Finding Fat Bike Heaven in California’s Canyonlands

At over 600,000 acres Anza-Borrego State Park is California’s largest state park offering over 500 miles of winding dirt roads that trace many of the washes and canyons. Far from being a wasteland, it is a geologic masterpiece of raw landforms ripped and torn by erosion. Before I started fat biking I had never really given much thought to riding this area as sand and skinny tires are usually ingredients in a recipe for futility (not to mention that the park literature discourages biking here for this reason), but now that I’ve ridden most of the park I can proclaim it for what it is: Fat Bike Heaven. It’s a great place to ride, as long as your tires are fat and it’s not too hot.

Last week I had a few free days and the weather looked good (forecasted highs in the upper 80’s and low 90’s) so I planned a car camping overnighter to explore an old favorite (Fish Creek Wash) as well as a new area in the Borrego Badlands.  So in the interest of getting people out exploring the desert on something other than a fossil-fuel powered 4WD, here’s a photo essay of what can be found out there on a typical ride.  Trust me there’s lots more where this came from (if you look back in my blog you can find some other rides that give a flavor of the Coyote Canyon and Sandstone Wash areas).

Oh, I did not encounter ANY other traffic on either ride that I took – that’s almost 10 hours of complete solitude (amazing for California). So if you want a personal experience with the desert make sure that you are prepared with plenty of food and water, go midweek and enjoy the silence.  Most importantly, get out and explore!

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Meandering upriver into the Borrego Badlands. This is just below Inspiration Point.


This was the result of a wrong turn in the Badlands. From what I’ve heard there are numerous fossils waiting to be found in these washes.


The view from the top of Inspiration Wash. This was a fun descent from here back into the badlands.


There’s not a lot of color left in the wildflowers this year as it’s been hot and dry, but there are still a few


Though the wind had started to die down by the time I took this photos, here’s a little evidence of how windy it had been throughout the day.


Back off man, this dune’s mine.


Love the scalloped edges of these dunes.

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With so much wind and dust in the air the sunset was otherwordly.


Aww what the heck, why not another another angle?


Sorry, this scene deserved another angle to take it all in.


“Primitive” car-camping in Fish Creek Wash: bacon, pancakes and coffee. Free camping is available throughout Anza-Borrego (see the park website for regulations). Even with a 13 yr old VW Jetta Station Wagon I was able to get far enough up the wash to find a great area to spend the night. Granted my VW has a lift kit and skid plate (no I don’t have a gun rack) so your off-road mileage may vary.


Just another gorgeous day in the desert.


Split Mountain, a well placed rock and a 10 second timer.


A view of Elephant’s Knees from an adjacent hill.


The hills in this area shimmer with mica shards


Shattered concretions littering the ground in upper Arroyo Seco Del Diablo like forgotten Greek statues. Lots of petrified wood can be found up here as well.


Water, water ummmm… no where.


Fresh bloom on a great day to be a cactus. It’s very weird to be buzzed by a hummingbird (as I was) while in the middle of the desert.


More concretions in Arroyo Seco Del Diablo. I was a little dehydrated by this point in the ride but there may or may not have been a caterpillar smoking a hookah sitting on top of this formation… I’m still not sure.


One of the famous slot canyons of Arroyo Tapiado. This area is also home to one of the largest concentrations of mud caves in the world (of which I do not go into, the slot canyons are even a little too 127 hrs-ish for me).


Concretions embedded in sandstone, ride the wave.


Sorry for the selfie, but my fat head provides scale in this larger slot canyon about 1/2 mile down the wash from the first one I went into.


Fall mountains, just don’t fall on me. Remember, gravity always wins.

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11 Responses to Finding Fat Bike Heaven in California’s Canyonlands

  1. Gregg Howard says:

    Nice job on the pics and description of this unusual place, grasshopper. I hiked some of this area looking for those fossils …. The mighty sandusaurus… He he he he….

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Gregg, it is a wonderful (at times weird) place when you go poking around out there. I’ve really enjoyed my rides out there.

  2. Rick F says:

    I hiked in ABSP years ago…but my memory fails me. Are there “ridable’ roads/trails for 29×2.2 treads? Or would it just be a slog-fest?

    • Tom says:

      well, it depends on where and when you go. Right now Fish Creek Wash is very ridable for a 29er though you will still encounter sandy bits of course. The badlands area is fat bike territory only as it’s very sandy. All of the riding is on “roads”. That might make it sound boring but the unique nature of riding desert washes (at times a little technical) and the geology make for an enjoyable ride!

  3. wow simply amazing do you have a gpx file for this ride?

  4. Mike Schiller says:

    that place is why a fat bike is on my list to buy now that I live in Carlsbad. I rode thru Coyote Canyon last fall and loved it. Excited to explore more!

  5. Jean Michel says:

    I have read your article post. thank’s for tips. Extraordinary post. I like that post. I like this all picture. Thank’s for sharing.

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