The area of wind and weather sculptured sandstone called the Domelands is one of my favorite places in the southern part of the Anza Borrego desert* and I love to show it to friends. And while I’ve been there many times now, Shuwen had not seen the place yet, other than through my photos – shame on me! So early in January, Shuwen, Katherine, Joe and I got together to pay another visit to the Domelands.
When we reached Jacumba (where I-8 drops down into the desert), we got a brief glimpse of an inversion layer that lingered over the desert. It looked amazing but we didn’t get to see much of it, because the interstate winds through hills that block the view most of the time. When we finally reached the desert floor, we drove right into the fog – and fog in the desert is magical**. The barren landscape with its hardy plants, shrouded in the gentle softness of fog, takes on a surreal quality that is hard to describe.
It was cold and damp as we began to hike in quite dense fog. As we got higher up and came out of the fog, it was like wandering in a dream: as the sun penetrated the layer of fog, it warmed the still wet mud hills just enough for a gentle haze to rise.
Thinking that the inversion may not last much longer as the sun’s strength increased and temperatures rose, I hurried up the last slope ahead of our little group, to get at least a short glimpse of the Carrizo Badlands with a little bit of a haze hovering over them – but it turned out that there was no need to hurry: a thick blanket of fog covered the badlands so thoroughly that they were not visible, at all! Right at the edge of the badlands it was possible to occasionally catch a glimpse of the mud hills hidden underneath the fog.
An occasional breeze ripped pieces out of the inversion, sending fragments of clouds drifting over the Domelands. As the sun’s strength further increased, the inversion finally began to break apart, revealing bits and pieces of the badlands here and there, painted in warm light and softened by the lingering haze.
Mysterious details and anonymous ridges and hills of the hard and barren landscape began to emerge as more and more of the inversion burned off. To see these dry lands covered in fog and with lingering clouds is such a surreal experience.
It was early afternoon when the sun finally won over the inversion – only a few cloudy fragments of it remained hovering over the mud hills. The was still enough moisture in the air though to cast them in a quite favorable and gentle light.
Satisfied with our visit, we began our hike back to the car. Finally doing this hike together with Shuwen and then also having these special atmospheric conditions was quite a treat.
*) we’re calling the desert east of San Diego the Anza Borrego Desert — this particular area is not part of Anza Borrego Desert State Park though (the largest state park in California by the way, with an area that covers one fifth of San Diego County), but instead, the BLM-managed Coyote Mountains Wilderness (not to be mixed up with a wilderness of the same name in Pima County, Arizona). Anza Borrego is part of the Colorado Desert, which is itself part of the Sonoran Desert.
**) the first time I experienced fog in the desert, with my friend Tracy in 2016 (Foggy Desert, Inversion over Pinto Basin), I felt like I couldn’t quite capture the essence and magic of it – maybe because I wasn’t familiar with the terrain.