El Camino del Diablo - Day 2 - Crossing the Pinta Sands and Pinacate Lava Flow to Tule Well
With a fitful night's sleep came the steady patter of rain coinciding with wind-cessation around 5 in the morning. The front hunkered down over the desert casting down a pitter of water as 0.25 inches fell. I slept and re-awoke on repeat until the hooded dawn cast a pallor to distinguish day from night. Janna got up to go pee and reported that the rain was a drizzle at this point, choking off, and worse sounding on the fabric of the shelter. We climbed out of the shelter and found temperature 50 degree temps warm enough for shorts but wet enough for a rain jacket. Everyone spoke about the events of the night before resheltering under vestibules to eat morning breakfast. Janna and I walked down to Papago Well afterwards to fill up our hydration bladders. A mist of droplets obscured the mountains in the gray morning light.
Once we all packed up, we headed westwards on the El Camino del Diablo once more. The sand terrain was firmer and supporter with the saturation of water. In a few quick miles we came upon a Border Patrol outpost which we passed before hitting the start of the Pinta Sands. Here, the iconic red sands of the large dry playa spread out from the carven wash we biked down. Just over O'Neill Pass the blue sky sauntered through the clouds bringing that golden morning light in sharp contrast. Every particle of sand, every gripping ocotillo, each wallowing creosote, and all distant Sierra Pinta Peaks lit up with definition under that excellent light. We stopped for a short snack in the wet, packed sand before heading off into the Las Playas. Janna and Kate pointed out several tracks of people crossing the road having come from the border. Dan found Sonoran pronghorn tracks which made my eyes sharp and staring for the chance to see one.
We entered some interesting cholla fields and saw the distant sand dunes preceeding the Pinacante Flow. Once in the Pinacate Lava Flow, the desert became pocked with ancient black pyroclastic material and spreads of gravel smooth land. The four of us approached the end of the Flow and found ourselves immediately back in the Pinta Sands. None to soon did a large 7-large overland group come driving from the opposite direction. Their vehicles packed down the deepest and worst sand we were approaching. That, combined with the rain from this morning, made travel relatively quick and painless through the sands. Granted, we were ascending ever so slightly in the middle of a desert wash into the middle of sand dunes, but the quality of our pedaling was efficient and required no hike-a-bikes. New stands of saguaros and ocotillos greeted us in the Tule Desert while chollas sprung up close to the foothills of the Tule Mountains.
The road became widened - evidence of the frequent border all construction work. Approaching Tule Well, I finally found a coherent carbonite sign labeling the route for its name. All the other carbonite signs provided by the Fish and Wildlife Service were sun-faded and splintering. The Sun drift westwards to the horizon and we rolled into Tule Well and its namesake campground shortly thereafter. There was ample water and nearby, a small building nailed shut stood beneath a small hill crowned with an American flag and a series of marble/granite memorial blocks commemorating work and donations by local groups. We had the place to ourselves but debated where to best, and most safely, camp for the night.
The Tule Well spigot was located center and open amidst the picnic table campsites - a little to open and viewable in our sentiments. When we scoped the sites back in the mesquite, we found several right up against a large wash that had even more signs of human travel. Numerous travel paths led straight out of the wash into each of the campsites. Walking back into the desert a bit, we found several open holes of human fecal matter and a large amount of clothing. It was obvious that we were going to be camping again near the only water source for miles and most definitely in a crossing corridor. After much discussion, we chose a place out of the complete open, but not too far back in the mesquite where we could put both tents next to each other and swing the picnic table over as a small wall to prevent human travel through our site.
As evening rolled in, a Jeep came rumbling down the road with an off-road trailer which pulled into the site next to us. A super nice guy named Alan, along with his curious golden retriever, came over to meet and talk for a bit. We proudly showed us his overlanding-trailer which he had built himself and let us know to call out to him if there was any trouble that night. After he left, we settled in to eat some dinner. Clouds gathered and the sun slipped unceremoniously behind cloud and peak bringing a brisk dark. We climbed into our shelters. Kate and I agreed we would only alert everyone to get up if someone was messing with our stuff, not moving by our shelters. The latter was expected that night. I shoved some earplugs in to get a good night's rest and passed out in the uniquely humid desert night.
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