Sand dunes dominate the landscape in the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area.
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Points of Interest

View of Caririzo Gorge from the Sacatone Overlook. Photo credits: BLM

Carrizo Gorge Wilderness: East of McCain Valley Road, this wilderness offers some of the most expansive scenic vistas in the California desert. Views stretching 100 miles or more are common on clear days.

Carrizo Overlook: A scenic view point located along McCain Valley Road. To the east is Carrizo Canyon. Looking northeast across the mouth of the canyon, the Carrizo Corridor is visible.

Cottonwood Campground: Nestled in the live oaks along an intermittent stream, Cottonwood Campground is a good jumping-off point for day hikes or overnight backpacking trips into the In-Ko-Pah Mountains.

Wind caves located within the Coyote Mountains Wilderness. Photo credits: BLM\Valerie Kastoll

Coyote Mountains Wilderness: Described as a fish hook shaped mountain range, the Coyote Mountains make up 40 percent of this wilderness. Part of the Carrizo Badlands lie within the northern portion of the wilderness, their narrow and twisting gullies giving the landscape its harsh, forbidding appearance. 

Crucifixion Thorn: Although fairly common in other southwest desert basins (Arizona and Mexico), crucifixion thorn is rare in California. The name crucifixion thorn comes from the resemblance of the crown of thorns said to be worn by Christ during his crucifixion.

Crucifixion Thorn in bloom. Photo credits: BLM\Carrie Simmons

Davies Valley: Located within the Jacumba Mountains Wilderness, Davies Valley is a large, picturesque valley with abundant desert vegetation and striking geologic formations. A staging area for hiking and equestrian use into Davies Valley can be found at the end of Clark Road, south of Ocotillo on State Highway 98.

Elliot Mine: The piles and towers of boulders catch the eye of many visitors. These rocks were formed several miles beneath the surface of the earth, by the gradual cooling of molten rock material. 

Fish Creek Mountains Wilderness.  Photo credits: BLM\John Johnson

Fish Creek Mountains Wilderness: A rugged land of jagged ridges and peaks appears above twisting canyons and small valleys, creating a pristine natural environment. A portion of the ancient Lake Cahuilla shoreline is visible within this wilderness.

Fossil Canyon: Located within the Coyote Mountains Wilderness, Fossil Canyon exposes a 50-million year record of geologic history. The numerous bluffs and ridges contain sandstone impressions and marine fossils. Fossil Canyon has been designated an ACEC.

Fossil Canyon. Photo credits: BLM

Imperial Sand Dunes: Formed by windblown beach sands of ancient Lake Cahuilla, some crests reach heights of over 300 feet. These expansive dune formations offer picturesque scenery, opportunities for solitude, a chance to view rare plants and animals, and a playground for OHVs.

Indian Pass Wilderness: Jagged peaks and spires are sliced by mazes of twisting canyons that carry water from occasional desert cloudbursts. Fields of desert pavement cover large portions of the landscape. 

Indian Pass Wilderness. Photo credits: Craig Deutsche

Jacumba Mountains Wilderness: The Jacumba's are a broad range, made up of ridges and intervening valleys. Each successive ridge is lower than the next, creating a great staircase descending dramatically from the peninsular ranges into the Colorado Desert.

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail: This trail commemorates the journey made by Anza in 1775 and 1776 to establish a new, secure route from Sonora up into Alta California. 

Lark Canyon: Among the live oaks of the McCain Valley Resource Conservation Area, Lark Canyon OHV Area is designed specifically for motorcycles.

Little Picacho Peak Wilderness:  The topography, characterized by jutting spires and steep ridges, is quite dramatic and offers several recreational opportunities. Ravines laced within the range gradually broaden into sandy, tree-lined washes.

A snowy day in McCain Valley. Photo credits: BLM

McCain Valley: McCain Valley lies within the Peninsular Mountain ranges of eastern San Diego County. The valley is characterized by chaparral hills dotted with granitic boulders. Large oak trees provide shady hideaways at two campgrounds off McCain Valley Road.

North Algodones Dunes Wilderness:  This wilderness lies within one of the largest dunes systems in North America. The wilderness is divided into two distinct zones. The largest and tallest dunes are located on the west side, while the east side contains smaller dunes and numerous washes.

Desert Iguana.  Photo credits: BLM

North Algodones Dunes Watchable Wildlife Area: Several unique plant and animal species make their homes in the dunes. The Algodones Dunes Watchable Wildlife Area is located approximately 2 miles north of Glamis along the Ted Kipf Road and offers an excellent staging area for hikes into the wilderness.

Osborne Overlook: Three miles east of Gecko Road on State Highway 78, Osborne Overlook offers scenic views of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness, and surrounding area. The overlook is located among the largest and tallest dunes.

Dune ridge. Photo Credit: Kevin Marty

Oyster Shell Beds: Along BLM Route EC346 and nearby side routes, these fossil shells are remnants of Lake Leconte, which covered most of Imperial and central Riverside Counties about six million years ago. They are remarkably well preserved.

Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail: The Pacific Crest Trail follows the crests of the west coast mountains from Mexico to Canada. The 2500 mile trail is a popular journey for adventurous hikers.

Painted Gorge. Photo credits: BLM\Jennifer Whyte

Painted Gorge: These narrow canyon walls located in the Coyote Mountains, are colored by the weathering of rocks containing copper, sulfur and iron deposits. The upper gorge contains ancient marine coral reefs with fossilized marine life.

Palo Verde Mountains Wilderness: Dry washes cut across the mountain slopes, supporting such vegetation as palo verde, mesquite and ironwood. Saguaro cactus dot the southeastern part of the wilderness, a rare plant species in California.

Burros in Gavilan Wash, Picahco Peak Wilderness. Photo credits: BLM\John Johnson

Picahco Peak Wilderness: This wilderness is characterized by three distinct areas. Massive dark gray mountains in the western portion, small peaks and large washes in the northeast, and a rolling benchland in the south. Several natural pools of water in the wilderness provide an oasis for a variety of desert wildlife.

Pilot Knob: The area in and around Pilot Knob is rich in both human and natural history. At one time, Patton's troops trained here in preparation for desert fighting in World War II. California Historic Landmark #985 lies on the site of Patton's camp. The marker is located just north of Interstate 8 on Sidewinder Road.

Pilot Knob CA Historical Landmark #985

Replica of 1916 Plank Road. Photo credits: BLM\Joyce Szalwinski

Plank Road: Located in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, off Grays Well Road, is a small surviving remnant of the unique "floating" wooden road. The first Plank Road was constructed across the dunes in 1915. The second Plank Road (shown above) built in 1916, was used for ten years until it was replaced by a more reliable paved highway in 1926.

Sacatone Overlook: This McCain Valley Road spur extends east 1.5 miles to Sacatone Spring, from which Carrizo Gorge may be viewed. Several wooden trestles of the now abandoned Arizona-San Diego Railroad can be seen from the overlook.

San Felipe Creek and San Sebastian Marsh. Photo credits: BLM

San Sebastian Marsh: This unique, water-based habitat along San Felipe Creek has supplied a permanent, dependable source of water for people and wildlife since ancient times. The marsh was a stopping place for the Spanish explorer Anza, who named it after his Indian guide Sebastian Tarabel.

Sawtooth Mountains Wilderness: Ridges and valleys alternate here rising from 1,400 to 5,600 feet. The ridges extend like fingers from the Laguna Mountains into the desert, creating the alluvial valleys of Vallecito, Inner Pasture and Canebrake Canyon.

Sawtooth Mountains Wilderness from Vallecito Ranch. Photo credits: BLM

Table Mountain: North of Interstate 8, Table Mountain offers views of the In-Ko-Pah Mountains and Jacumba Mountain. Table Mountain provides numerous opportunities for recreation.

Tumco: Originally called Hedges, this town was renamed Tumco in 1910 for the The United Mines Company. With a peak population of over 3,000, it boasted the largest stamp mill in the country with 100 stamps, capable of crushing 167 tons of ore per day. When the richest ore deposits were depleted in 1914, the mines closed.

Granite boulders of Valley of the Moon. Photo credits: BLM

Valley of the Moon: Within the Jacumba Mountains Wilderness, this landscape features granite boulders jumbled in fantastic piles and towers that conceal mazes of passageways and caves. 

Wiley Well District: Best known for its many geode beds and a variety of other rocks and minerals, the Wiley Well District has been popular with rockhounds since the 1940s. There are several productive geode beds in the Black Hills, including Hauser, Roads End, Potato Patch, Cinnamon, Straw, and Hidden Saddle Beds.

View of the Yuha from the Anza Overlook. Photo credits: BLM\Jeffrey Sahagun

Yuha Basin: The Yuha Basin is rich in both human and natural history. The area contains several unique attractions; the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, geoglyphs created by Native Americans, an area of rare crucifixion thorns, oyster shell beds, and the Yuha Well.

Yuha Geoglyph: Constructed by Native Americans, a geoglyph is a large symbol etched into the ground by clearing lines dark rock (desert pavement) to expose the lighter soil underneath.

Wooden sign posted at the Yuha Well site. The bottom portion of the sign has been damaged by vandals.  The sign read "Yuha Well (Santa Rosa de Las Lajas) Used by the Kamias Indians who showed it to Anza'a scouts on March 8, 1774. The second Anza Expedition passed here on December 11, 1775.  Later an important water source on the trail from Yuma to San Diego."

Yuha Well: The Yuha Well became an important oasis for later travelers and settlers following the Anza Trail through the desert. Led by Indian guides, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza was the first Spanish explorer to visit the Yuha.

Other points of interest as listed on BLM Desert Access Guides.

Borrego Valley

Salton Sea

El Cajon

Trigo Mountains

El Centro


Bureau of Land Management
El Centro Field Office
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El Centro CA 92243
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