Coyote Mountain is peak number 10 on the Sierra Club’s 100 Peaks list. It has made one or the other appearance in my photos already over the years, but it is often a bit diminished against the backdrop of the Santa Rosa mountains with their impressive high point, Toro Peak. Here are some of those photos: Coyote Mountain & Toro Peak from West Butte Borrego Mountain, Coyote Mountain from Vista Del Malpais, and from the other direction: Coyote Mountain and Borrego Valley from near Toro Peak.
Its elevation of 927 meters (3192 feet) doesn’t sound like much of course – but the hike begins at an elevation of just ~160 meters (550 feet) on the desert floor, so it’s a nice uphill workout.
I chose the east approach from Clark Dry Lake – it is steeper than the south approach from the Pegleg Smith Historical Marker, but also about two miles shorter. In addition to that, the sun on an east-facing slope is less intense, especially in the afternoon, and I started my hike somewhat late, around 11:30.
As my starting point I picked the old rock mine (or whatever it is) along Rockhouse Road, but anywhere along that stretch of road is fine really, as long as you can safely park your car. I found my way to the ridge that is used for the ascent along the artificial, moraine-like wall of boulders, and began the uphill section.
Low on the ridge, vegetation is extremely sparse – some creosote and dried grasses, but otherwise the landscape consists of rocks, rocks and more rocks. Soon after the first couple hundred yards uphill on the ridge a use-trail appears. It was interesting to see how well-worn this trail was, considering the remoteness of the area and how few people hike the mountain. It’s clear that it is really the timeless environment of the desert that preserves the trail so well – in chaparral, it would have been overgrown 20 times already for sure.
Making my way uphill, I soon entered this meditational state of just marching on, enhanced by the cleansing emptiness of the landscape. I had this mountain to myself and without cell reception, no one could disturb me and nothing could distract me. Being so thoroughly disconnected gave me an elated feeling of being free. I could pause or go as I pleased, at my own pace and no one else’s. It was liberating. While I like hiking with friends and share experiencing a place with a like-minded soul, here I was reminded why I love hiking alone.
At some point, I noticed some detail out of the corner of my eye and “awakened” from the meditational marching, and I experienced some sort of “flashpoint” – everything all around me became incredibly beautiful, as a whole. It felt like each single thing was in balance here with everything else. Every piece of rock, every bird and butterfly, every dry plant and every lizard was right where it belonged.
I first experienced this purity and cleanliness, this “intensity through reduction”, on a hike in the Antermoia valley in the Rosengarten (Catinaccio) group in the Dolomite alps in Italy. I titled one photo that I made “Of The Essence“, and the desert here is of the same essence as that alpine valley in the Dolomites (in fact, I chose almost the same words about that experience, when I wrote that blog post back then).
As I hiked on, I began to notice all the different types and shapes of rocks: coarse, crumbling dark grey rock, large rust red blocks of rocks, white veins enclosed in brown boulders, black and glittering enclosures shimmering from white crystalline rock, which is itself glistening in the sun. Big rocks covered in smooth desert varnish – it shines in an intensive dark brown and violet in the sun – and small rocks that crunch under my feet. Sometimes it sounded almost like shards, or shells at the ocean shore when the waves wash over them – a high pitched clinking, ringing, jingling. The thought crossed my mind that once, this must have been the bottom of an ocean.
Sometimes the trail disappeared, where larger rocks are on the route, but even when I lost it, it only took a minute or two to pick it up again afterwards. How do we humans find this commonality of the small and narrow trail on this big mountain? Is it pure coincidence, or is there something that guides us? Do we have some inner sense of the best route that we automatically find? Did I subconsciously follow the numerous little rock cairns? Do the footsteps of hikers who came before me resonate from the trail and I pick up the vibration?
About halfway up, I paused and ate my lunch – sitting on a rock of course, warm from the sun. Birds chase buzzing insects, occasionally there’s the remote drone of an airplane in the sky, but otherwise it’s silent.
The rest of the climb is just as delightfully uneventful, except that higher up, more ocotillos appeared, some of them with flaming red flowers, and then more and more desert agave. The summit is a little plateau, it is surprisingly flat and obscures the views, so I walked around to its edges to take in the vistas in every direction: the wrinkled landscape towards Coyote Canyon, the long ridge of the Santa Rosa Mountains from Toro Peak towards the Salton Sea, the Borrego Basin with Fonts Point, and the town of Borrego Springs with its citrus plantations.
After I added my name to the summit register I began my descend back down the ridge. Here’s my GPS log (GaiaGPS) and following are some impressions:
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