We'd been looking forward to the long Thanksgiving weekend. The reason was Harper Flat. This large, bowl-shaped valley nestled high in the Vallecito Mountains is certainly one of the least visited areas of the park. However, in the past, Harper Flat was the site of the largest Indian camps in the Anza Borrego region. Could we find evidence of these ancient Indians? Come on along with us and find out!
We arrived in Borrego Springs Friday morning and spent some time checking out the great books at the visitor center. Then it was time to gas up and head toward Fish Creek south of Ocotillo Wells. The drive up Fish Creek Wash is always magical. If you only do one off road jaunt in the park let it be this one. You'll wind through Split Mountain Gorge, pass by the famous anticline and the wind caves, see the elephant knees, check out the multi-colored layer cake, cross the entrance to Sandstone Canyon and finally climb your way up to Hapaha Flat. This road is for high clearance four wheel drive vehicles. You won't have much traffic! We arrived at our campsite near McCain Spring in the afternoon and had enough time to hike up to the spring itself. Just start at the old water tank and follow the rusting pipe up to the spring. You'll do a lot of boulder scrambling, but the area is scenic and has lots of plant life. Also, lots of animal life! We found a 4 1/2 inch long cougar print in the wash! The spring is dry now, but there are still remnants of it in the form of an old shaft covered by wood planks. We stayed away from this area, not knowing how solid it was. On the hillside near the old shaft is an area covered over by plastic tarps held in place by rocks. This device acts as a guzzler to catch and channel rainwater to the two prominent storage tanks. We opened the access panels to find that both were full. A thoughtful touch is a small metal trough that birds and bees were busy enjoying. This general McCain Spring area is reputed to have had an Indian camp. In our exploring we found ample evidence that this is true. Pottery pieces, obsidian chips, and fragments of bone from birds and rabbits all underscored the fact that Hapaha Flat was a popular bit of real estate. At 3,000 feet, our campsite for the night was a bit on the cool side. We turned in early. We had already found evidence of one Indian camp. Would we be as lucky tomorrow in Harper Flat? As we drifted off to sleep a full moon lit up our camp to a remarkable degree. This was fine by us, because we kept remembering those cougar tracks!
Split Rock is only a short drive further west from McCain Spring. Saturday morning found us shouldering our packs and heading north along the wash that runs from Split Rock through a low pass and into Harper Flat. It's a relatively easy hike. We enjoyed seeing two owls hustle off as we approached their tree, a dragonfly, some pegmatite dikes and sprays of black schorl, desert lavender attended by a host of bees, and other diversions. Soon we were in Harper Flat itself. Hiking here would not be easy. There is no such thing as a straight line. The flat is choked with agaves and cactus. Washes twist and turn and disappear, leaving you to try to pierce the maze of the flat like a sailboat tacking against the wind. Big jackrabbits burst from cover under our feet and again reminded us of the cougar tracks. However, hard work and a bit of serendipity led us to a most amazing spot. Amidst a jumble of rocks we found morteros. Not just a couple, but well over twenty! Fragments of pottery littered the ground. Some of those fragments were huge. We even found the intact spout portion of one piece. Nearby we found two yonis that were a combination of naturally occurring slits in rocks and hand carving to enhance the semblance of the powerful fertility symbol of the vaginal entrance. The trip was a success. However, we already have identified another part of the flat that we want to look into, but that will have to wait. As the sun dropped behind Whale Peak we straggled back to Split Rock. Nothing was taken from the site but pictures and memories. If you find it, please leave it in the same condition. We exited Fish Creek Wash as the sun set and decided to camp there. Tomorrow we would head for home after checking out the "herd" of elephant trees that resides in that area. We had a wonderful time. The thrill of discovery is addictive. We'll be back! Click below to see some of the photos from this trip.