PCT section A: Pioneer Mail to Warner Springs

Last week I completed the second half of the first section of the Pacific Crest Trail, through the Anza-Borrego Desert, which turned out to be a good little adventure. Pics and comments below for anyone who might wonder — what's it like to walk the PCT in SoCal just 50-100 miles north of the border? 

Let me start with a moment of mild drama…ran into this fellow hanging out in the trail:


Fortunately he was very mellow, and hardly seemed to notice as I skirted him and the trail to pass, (after trying to move him on with a couple of chucked rocks). 

After the picnic area known as Pioneer Mail, where (for logistical reasons) I had to leave the trail last year, and where I resumed this past week, the trail climbs a low ridge, then begins a long gentle descent towards the Anza-Borrego Desert. A walker begins to see a few cacti amidst the chaparral. 


After about fifteen or more miles of dryness, water can be found at what is known as Rodriguez Spur. Lots of hikers gathered there this past year, clustering within a few feet of the spring (captured in a concrete box). I camped a 100 feet down the way, behind a sheltering tree. Not a spectacular place, but the intersection of a jeep road and the cattle fence made for an interesting night pic.


My second day on the trail led me gently down, down, down towards the desert floor, with some impressive views and nice flowers (April is the season for desert flowers).


The desert isn't my fave ecotone, but this was an easy trail to like.


After an hour or two I reached the desert floor, and boy did it fit the profile. 


The trail crosses two highways in short order, 78 and 79, and beneath a bridge I found a half-dozen hikers hanging out in the shade, enjoying some grapes brought by Crash Test, who was resting a pinched nerve in her shoulder. Had a nice chat with a helpful fella known as Rock Ocean (more later on this trail saint, er, angel). 

No shortage of water at this cache — wish I had known. Wouldn't have schlepped 7 liters.


After crossing the highways, the trail heads up into the San Felipe Hills, the most desert-y and spectacular section of this sixty miles or so.


Ran into some folks on horseback who told me that in a normal (non-drought) year, every step of this way at this time of year would be wildflowers. Plausible. Thought this was about cutest little barrel cacti I've ever seen. 


Amazingly, thunder was heard, rain came down — and lightning! But after camping hastily, of course the clouds dissipated, which made for some soft air and sweet views:


To make it to Warner Springs, the end of the section, and home with a day to recoup meant a 24-mile schlep, but off I set. At the 90-mile mark I encountered this sign — more aqua I didn't need to carry:


Ran into a group of folks supplying cases and cases of water for the official "kick-off" from Morena Lake on the 24th. They said they were laying in enough water for 500 hikers. Here's Jim Hawkins, a geologist at Scripps, doing his part. I thanked him a bunch. 


Trail wasn't the prettiest, but the views — wow.


Leaving the San Felipe Hills behind, the trail turned north, and the landscape softened.


Delighted to see this in the trail:



 And a gentler kind of floral beauty, w/o thorns:


Starting to feel pretty good in the grasslands before Warner Springs.


Maybe there were pioneers coming through here:

Here's Saunter, a through hiker from a few years back, heading south towards the kick-off at Morena Lake in about a week. 1-DSC00557

And here's humble but charming Warner Springs, where hikers have been congregating and even camping out in the parking lot, much to the surprise of the local Calfire crew. 




Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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