Whale Peak: February 17-21, 2022


Whale Peak, Vallecito Mountains, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park


We had a delightful 3 nights at Agua Caliente County Park over Presidents’ Day weekend. It seems like we are out there all the time, but it’s actually been 3 years since we’ve glamped there. The highlight was summiting Whale Peak on Friday.

Agua Caliente is sort of R’s (Amelia’s dad) second San Diego County home. The guy is out there multiple times during the season and he always stays in the same site for easy access to the pools. There are two things he talks about incessantly. How you can see a green flash at sunrise from the tarmac on the little airport about a half-mile from the campground and Whale Peak.

It’s Whale Peak this and Whale Peak that. The campground has an awesome view of the peak. You can’t help but stare at it while lounging around your campsite. And every time we are out there with him driving to a hike, he’s pointing with his left middle finger, “There’s Whale Peak.”  The road turns and the peak is out of view, then it turns again and there’s R’s left middle finger, “Whale Peak!” It’s pretty funny, most of the time. It’s probably funnier to me since he’s not my dad.

Fifteen years ago, R and another guy, attempted to summit Whale Peak.  Sadly they had to abort early into the hike due to being unclear about the trail, if there even was one back then. We were so geeked to summit it, knowing how much it would mean to R.



Our ten year old 25ft Airstream International Serenity on the left and a new 27ft Airstream Globetrotter. We made the mistake of asking for a tour of the inside. Damn, it’s nice. The improvements and upgrades are amazing.


We absolutely loved this dead cactus art piece.


Rock Daisy


Amelia did a great job dodging the Jumping Cholla, me, not so much.  On our last day I got a piece in my ankle.


And now the Whale Peak hike pictures. We summited via the northern route. It was almost an hour drive to the start, the last six miles on the dirt 4×4 Pinyon Mountain Road. There is nothing marking the trailhead and no signs anywhere on the trail. The path though, for the most part is visible, especially with rock cairns to help you navigate through the large boulder fields that require some hand and foot climbing.  We made a wrong turn at the beginning, after about a quarter mile it became obvious we needed to turn around. Then on the initial descent we got a little off course through the boulders. It’s interesting how going down something is so different from going up. All told it was a six miles, 1,690 feet and two hours each direction.




The start: once we got out of the car it was windy and chilly. It was readily apparent we were not properly dressed and there were quiet thoughts about aborting. But we pushed on, the wind died, and it became perfect hiking weather.



Half-way up, Borrego Springs in the background.


There were still some little snow patches in the shady areas.


A helpful traditional three rock cairn, but most were only two rocks high.  The wind blows the top rock off.  Occasionally there would be only one rock, which left us wondering and looking further ahead. 



At the summit: that’s Agua Caliente in the center.


In the distance, Cuyamaca Peak, Middle Peak, and North Peak.

Panoramic video



Placed in 1939


Lucky us! We got buzzed. What a thrill having a fighter jet scream by right above you.


Descending the boulders: this is where we got a little off track.


Looking back at the boulder field.


The plant variety was amazing.


We were as giddy as can be, being back at the campground and staring up at Whale Peak!


Sunday morning arrived and it was time for us to leave, but we were having too much fun and Amelia had Monday off, so why leave? We checked with a ranger about staying one more night, but our site was booked.  So we headed over to an undisclosed boondock spot. While we were relaxing in the Airstream a couple pulled up, it was obvious they were clueless. He was wandering around looking for a trailhead. Being the nice folk we are, I asked him what he was looking for and he answered Rainbow Canyon. We told him he wasn’t even close. It was a few miles west down the road. The guy was still absolutely clueless and not exactly grateful when Amelia was explaining in detail how to get to Rainbow Canyon and what kind of hike it was. I told the nimrod to hold on a second and I would get the mile marker. I grabbed one of our books, looked it up and told the guy it was mile marker 27.5. He looked at the two of us and said, “What’s a mile marker?”




One last treat before we drove home, a glorious sunrise at our undisclosed boondock spot.