Off-Roading, Art, and Geology in Anza-Borrego
An off-road adventure through Anza-Borrego State Park is so much more than a good time wheeling in the desert. As my dad and I discovered, it's also an opportunity to view some quirky, one-of-a-kind artwork and a learn a few things about our planet's history through that art as well as the surrounding geology. And yes, you will have plenty of chances to drive on some amazing off-road trails and test your skills on a giant "playground" for all kinds of off-road and 4x4 vehicles.
Discovering Galleta Meadows and Giant Sloths
This spot is an extremely popular tourist destination as folks come from near and far to view the 130-plus giant metal sculptures that are scattered across this area of open desert. These whimsical sculptures were created by artist Ricardo Breceda, whose works can even be found in Canada and Australia. His story is pretty remarkable so I recommend checking it out if you aren't familiar with him.
To give a sense of scale, my dad placed his Power Wagon next to some of these metal behemoths and took photos.
The land the sculptures sit on is private property belonging to Dennis Avery, who commissioned these works of art, but don’t worry because the land is open to the public and even has some camping options. If you have never been to Galleta Meadows in Anza-Borrego, you’re likely to be blown away by them. And if you have been before, well...you're still likely to be just as blown away as you were the first time because these giant sculptures are awe-inspiring.
When I'd been here before, a few these giant works of art that looked (to me) like a bunch of hairy T-Rexes but with the teeth of an herbivore really stood out to me. Fortunately, a few weeks before this particular trip to the desert, I happened to visit the natural history museum at Balboa Park in downtown San Diego and finally learn what these massive creatures were...they belonged to the family of giant sloths.
That’s right, you heard me.
These beasts could weigh up to 4 tons and measure up to 20 feet in length from head to tail. So, the massive sculptures you see in Galleta Meadows might be pretty much to scale. It's pretty captivating to imagine what an entire species must’ve been like based solely on a herd of giant metal sculptures.
If you’re at all curious about giant sloths, I highly recommend doing a little research because I guarantee you’ll be blown away by all of the interesting facts you'll discover about this species.
They are closely related to modern tree sloths, anteaters, and armadillos, but if you see the bones of one of these giant sloths you might think you’re looking at an enormous grizzly bear.
They went extinct between 5,000-10,000 years ago, but before that happened, many different species were found all across North and South America. I wonder what it must’ve been like to be a prehistoric human encountering (or even hunting) one of these strange creatures.
Time Traveling at Font's Point
Once we left Galleta Meadows, dad and I pulled up into Font’s Point, where we were greeted by some friendly TrailRecon fans who quickly recognized him. After talking with them for a little while about his off-road set up and theirs, my dad directed me towards the Font’s Point overlook with panoramic views of the badlands that stretched out to the horizon.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was amazed by the scenic view that was laid out before me. I felt like I was 10,000 feet in the air overlooking a vast mountain range that went on for miles. Font’s Point is sort of a visual illusion in that sense and the truth is that I have never seen anything like it. There are several information markers around the area, including one that describes all the artists and writers who have traveled to this place to capture its magnificence through their creative efforts.
Even looking back at all the pictures and videos we took (as incredible as they turned out) they just doesn’t do this place justice. It’s one of those places that you just need to experience for yourself to understand it. If you read the informational markers scattered around the overlook, you may gain some historical insight that will further magnify the sheer awesomeness of this natural wonder. Like this tidbit...
Millions of years ago, the vast area of Anza-Borrego wasn't the dry, dusty desert you see today. Instead, it was a vast ocean, teaming with aquatic life. Font’s Point itself was actually a basin that filled up with water from the Colorado River as it traveled towards the Grand Canyon.
This means the badlands you can see today from Font’s Point was formed by the ebb and flow of water over aeons. It's crazy to me that this vast natural work of art that now sits in the arid, parched Southern California desert was created by a long-gone ocean.
After learning this, Font’s Point became even more beautiful to me as I pictured the endless landscape being covered with flowing, crashing waves, as well as extinct animals that once inhabited this terrain. That’s what I love about natural history—it helps us understand the stories of how the landscapes all around us were formed.
Font’s Point is like a playground for the imaginative mind, and trust me, it’s not hard to be imaginative in a place as breathtaking as this.
Speaking of playgrounds...dad and I discovered a place in the desert where 4x4s of all kinds are free to let loose.
Truck Haven: A PlayGround for Kids and Lunatics!
The only way to describe our next stop is an off-roader’s playground. And when we rolled up to this place I could see why. Mariachi music was blasting as different types of ATVs, dirt bikes, Jeeps, and other 4-wheelers zipped and zoomed by in every direction.
This impressive spectacle is known as Truck Haven and it's a 30-acre dirt area filled with 22 man-made obstacles, each varying in three different levels of difficulty—easiest , more difficult, and most difficult. However, if I had to give them a rating, I would say the three difficulty levels are as follows: easy, hard, and insane.
There is a degree of variation within each category, but there is one obstacle that is off the charts in difficulty—a 20-foot-tall ramp composed of 6 concrete tubes. I think you'd have to be more than a little crazy to attempt this one!
While having three drastically different levels—with a wide range of variability within each level—might not make sense, I don’t think it’s supposed to. Truck Haven has obstacles ranging from so easy a child could do them to those that only the most seasoned (and slightly crazy) off-roader would even consider tackling.
In this way, Truck Haven has something for just about everyone while at the same time providing some extremely unique and near-impossible challenges. You can have just as much fun actually wheeling the easy obstacles as you can pondering the epic fails that must have occurred on the ridiculously difficult ones.
The "more difficult" obstacles are no joke either, but they're not any more challenging than what you'll find out on a moderately challenging trail, which makes this a great place to practice and build your off-road skills. If you want to come have fun at the playground while honing your off-road driving abilities, this is a great place to do both but I'd recommend taking your time and bringing a spotter.
We didn’t spend as much time here as we did at the other places because it was pretty crowded, which is something to keep in mind, but I could definitely see us coming back here just to have some fun with friends.
Finding a Last-Minute Campsite
When I’m out on the trail, I don’t really get stressed out if things don’t go as planned, because that’s my entire goal of going overlanding and getting off-grid—to get away from stress. That being said, my dad is an amazing planner and, being the retired U.S. Navy Master Chief that he is, he takes initiative when things go off-course.
This is what happened when the campsite my dad found when planning this adventure was now behind a "no camping" sign. Even though he was bummed, instead of trying to fit a square peg in a circle hole and getting mad, dad decided to look for a new spot.
We traveled down an offshoot of the main trail and quickly found a beautiful spot to camp just as the sun was setting. Leave it to my old man to use his expertise and make quick work of a less-than-ideal situation.
However, we soon found ourselves faced with another challenge as we were preparing dinner—the hose we had was for hooking up our propane tank to the grill was the wrong size. We didn't let this minor setback spoil our mood (and possibly our dinner). After a quick discussion about our options, we decided to go old-school and cook over the new gas fire pit my had brought.
Instead of focusing on how we couldn’t use the grill, we instead thought about how lucky we were that he decided to bring the fire pit, as it helped us cook our dinner and kept us warm while we had some great conversation.
When you’re watching my dad’s TrailRecon YouTube videos it might seem like everything is smooth sailing most of the time, but there are often plenty of setbacks on the trail. The real challenge is how you deal with these obstacles and the attitude you choose to have.
I’ve met most of my dad’s buddies and can tell you that he brings with him friends he can trust and who trust him, and most of all, they have great, positive attitudes. Even though I’m not as vehicle-savvy as my dad, we trust each other, keep it positive, and I like to think this is what makes our teamwork so great.
Exploring Fish Creek Wash and the Wind Caves in Anza-Borrego
The next morning was brisk, but I was greeted with a warm cup of coffee by my early-rising dad. The fire pit was up and running, and was much appreciated as I waited for the sun to finish rising over the mountains.
After we ate, we set out on a short little excursion to locate the trail that led up to the wind caves. The trail to this cool natural phenomenon, formed by time and erosion due to wind and water, is only about three quarters of a mile, but it’s all uphill so it can literally take your breath away.
The wind caves themselves are more like funnels through the rock, but some of them are big enough that you can crawl through or stand in them while admiring their unique formations.
Sadly, there are names and other things carved into the rocks, which is sad to see. If you’re visiting this incredible geological formation, please leave it better than you found it. I think it’s nice to have parts of nature not defaced by people.
After exploring the wind caves, we made the journey carefully back down the trail and got in the Power Wagon to head towards Fish Creek Wash.
When you first drive along Fish Creek Wash, one of several off-road trails in Anza-Borrego State Park, it looks like you've ended up on the film set of either a Star Trek episode or a scene from one of the Star Wars movies. On each side of the trail the sandstone cliffs with their layers upon layers of rock and sediment tower over you.
Apparently, this particular trail gets its name from the fossils that have been found throughout this area and, according to my dad, college students often come here to study the geological formations.
Some people will camp in this area, but as it’s heavily trafficked and sections of the cliffs can sometimes break off due to erosion or recent rains. I don't like living dangerously, so I would recommend finding a different spot to camp.
It also gets really windy in here and the narrow canyons can form a wind tunnel so this is definitely not a place for a quiet night’s rest.
One of my friends has been to Salvation Mountain more times than I can count and they've been telling me for years I need to visit this place. When my dad mentioned that it was near Anza-Borrego, I was excited at the opportunity to finally cross this place off my bucket list of places to see.
This impressive work of art took over 28 years and half a million gallons of paint for creator Leonard Knight to complete. By using cement and old items such as sheds and beat-up cars, Knight was able to make more of a hill than a mountain, but it’s incredibly impressive, nonetheless.
Most of the area is blocked off by wood planks and paint cans, and I’m honestly not sure if these areas were temporarily closed when we were there or if they are just generally off limits. Either way, you don’t need to climb the mountain to take in the sights.
There were small groups of people that would walk around and observe the religious artworks as well as take the more-than-occasional selfie. Sitting in the center of all of this appeared to be the caretaker, who actually has their own housing directly next to the site.
If I’m being honest, my expectations for this place may have been a little high after everything I'd heard. It was cool, but not as impressive as I'd been expecting.
The work is definitely impressive, it just wasn’t this magical, mythical spot I had thought it would be. Although, the weather was pretty ugly that day, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
The place itself lives up to the name of Salvation Mountain, as bible verses and Christian sayings are literally painted on everything in sight. It’s a friendly place and you can tell that love and care was put into all of the works.
This was honestly the least exciting of all of the spots we went on this trip, but rather than being a knock against Salvation Mountain, I think it really just gives credit to how absolutely incredible the other places we visited on this adventure were.
I hope you enjoyed this little dive behind the scenes of a TrailRecon adventure and that I piqued your curiosity about Anza-Borrego, Galleta Meadows, Fish Creek Wash, and more, and that you are inspired to get out have your own off-road and overland adventures.
Fish Creek Wash to Sandstone Canyon are two off-road trails in Southern California that embody the American West. These trails are both rated as easy, and you can tackle them during a day-trip. But if you have the time for a bit of overlanding, spending 2-3 days will give you more time to explore the rich geology of Anza-Borrego State Park, enjoy the glittering night sky, and have an unforgettable adventure in the desert.
By saying "yes" to a three-day, off-road journey in Anza-Borrego—an adventure I almost said no to—I ended up with so much more than memories of a weekend trip. I honed my overlanding skills, made wonderful new friends, and discovered the magic and beauty of the American southwest desert.
But that’s the thing about adventures, isn’t it? They’re about new challenges and experiences. They’re about expanding your horizons (literally and figuratively) and personal growth. And the best adventures often happen when you’re least expecting them.