If anyone would ask me, I’d say that Whale Peak is definitely one of the must-do hikes in Anza Borrego Desert State Park – even though we had to do the extra four miles walking on the relatively boring dirt road, for lack of a sturdy 4WD vehicle. On the 100 Peaks list, this is peak number 34.
Conditions were simply spectacular – from my very own photographic perspective, of course. ;-) A mostly solid cover of dark and brooding clouds, no rain, cool winds, and a hike in a desert landscape with junipers, pinyon pines and cacti.
While Granite Mountain is at the transition zone of desert and mountains, Whale Peak is much more clearly a desert peak, but the vegetation and partly almost garden-like appearance of the landscape is truly astonishing.
Unfortunately, most if not all of the Pinyon Pines that we saw were pretty dead – the prolonged dryness in California has probably led to their demise. It’s really sad.
Most of the photos below are from Whale Peak’s relatively flat summit plateau – the views are simply marvelous in just about every direction:
We did this hike pretty much as described by Jerry Schad in “Afoot & Afield in San Diego County” (the “hiking bible” of San Diego County, which will get an update late this year hopefully, thanks to the incredible efforts of Scott Turner*). On our way back down we actually missed our trail turnoff and continued to blaze down a wash – which looked increasingly unfamiliar of course, but had plenty of footprints nevertheless.
That way I found out that Whale Peak can also be hiked from Blair Valley, which sounds very appealing. I definitely want to do this hike again and I’m going to try that next winter.
*) for what it’s worth, I’d rank the cherry-vanilla smell of Pinyon Pine cones just as high as the butterscotch Jeffrey Pine bark, Scott! ;-) (find out more here: “Fantastic Smells and where to find them“)