Fish Creek Wash

Split Mountain 4X4 Trail


Elephant Knee

Fish Creek, on the eastern edge of the park south of California route 78, is an area of sparse vegetation and abundant wildlife. It is best known as a "geological wonderland." Formations here show transformations from desert to marine estuary, to savannah to delta, and back to desert over a period of 20 million years. As a result, some of the main attractions of the Fish Creek area are the beautiful twisting canyons, oddly shaped caves and raised fossil reefs.

Seasonal flooding may bring a flash of water careening through usually dry Fish Creek, but otherwise, the ancient meandering creek that once contained pupfish potholes was buried by huge amounts of rock and debris by a major tropical storm in 1914. The pupfish were washed downstream to San Sebastian Marsh or into the Salton Sea.

Although best known for its geology, Fish Creek is also home to two of the park's rare plants, the elephant tree and Borrego aster. In springtime, the area blooms with a wide variety of plants. For cactus lovers, the stretch of Old Kane Springs Road near Harper Canyon is a favorite showplace. Harper Canyon Road is known as the Cactus Garden, but it also offers examples of the slow-growing desert ironwood tree.

Entrance to Split Mountain

The end of Harper Canyon Road begins Harper Canyon itself. A hike up this gently climbing wash leads through several micro-habitats and accompanying communities of plants, reptiles and mammals. A full day's walk leads to Harper Flat which forms the backside of Fish Creek Wash.

The most famous canyon here is called Split Mountain because it was formed by an ancestral stream that divided the Vallecito Mountains from the Fish Creek Mountains. Geology students and park visitors from all over the world come to study it and enjoy its rugged, awe-inspiring beauty.

Sandstone Canyon boasts some of the tallest walls and narrowest passages in the park, while the lesser known Olla Wash offers wonderful rock formations and good camping and picnicking. The north fork of Fish Creek is the least traveled route in the area and tends to be a rougher road, but its quiet and stark beauty are rewarding.

There are only two maintained trails in the Fish Creek area: The Elephant Trees Nature Trail and the Wind Caves Trail which are both popular destinations. There are also numerous washes or side canyons that beckon hikers willing to venture down the trail less traveled.

Click here to read Bill Sullivan Fish Creek Walk

Video on the Area



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