Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Hellhole Canyon — Or, What’s In A Name?

Hike In Hellhole Canyon

Hellhole Canyon trail leads to a palm oasis

©Bert Gildart: The last few days have seen the arrival of a number of our Airstream friends from various parts of the country. The last couple to show up were Don and Nancy of Vermont, who arrived late yesterday afternoon in a howling wind storm. Just prior to their arrival were Bill and Larry of San Diego; Alex and Charon, who pretty much full time in their 1966 Airstream; and finally, Rich, Eleanor and Emma. You’ve heard me speak often of Rich Luhr, who publishes Airstream Life Magazine.

All of us have descended on Anza Borrego Desert State Park for the obvious reason that it is warm, and because there are so many activities in which to engage in the winter.

And, so, it was only logical that those of us who could spare the time would strike out for a long hike along one of the park’s more spectacular trails, in this case Hellhole Canyon.

Mountain lions had been reported but that didn’t motivate us, rather it was the notion of seeing palm trees and perhaps even the blossoming of some of the desert’s very first flowers.  The hike didn’t disappoint.


Then, too, we wanted to recall a bit about this canyon, which has an interesting history, both from the human perspective and perhaps, too, from the perspective of etymology.

As we all know, words evolve, and that is perhaps the reason this canyon goes by the name Hellhole, rather than as two words. Originally, you imagine some cowboy saying, “That canyon is sure one ‘hell’ of a ‘hole.’”

That could be what happened here. Years ago ranchers used the canyon as a reprieve from roaring winds that whipped off the surrounding mountains. The mountains also provided a respite from the heat and all went well until they had to retrieve their cattle from amidst the cholla, ocotillo, fishhook cactus, and beavertail cactus. No doubt, their impression deteriorated–and can’t you just hear an hear an old cowboy saying, “Man, that hole is sure hell on me and my hoss’.”


With time someone would recall again the potential conditions and say, “Got to go to Hell-hole today, the cattle are still there.” Eventually, the hyphen was dropped until the concept became a single thought as in, “Drive the cattle into Hellhole for the spring. We’ll hope they stay in that God-forsaken canyon and don’t wander down into Mexico.”


Palm Oasis means water, even if just a trickle. That's Charon on the far right.


Last night we appreciated a bit of what they were saying as winds gusted up to 40 miles per hour.  Our hike, however, was ideal, leaving me an image of a kinder and much more gentle canyon. Along the way we saw several of the huge-eared desert hares as well as the sign of coyotes, and probably a bobcat.

And then there was the oasis of palms and maidenhair fern, with the stream that flowed quietly through them, and we all concluded that on a hot summer day, this could be anything but a hellhole.


As well, we found several ocotillo bushes and one was producing flowers that were in full bloom. Ocotillo is an interesting species, one that produces leaves only following rain. If subsequent rains don’t follow the first, the leaves curl and become dormant. However, if more rains follow, the plant produces flowers, such as the ones we stopped to admire yesterday.


Two strobe lights work best for closeup details of flowers. Ocotillo blossoms suggest a recent rain storm.


To dramatize the flowers I needed two strobes, which I always carry. I then set the  camera to manual mode, enabling me to overpower the light from the sun. To do that I set the shutter speed to 250th of a second and the aperture to f-22 or less.  Look through the view finder of your camera and you’ll see the dial (at least on the Nikon D300) shows an under exposure of about three stops. Without the strobes your picture would be mighty black, but the strobes are set correctly, and they illuminate the subject. However, you’ll need an additional set of hands to hold one of the strobes, which Bill volunteered to provide. The results from this technique never fall to impress me.



*Hey, It’s a Gator




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