Wanda and Pete's Letterbox Hikes - California

Index to Our Other Letterboxes


XVI. IN SEARCH OF LA LLORONA A desperately needed waterhole in the high desert along the PCT about 4 days walk north of the Mexican border if backpacking, or a near drive-by for those equipped with wheels.

When Chuck from CT first told us he had a box we could plant for him on our recent trip to CA, we were quite excited to find out it was "La Llorona", the one who weeps, as Wanda remembered singing a hauntingly "picante" song about that "Crying Woman" many years ago while studying at Cemanahuac in Cuernavaca, Mexico. We'll leave it to Chuck to tell the story behind the song and the box on his webpage. Meanwhile, we thought it would be appropriate to put this box out in the high desert of Southern California, just west of Anza-Borrego State Park, at one of the very infrequent springs that Wanda had to depend on while backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail three times through from Mexico to Canada in the 1980s and 1990s.

The spring we chose to plant the box near is called Barrel Springs, appearing almost like a concrete miracle amidst greenery after many miles of dry twisting trail. On the PCT northbound in the 1980s it literally required 26 miles of waterless backpacking to this wonderous spot from the last water source in Chariot Canyon and another long stretch to the next water source in Aqua Caliente Creek. (Nowadays, apparently, backpackers can get "rehydrated" at a little water stand set up in season near Scissors Crossing!)

Anyway, to get to Barrel Springs the quick and easy way, just head south from the Pacific Crest Trail crossing on S-22 between Borrego Springs and Warner Springs. Follow your ears to the surprising source of splashing water. ("La Llorona" is usually crying buckets.) From the water spout on the south side of the water tank, walk about 45 steps southwest to the remnants of a huge blackened fallen tree, then walk another 45 steps southbound along the erosion gully path to locate a large standing tree about 12 steps to the left. Facing that tree, find a rock with flatter top than most, at the base of the boulder pile, about 6 steps to the right of the tree. Look under that big rock's western side to find "La Llorona", covered with bark, weeping in the dark. Please rehide her with care and respect for this very special place!

Hope you enjoy your travels through California!

183. FOOT AND WALKER A short "leg stretcher" to an historic monument where passengers once had to get out of the Butterfield Stage to help push the stagecoach over the pass.

Found on 8 March 2009
This quarter mile round trip desert walk, about 50 miles north of the Mexican border, is best done in the cooler months (Nov - Apr), taking all necessary desert travel precautions. To reach the starting point from route 78 at "Scissors Crossing", drive south on S-2 6.3 miles, turn east on the dirt road at Blair Valley, and drive about half a mile along that dirt road to the area that leads to a pass crossing over a portion of the Southern Emigrant Trail that was once rather difficult for wheeled vehicles, hence the interesting name. Take the sandy horse and foot trail (CHRT) northwest to pick up a small trail with built-in stone steps on your right heading up to the Butterfield Overland Mail Route Monument (CA registered landmark #647). From the monument continue on the rock-lined path west and south up to the height of land with a circular viewpoint. From the Mormon Tea bush growing on a rock in the middle of the circular end-loop at the top of the viewpoint take about 8 steps back down the path heading north. Note the half and half rock lining the left side of the trail and from there go 5-6 steps west and look south under a rock overhang between two Mormon Tea bushes to find the white microbox covered by a couple of small chunks of white feldspar. After you get back to your car, you may wish to continue driving down the dirt road another couple of miles to explore the area once homesteaded by Marshall South and his family on Ghost Mountain, visit the nearby pictographs, etc.

184. TECOLOTE IN BOX CANYON Another short walk to an overlook and the Box Canyon once used by several historic desert trails.

Found on 8 March 2009
This quarter mile round trip desert walk, also best done during the cooler winter months, is just about another 3 miles south on S-2 from the turn-off for Blair Valley, or a bit over 9 miles south from route 78 at "Scissors Crossing". Once you have found the parking area on the east side of the road head over to the lookout and read about Box Canyon and the path of the historic Mormon Battalion. Turn left (North) and make your way carefully along the trail with some built-in steps to next level of the canyon below. Cross over the gully, noting the "dramatic drain" to the right, where water once swirled steeply down the well polished rock (keep a very tight rein on children in this area please)! Continue up the other side on the rocks about 24 steps southeast to a cedar tree. Then go about 6 steps south along one of the old historic roads, and look behind a small whitish rock chunk that is between two large white rounded pegmatite rocks to find a tiny "owl in a box" (a bit of folk art based on a yarn picture I once did in elementary school).

Continuing down the dirt trail you may see a brown wooden stake marking the Mormon Battalion route, which you may follow about 3/4 of a mile to the main road or you may head back the way you came.

220-222. LOVEBOAT LETTERBOXING CRUISE III A trio of microboxes planted during our 3rd Letterboxing Cruise
( Jan. 28 - Feb.1, 2008 along the southern California coast)
1. Embarcadero Fuchsia A short sweet meander down San Diego's Embarcadero

Between us, Hibiscus (Irene) and I (Wanda) had been on quite a few cruises over the years, including Trans-Atlantic, Mediterranean, Russian, Alaskan, Pacific Northwestern, and even a couple of Caribbean "letterboxing cruises" in more recent times (2003 and 2005), but until recently neither of us had ever gone cruising to Baja California before, so for months we had been really looking forward to it! We had even gotten Justin (aka T2, 12-year old super carver from MA) to carve a few little stamps for us to take along so that we'd have something to leave behind at each port of call. Unfortunately, the weather did not exactly cooperate with our pre-cruise plans, and most of the stamps he carved for us had to get planted as "California Cruise Leftovers" after our return. (See our next series listing.) However, his little fuchsia we did manage to get planted - although not in the original place we had intended - along with a couple of other little "stowaways". Actually, we had hoped to plant his fuchsia bud beneath the world's oldest fuchsia tree at the Olivas Adobe in Ventura, his little cross near the Padre Serra Cross up the hill from there, his bat as a replacement for one that went missing near the "Bat Cave", and his angel, in memory of trail angels everywhere, at Forest Lawn or "Hollywood Forever", but between the heavy rains, mudslides and such, we couldn't even get close to some of those places. So, here's how we planted instead...

San Diego was our first port of call after departing from the World Cruise Center at San Pedro on our ship, the "Monarch of the Seas". We were thrilled, after all the mud and rain of the previous few days, to have a beautiful sunny day to do some exploring. In order to find a good planting spot for Justin's little flower, after disembarking from our huge Royal Caribbean vessel at the B Street Pier, we first headed north to visit some historic ships and sculptures, then turned back and headed south along the embarcadero. We made our way past the USS Midway, pausing to review some battles of the South Pacific embedded in the cement, and, glancing to the west, were surprised to see an enormous replica of a famous WWII kiss! The shoreline parks along this stretch seemed too well-watched and groomed for us to want to leave any additional flowers behind, so we continued south through Seaside Village to round the bend easterly toward the backside of the Convention Center, but stopped just after a restaurant/bar with bright yellow awnings and prison-striped umbrellas. On the left was a rather quiet-looking parking lot corner with many small stones next to a 3-foot tall gray pole without a sign. Standing inside that parking lot corner, we planted the little fuchsia below a bush just slightly right of the pole, under a dark brown stone shaped like half of a very large baked potato with a piece of driftwood in front of it. (Please replace exactly as found.) We rested for a few moments on a nearby bench, then headed back to our ship via the Gaslamp Quarter and downtown to meet up with Mary and her 5-year old son Nico, just bubbling over with joy and curiosity, for a delightful afternoon of San Diego area letterboxing!

2. Loveboat Letterboxing Bug A quick "run-through the gauntlet" of Mexican shopping stalls to a gorgeous view of the world's largest marine cave "geyser"

After being cooped up for one whole windy day at sea because our Norwegian Captain Karin deemed the Pacific too rough that day to attempt a landing by tender onto sunny scenic Santa Catalina Island, we were more than ready to disembark at En-se-nada, Mexico the following day. We had signed up for a shore excursion that included a Mexican folkloric dance fiesta combined with a trip to the famous "Bu-fa-dor-a", so we boarded our tour bus for the half hour or so drive south from our dock near downtown to that well-known "big blow-hole". The bus went a little too fast for my taste up that last bit of curvy coastal road, but in almost no time thereafter we found ourselves going through the "Bien-ven-idos" portal into a narrow lane lined with colorful shops and vendors, hawking their wares, from silver and leather to churros and fish tacos! At the end of the shops near the first parapet, a plumed Aztec warrior did his dance, while further along an aging sombreroed guitarist sang plaintive strains of Mexican folk tunes against the backdrop of milky water pouring down the jagged rocks as the sea "geyser" erupted every few moments with its rainbow crown above it!

After staring mesmerized at the gushing waters for several minutes, we walked slowly back to the first coconut stand on the left past the $5 (pesos) restrooms, took the steps curving left behind the whale "mira-dor" sign, then up to a higher stone parapet. At the top we followed the stonewall left about 80 steps to where it ended in the natural rock wall. There we found a neat little "cave" to leave a little lovebug, right in the corner of the wall behind a couple of small stones with a terrific view of "La Bu-fa-dor-a" from above! By this time everyone else on the tour buses had dashed back to the shops, so we literally had the whole place to ourselves, but please do exercise caution if you happen to be in this area at a busier time! Muchas gracias!

3. Little Whale Watch A short stroll down "cruiseship promenade" towards Ports o' Call Village and the San Pedro Maritime Museum

"Cruiseship Promenade" along Harbor Boulevard just south of the west side of the big green Vincent Thomas Bridge and the World Cruise Center seems to be a popular place for folks to walk their dogs or take a stroll before embarking on a cruise. In our case, we took this little maritime jaunt just before meeting up with Don & Gwen and their dogs Maggie & Lucy for a wonderful day of letterboxing in the Long Beach area after our 5-day cruise on Royal Caribbean's "Monarch of the Seas", and we hope others will take in this little whale watch, too!! From our cruise ship at pier 93, we promenaded south to a statue celebrating Don's "Big Catch", framed by tiles of Charlie the Tuna, Angel's Gate and Saint Peter. We next stepped up to the mast to read Wolfe's words of "peace and suffrage" surrounded by weapons. Doing a snappy "about-face", we noted a tall, well-armed guard staring us down from the southeast. Upon further inspection, as we carefully walked around behind his front line of defense with an allemande left, we noticed a large circular oozing wound on his backside with a bit of bone spur protruding down at the heel. Naturally wanting this valiant fellow to get the best of care, we tucked a small piece of tightly closed plastic tubing there at the base of the bony spur and covered it with a poultice of pine needles to staunch any possible bleeding. We will not be around to check on the status of our minor operation, and it would be a pain if our maritime ministrations were in vain, so we do hope others will treat this area tenderly, and keep a good watch! Hope you enjoy your little promenade!

418. GHOST MOUNTAIN A visit to the "ghostly remains" of what was once the home of the Marshall South family on Ghost Mountain in the Colorado Desert southwest of Borrego Springs, CA.

This 2-mile or so round trip desert hike, about 50 miles north of the Mexican border, is best done in the cooler months (Nov - Apr), taking all necessary desert travel precautions. To reach the starting point from route 78 at "Scissors Crossing" about 14 miles east of Julian, take S-2 south 6.3 miles, turn east on the marked dirt road with outhouse facilities at Blair Valley, and continue about 2.3 miles along that sandy road to a parking area with a stone monument at the beginning of the trail up Ghost Mountain. (We only drove part of the way in past Foot and Walker Pass with our little rental car, then walked an extra mile or so along the sandy wash to the accompaniment of wind, light rain and a lovely rainbow, so please take into account the weather, your type of vehicle and your driving "comfort zone" when dealing with the road conditions.)

After reading the trailhead monument for some background info, climb the trail up the small mountain and along the ridge top to the ruins of the Marshall South family home site. If you go southwest towards some rocks where we headed first, you just might find a geocache that contains much more info on some of the mysteries surrounding this family that lived here in the 1930's and 40's. To find our letterbox, however, find the sundial and walk about 18 steps north from it to the north side of an ocotillo. Then walk another 10 steps at 320 deg and do an "about face" to see a curious " ^ " pitted boulder in front of you. From that position, look down directly to your left under the overhang of a nearby boulder. Our box lies there under some small stones for you to mark your "ghostly visit"!

419. WANDA'S WANDA-RINGS: PCT#1 A quick visit to the current southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail at the Mexican border near Campo, commemorating my first of three PCT "thru-hikes"!
Header Header
PCT Mexican Border 1984 PCT Mexican Border 2010

This stamp carved by DON (of Don & Gwen from CA) shows just the CA portion of the PCT, but - make no mistake - it stands in for my entire first PCT backpacking journey of the whole distance between Mexico and Canada! It's quite appropriate, too, that this box is the first one of the original WANDA's WANDA-RINGS series that is now getting a "more permanent home", here so very near the beginning of the PCT, since that first PCT of mine was also so very near the beginning of my "backpacking career", going back, in fact, to 1984, the very next year after my very first Appalachian Trail backpacking adventure from Georgia to Maine, which was soon to be followed by four others! (Click on Wanda's Wanda-rings link above to read more.)

Of course, things were quite different back then - very few hikers, no parties, no trail angels, no slackpacking, no border problems... the trail even started at a different spot that required a hike to get to the border, as opposed to the present-day "drive-up". Now all you have to do to get to the start of the PCT is drive south from the Campo general store practically right up to the PCT monument at the highly patrolled border wall. If you look northwest from the monument, you should see a white sign beside a tree on the far side of a dirt road. From this sign, if you follow the PCT north for 15 steps, then walk 4 steps east off trail, you should find the box for my PCT #1 well hidden within the base of a bush. Please act like you are really just very interested in seeing where the PCT goes, since it seems that border patrol cars pass by every few minutes, and we wouldn't want them to think that you were doing anything dangerous or illegal!

Index to Our Other Letterboxes


You can find information about this hobby at Letterboxing North America (LbNA)

Copyright (c) 2010 Wanda and Pete. All Rights Reserved.