Yaqui Well Nature Trail in Anza Borrego Desert State Park


Anza Borrego Desert State Park: Yaqui Well Nature Trail

Date Hiked: April 12, 2009
Best Season: Spring Winter
Check Trail Conditions: Anza Borrego Desert State Park (760) 767-5311
  • Distance: 1.6 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 75 feet
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Trail Type: Dirt
  • Difficulty: Easy

On the final day of our camptrip to Anza Borrego two years ago (Easter morning), Jeff and I plotted out a series of short scenic hikes that we would pass along our way back home via Highway 78 west — with the intention of hitting historic Julian for dinner.  I use the word “hikes” lightly, because these were really more of a series of easily accessible nature walks.  But after hiking the Palm Canyon Trail the day before, we weren’t looking for a very grueling hike anyways.

Yaqui Well Nature Trail

The official trailhead marker, located right alongside Hwy 78.

Our first such hike was the Yaqui Well Nature Trail located in the Tamarisk Grove area of the park.  The trailhead is accessible directly across from Tamarisk Grove Campground, on Yaqui Pass Road (County Road S-3), 7 miles northeast of the junction with Yaqui Wells Road (which turns into Grapevine Canyon Road). Parking is available in front of the campground, alongside the road.

The self-guided trail introduces park visitors to a variety of desert blooms and plants, all clearly marked with numbers corresponding to descriptions in a free brochure located at the trailhead.

Yaqui Well Nature Trail

Looking back over our shoulders at the trailhead, Yaqui Pass Road, and Tamarisk Grove Campground (note the rare shady grove of trees).

Yaqui Well Nature Trail

Although we'd already missed the peak wildflower season by mid-April, we were greeted with a few beautiful blooms at each destination.

Yaqui Well Nature Trail

Most of the tall ocotillo blooms (left) were already gone, but, fortunately, the fuzzy full cholla cacti (right) are my also one of my favorite varieties of desert flora.

Yaqui Well Nature Trail

Even after the blooms have disappeared, the varied year-round colors and rugged beauty unique to Anza Borrego Desert are simply stunning.

The state park identifies this hike as one of its historic trails (.pdf), because it leads you to a “historic desert water hole.”  I was highly disappointed that neither the brochure nor the marker (simply the number 14) at the well provided any real history about the watering hole.  Plus, the well, and the area around it were completely closed off for restoration.

It wasn’t until preparing to write this post that I further investigated the well’s history.  The San Diego History Center provides on its website a digitized copy of an October 1964 article from the Journal of San Diego History that provides a bit of historical background (as well as photo of the already-then-sealed well from the author’s collection).1 What had been just been a muddy inaccessible watering hole was retrofitted into an actual working well in the latter half of the nineteenth century by two Yaqui natives working under instructions from W.H. Ball. Ball operated a mule freighter business — Ball Freighters — that transported supplies and escorted stage coaches between San Bernardino and the Arizon Territory from 1857 to 1884.

Yaqui Well Nature Trail

This sign is all that marked the site of Yaqui Well at the time of our 2009 visit, which was closed for restoration. We were tempted to poke around a bit in there, but the area was swarming with bees.

Yaqui Well

Yaqui Well, sometime around or before 1964, already covered and sealed. Photo courtesy of the San Diego History Center.

I also searched more current trail write-ups and public photos to find out if access to the well is still closed, and didn’t come across anything indicating that it is open. Although the well is probably still closed, the gorgeous flora, short distance, and close proximity to Highway 78 make this a spot worth visiting.  We continued on to the extremely short Morteros hike and the Pictographs hike (write-up coming soon), which led to a great overlook that was well worth the effort, before heading on to Julian.

View Yaqui Well Nature Trail Hike in a larger map

1. Beckler, M. (1964). Yaqui Well. San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, 9:4, 49-50. Retrieved from: http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/63october/well.htm.