will have disappeared in the previous season’s flash flood so always carry a map.  Most are not marked on the maps of my gps either.  The devil likes to play tricks, much like life changes when you think you have it all mapped out.  Caution is not always a bad thing (except when it’s just trash strung up in the desert).

‘Do not be afraid; our fate cannot be taken from us; it is a gift’


I went up one of the side canyons in Arroyo Tapiado to investigate.  Leaving my bike behind I continued walking up the meandering path until visions of “127 Hours” danced in my head. Note the fractured sandstone my bike is leaning against which freaked me out a little as that slab seems ready to come down.  I turned around shortly after this just when the light was getting good.  Remember what I said about long rides being allegorical?  Now I have to go back and see where this canyon leads.

In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost’


A cathedral of sandstone within a world of dirt, both doomed to a shared fate.

‘At this high moment, ability failed my capacity to describe’


One of the things that really pisses me off when riding in the desert is finding trash.  Anza-Borrego is generally well-kept by it users but I find it disgusting when the lazy ruin it for the rest of us that play by the rules.  Huh, I’m starting to sound a little Edward Abbey-esque in my old age.

‘Nature is the art of god’


Hope you enjoyed the photos!  It was a day well spent in a fiendishly intriguing area. I’ve been dreaming of a route that winds through the entire park that’s destined for an overnighter (or two) later this winter before the weather gets hot again.  Maybe I’ll pull a copy of Dante’s Inferno off the shelf for some evening reading during that one.

‘So that the Universe felt love,
by which, as some believe,
the world has many times been turned to chaos.
And at that moment this ancient rock,
here and elsewhere, fell broken into pieces’

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3 Responses to The Devil Went Down to California

  1. Michael_S says:

    wow, fantastic ride and incredible pictures. I just relocated to North SD County so I’ll have to put this on my bucket list. What size tires are you running on your Fatbike for this ride?

    • Tom says:

      Thanks! Yes, it’s a great place to fatbike out there but not as much fun on a regular mt bike. I’m running 3.8 Husker Du’s right now, they’re relatively lightweight for a fat tire and roll well. Works well for rides like these

  2. Reblogged this on Trevor Hadfield and commented:
    Am so looking forward to riding in California later this year

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