Exploring Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with a Revel RV Camper Van

by Jan 5, 20214 comments

Like most of you, because of Covid we have not been doing a lot of travel. But what we have been doing is exploring the joys of RV camping. So, of course we wrapped up 2020 with one more trip to the desert over Christmas.

This story was written and photographed by Karin. Franz contributed some photos to help document the adventure.

Christmas in the desert with a Revel

Karin & Franz with the Rebel RVThis was a short trip to get out of the house and test out the Mercedes Revel camper van. We went to the Anza Borrego Desert and spent most of our time in Fish Creek and Blair Valley.

It’s a good idea to have a Plan B

This trip was a perfect example of how things change and having to adapt to new information. I had called the visitor center to check if the park was open to camping just a couple weeks ago, but when we got to the entrance to Fish Creek, we found signs all over making it clear that there was NO overnight camping inside the park boundaries. I had meant to call again to double check but just didn’t get around to it. So we called the ranger station to get the latest info — nothing had changed, we had just gotten bad information from whoever I spoke to. The ranger suggested that we look into the BLM land right across from the entrance to Fish Creek (near the US Gypsum Company quarry).

BLM land

It was close to sunset so it felt rushed finding a new camping location but we were self contained and had no real schedule. Setup in the van was easy — park, open the beer and heat up some food! The Revel camper van was much smaller inside than the C-19 from Cruise America. But is was also 4-wheel drive so we could go more places with it. I was nervous about how it would handle in the sand because the van was so heavy but it worked out great!

Preparing breakfast in the Rebel RV
Franz in front of the Rebel RV

Preparing breakfast in the Revel RV

We started off the first day exploring Fish Creek Canyon. First stop was near elephant knees to have breakfast because it was so much prettier over here than the BLM side. It was the first time I had used an induction stove top and it was great! You need to use cookware that is magnetic for it to work. I was impressed with how fast the cooktop heated things up.

After breakfast we hiked up to the wind caves. The view from the top of the Wind Caves is just amazing. It is a popular spot and was filling up as we were leaving (so glad we were out there early).

View from the wind caves
Lizard in the Wind Caves

The Wind Caves are a steep hike, but the trail is easy enough to follow. The view at the top is worth the effort though. You can see for miles from the top!

Fishcreek Canyon in Rebel RV heading to Sandstone Canyon
Looks like a tight squeeze for the Revel RV but there is more room than it looks like.

Next we drove down Sandstone Canyon. The walls are so high along this route it gives the illusion of being so much tighter than it really is. The Revel RV did so much better in the deep sand than I expected it to!

2021 Rebel RV in Sandstone Canyon

Fireworks for Christmas

That night we went back to where we camped the night before. Our neighbors on both sides were doing target practice until sunset and then switched to fireworks as it got dark. What a nice display we had while eating our Christmas dinner.

Start of a wind cave?
Top of Sandstone Canyon wall
Christmas fireworks viewed from the Rebel
View of sunrise from the Rebel RV
No shooting sign in Anza-Borrego
Karin & Franz in Rainbow Canyon
Top of Rainbow Canyon

Rainbow Canyon

The next morning we drove to the other side of the park and hiked in Rainbow Canyon off S2. It is one of my favorite hikes and we had time today to go beyond the top of the canyon and explore the bowl on top. This hike is a series of 13 dry waterfalls. Most have handholds and it is easy enough to climb up them.

Honeycomb in Rainbow Canyon

There is a honeycomb on this trail and I finally could get close enough to get a good shot of it. Normally there are more bees and they are pretty aggressive. It was cool today so maybe they were all inside. I was glad to see that the combs were still here and the hive appeared to be healthy. It is surprisingly hard to spot despite being so out in the open. The hive is located a little overhead and the first time we heard the bees swarming and making a lot of noise so it was a lucky find.

Finding a new overnight home for the Revel RV on the west side of the park

We didn’t want to go all the way back to the other side of the park to sleep. A ranger at Ocotillo Wells gave us a short list of places we could park the camper van outside the park legally in this area. The Pacific Crest Trail comes through scissors crossing and there is a large parking lot near that intersection that is far enough off the road that we felt like we were still camping. We angled the van so we had a view of the hillside and it was perfect.

12 Note card set shown with ivory organza bag

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View from the Revel RV near the PCT in Anza-Borrego

Today, a storm was moving in and the cloud layer made for a great sunrise.

It’s our last day and we head back down S2 to Blair Valley. This is a beautiful area with lots of easy to access camp sites. We will be coming back here when it is ok to stay overnight. There are lots of places to hike.

Morteros trail in Anza-Borrego
Morteros trail overlooks Blaire Valley

Morteros Trail

We stopped to see the Morteros and take a short walk to explore the area (it’s only 1/4 mile to the grinding stones). This was basically a seasonal outdoor kitchen area where the Kumeyaay ground a variety of foods on the rocks. You can find depressions in several rocks where this was done. A sign at the trailhead says that this area was used for shelter and food storage, as well as food preparation.

There were also some cupules on the side of a boulder. These are manmade clusters of shallow holes that look like someone took a melonball tool and scooped out the rock. No one knows what they mean but they are found all over the world in lots of places.

The view from this area is quite nice — you can see for miles. Almost every rock workstation has a great view!

Rock depressions on Morteros Trail
Blaire Valley, Anza-Borrego
View from Morteros Trail into Blair Valley
Pictograph on Morteros Trail

I thought this was modern graffiti, but according to an article I found online this art is genuine and may have marked a food storage location.

Pictograph Trail

After the Morteros we drove over to the Pictograph hike. There was a rather large steep depression about a mile to the trailhead. We debated whether or not we had the clearance and decided — since it was a rental and we wanted our whole deposit back — we should probably park the car and walk the last mile. It is another mile to the pictographs from the trailhead so this was not a bad hike.

We were not the first ones to park and walk to the Pictograph trail. There was a parking space near the ditch, which Franz called  the parking spot of shame — I thought that was pretty funny!

Pictographs found in Blair Valley

If you continue past the pictographs about another mile, to the end of the trail (unless you’ve brought rappelling gear) you will be treated to an incredible view. The rock waterfall is really impressive. And the view is hidden until you have almost walked to the end. It is quite spectacular and worth the trip.

Franz in front of the Revel RV 2021
Rock waterfall at end of Pictograph Trail
Closeup of pictograph in Anza-Borrego
View from end of pictograph trail

Last meal with our Revel RV

We need to head home tonight but we are liking this area so much we decide to hang out a bit longer. We find a campsite and have an early dinner and then play some Carcassonne (a board game our nephew has introduced us to).

This was a short trip, but good planning or our part because a weather system has been moving in all day. Much needed rain is on the way. We are treated to some of the best sunset views we have seen in a long time on the ride home.

Dinner outside the Revel RV in Blair Valley
Sunset in Blair Valley

Our impressions of the 2021 Revel RV

The Revel is awesome, but small. We joked that the C-19 was like a condo and the Revel a studio apartment. Each vehicle has its pros and cons. In the Revel, we loved the 4-wheel drive, induction stove top, solar power for the multiple USB outlets, lighting inside and out, memory foam mattress, shade canopy, bathroom and a fridge that worked no matter what angle it was parked. But it was tight inside. No room to pass each other. There is more storage than it feels like at first, but it is broken up into small compartments all over. Next time we will pack better for the space that is available.

The C-19 was roomy and had all kinds of storage space, but it was limited to hard pack roads. Both vehicles were warm and cozy, but the Revel gets bonus points for using electric — and there seemed to be no shortage of that with the solar panel on the roof.

We will keep renting for a few reasons. First, RVs are pricey — you need to use them a lot to get your money’s worth. Second, while renting is also expensive, you can rent a long time before you come close to the cost of buying. And finally, renting lets you test things out and see what you like and don’t like. There’s nothing like living in a space to know what works and what doesn’t!

Sunset in Blair Valley

Make your own footprints…

How about planning the next trip now?

Covid isn’t going to last forever (it just feels that way). I am hoping that travel opens back up mid 2021. Plan your dream trip while you’ve got some down time.

We found that the camper rentals have given us some flexibility to get out and be self contained. We miss the social aspect of travel, but that will come back. For now focus on ideas where you can keep your pod isolated, like a camper van, cabin, remote beach rental — you get the idea. Even an afternoon at a local park instead of your own backyard can be a great change of scenery and a nice break for everyone.

Enjoy the journey!

Karin H Wilson

Karin H Wilson

Artist | Designer | Photographer | Traveler | Storyteller

I'm Karin and I just love to share a good story — preferably with snacks! I’m particularly interested in capturing the world’s beauty and wonder in photographs.

Recently I created Photos for Artists, packs of images for artists to use in their collage and art projects. You can find a detailed description and photos on my Footprints and Photos Etsy store.

Besides my blog, Footprints & Stories, you can also find my images on Zazzle products. I have two stores — one with Gifts for Travelers and Nature Lovers, the other with Gifts for Gardeners and Lovers of Flowers. Items include wedding invitations, tote bags, mugs, journals and more. Every product is backed by the Zazzle guarantee.

Please use the links provided as it helps me buy better snacks (and funds the website)!