El Centro Field Office

El Centro

Desert Access Guide - Points of Interest

DAVIES VALLEY
Located within the Jacumba Mountains Wilderness, Davies Valley is a large, picturesque valley with abundant desert vegetation and striking geologic formations. Its relatively isolated location makes an ideal setting for hiking, equestrian use, photography, and nature study. Side canyons and rocks outcrops are rich in quartz crystals, garnets and other gemstones. 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.

CRUCIFIXION THORN
South of State Highway 98 on BLM Route EC282 is a stand of crucifixion thorn. Although a relatively common plant in the desert basins of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, the crucifixion thorn is rare in California. This stand is one of the most extensive and least disturbed in the state. The intricately branched shrub received its name from its resemblance to the "crown of thorns" plant said to have been placed on Christ's head during His crucifixion. However, the species growing here (Castel emoryi) is found only in the deserts of North America.

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. Geoglyphs are extremely fragile. Do not travel on geoglyphs. Now protected by a fenced enclosure, this geoglyph was extensively damaged by vandals in 1975 and reconstructed by Imperial Valley College Barker Museum and BLM in 1981. Located on BLM Route EC274 off State Highway 98.

YUHA WELL
Located on BLM Route EC346, the Yuha Well became an important oasis for later travelers and settlers following the de Anza Trail through the desert. Led by Indian guides, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza was the first Spanish explorer to visit the Yuha. Some 200 years ago, his party replenished their water supplies here before pushing on. Their goal was to establish a trade route between Arizona, the Pacific Coast, and the mission in San Francisco. See "Exploring the Yuha Desert", a joint BLM/National Park Service pamphlet, 2004.

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. Rules for the collection of fossilized oyster shells can be obtained at the El Centro Field Office. A four-wheel drive vehicle is strongly recommended.

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. Primitive camping and staging for day use can be found east of the gorge entrance. To access Painted Gorge, proceed approximately 22 miles west of El Centro on County Route S80; turn north on Painted Gorge Road. The road eventually becomes BLM Route EC236. From Ocotillo proceed east on County Route S80, turn north on Painted Gorge Road.  The Painted Gorge gate will be closed January 1st through June 30th for lambing season.

PLASTER CITY OPEN AREA
Located approximately 17 miles west of El Centro on County Highway Ps, this Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) open area provides ample opportunity to test individual driving skill over a variety of terrain. Two staging areas, Plaster City East and Plaster City West, are popular primitive camping and day use areas. Limited use areas and military practice bombing targets are immediately adjacent to the open area. Please observe all posted signs and do not enter the bombing ranges.

FISH CREEK MOUNTAINS WILDERNESS
This wilderness resembles a plateau rising as a great wall above the desert basin. From a distance, few dramatic peaks are visible. However, on closer examination, a rugged land of jagged ridges and peaks appears above twisting canyons and small valleys, creating a pristine natural environment. The steep mountain slopes contain limestone outcrops that have resisted erosion. A portion of the ancient Lake Cahuilla shoreline is visible within this wilderness. An extensive gypsum mining operation in the western mountains provides raw material for the plant at Plaster City. Access this wilderness from Split Mountain Road, which is off of State Highway 78 at Ocotillo Wells.

SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN OPEN AREA
Located north of the Plaster City OHV Open Area, this area presents an array of challenging OHV riding opportunities. Cross-country OHV use is permitted within the boundaries of this area. Limited use areas and military practice bombing targets are immediately adjacent to the open area. Please observe all posted signs and do not enter the bombing ranges. From County Highway S80, take Huff Road north to Wheeler Road. Follow Wheeler Road to one of several popular primitive camping areas, or to the base of the Superstition Mountains.

IMPERIAL SAND DUNES RECREATION AREA
This 40-mile-long dune system is one of the largest in the United States. 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. The BLM manages portions of the dunes system for different uses. The portion of the dunes south of California State Route 78, is a popular OHV recreation area. Two BLM campgrounds along paved Gecko Road provide hard surface parking, vault toilets, and trash facilities. Visitor information and emergency medical services are available weekends during the winter season (October-May) at Cahuilla Ranger Station. Other portions of the Imperial Sand Dunes, including Mammoth Wash and Buttercup Valley, extend beyond this map to the north and south, and are depicted on the Salton Sea and Yuma Desert Access Guides.

NORTH ALGODONES DUNES WILDERNESS
North of State Highway 78 in the Imperial Sand Dunes, this wilderness is 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. Several unique plant and animal species make their homes in the dunes.

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. Day use parking can be found at the east end of the overlook. The overlook is a popular staging area for photography and the filming of commercials and movies.

TAMARISK LONG TERM VISITOR AREA (LTVA)
Located off State Highway 98, along the All American Canal is Tamarisk LTVA. Due to the remote location, Tamarisk LTVA is quiet and peaceful. Since only minimum camping facilities are available, only self-contained camping units are allowed. The camping area is open September 15 through April 15. Winter visitors who wish to stay must purchase either a long-term or a short-term permit. Both permits are valid in any of the eight LTVAs in California and Arizona. Services available are a trash facility and camp hosts.

HOT SPRING SPA AND LONG TERM VISITOR AREA
East of Holtville on Old Highway 80, the historic and still active hot spring attracts both local and winter visitors. Use hours for the spa area are 5 a.m. to midnight. Soap and shampoo are not allowed in the hot spring. The camping area is designated as a LTVA. Since only minimum camping facilities are available, only self-contained camping units are allowed. The LTVA camping area is open September 15 through April 15. Winter visitors who wish to stay must purchase either a long-term or a short-term permit. Both permits are valid in any of the eight LTVAs in California and Arizona. Services available are a trash facility, vault toilets, and camp hosts. Pay telephones and dump station facilities are nearby in Holtville.

JACUMBA MOUNTAINS WILDERNESS
This wilderness area is located on the eastern flank of southern California's coastal peninsular range, extending to the international border. The Jacumba's are a broad range, made up of ridges and intervening valleys. This wilderness area contains mule deer, Peninsular bighorn sheep, golden eagles, the Mexican Trinidad Merriam kangaroo rat, and small oases of California fan palms. Access this wilderness from Interstate 8 at the In-Ko-Pah exit, or Clark Roar off State Highway 98.

YUHA DESERT
The Yuha Desert 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. The Yuha Desert is an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The Yuha Desert is a limited use area. Please observe all posted signs. Access to the Yuha desert is from State Highway 98 and the Dunaway Road exit, south of Interstate 8. See "Exploring the Yuha Desert", a joint BLM/National Park Service pamphlet, 2004.

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. A group of unusual sandstone rock formations, believed to be six million years old, adds to the character of this region. Fossil Canyon ACEC is within the Coyote Mountains Wilderness. This wilderness can be accessed from Painted Gorge Road off Old Highway 80 (S80). 


AREAS OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN (ACECS)
Certain lands managed by the BLM, have been designated ACECs. ACECs are areas that contain significant natural, archeological, or historical resources. Please respect all signs regarding ACECs and their management.

BORDER SAFETY
Although recreational opportunities exist throughout the entire desert, use caution when in proximity to the United States-Mexico border. Both U.S. and Mexican authorities patrol the border area. Do not under any circumstances cross the border without using a port of entry. Entering the U.S. or Mexico without using a port of entry is dangerous and illegal.