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Day 3: Shelter Valley, CA to El Centro, CA

71 miles - Great Southern Overland Stage Route of 1849; Beautiful Desert Scenery; Ocotillo, CA - February 11, 2017

Anza Borrego Desert Region
Anza Borrego Desert Park
I posted this cactus scene image on the Bike Ride For Empathy Facebook page. You can still "like it" over there if you want. :)

I definitely recommend S2 County Road in San Diego County if you're a lover of the desert. Today would be one of the best days for scenery on my entire bicycle tour. There are mountains. There is desert teeming with a variety of cactus. (Pretty much everything except the saguaro.) There is an interesting road with curves and hills that's regarded as the Great Southern Overland Stage Route that once was a major artery for stagecoaches in the 1800s.

Above is a modest photo I took with my cell phone. It was so much prettier in person. This section of east San Diego County is home to the Anza Borrego Desert Park, spanning from Borrego Springs all the way south on our route. Like I said, if you appreciate what the desert has to offer, it's worth visiting.

Two Videos To Start

About five miles south of Shelter Valley.

John and I cycling together.

Great Southern Overland Stage Route


The elevation in Shelter Valley is 2320 feet; in El Centro (our destination) it's around 0 feet. So even though the idea of riding 71 miles was intimidating at this point in my physical fitness, I figured the descent would be enough to have an enjoyable ride.

Pretty desert, mountains, and hills were the norm on the Great Southern Overland Stage Route. Scroll down to see. :)

Great Southern Overland Stage Route

In this valley, the mountains were almost begging to be explored. We saw a few dirt roads that led into canyons and up hillsides. I wondered if there were trails to reach some of the summits of these peaks.


California Desert

As you can see, it was an overcast morning, and I wholeheartedly welcomed it. The last thing I wanted was the sun beating down on me - especially after my heat exhaustion issues on Day 1 in San Diego.

The lighting made for poor photography of the landscapes, but check out these ocotillos. This is one of my favorite desert plants. You've got to see them in person. It was difficult to capture the size of these beauties, so I carefully leaned my bicycle against one.

As for the third blurry picture, often I would be moving along and would see an amazing ocotillo. I wouldn't want to stop though, and so I'd do my best with my camera as I went by. This shot captures the essence of this region: a desert floor teeming with creosote, sagebrush, and a plethora of cactus, with hills and mountains in the distance.

Could you live here? I don't know. I suppose most people wouldn't want to. Also, temperatures in the summer could be unbearable. Still, I'd love to be a snowbird who'd spend a couple of months each year to hike and do many outdoor activies this region offers.

I made a Facebook live video ...

Great Southern Overland Stage Route John really loved this overlook ... and for good reason!
Agua Caliente Hot Springs

San Diego Padres Fan

California Scenery

Agua Caliente Hot Springs, California

At Agua Caliente Hot Springs, we rested, drank fluids, and reapplied sunblock.

The woman in the second photo was the mail carrier who had come by, and she asked if we were doing OK. We certainly thanked her for asking. (It never hurts to ask a cyclist that.)

We got to talking about her work and this region, and I was intrigued by her brown San Diego Padres hat. She and I are in agreement that the Padres should revert to their true colors -- brown and yellow -- and get rid of the shameful blue uniforms. The Padres in Dodger blue? Are you kidding me??? I have been on record that if the Padres would go back to brown full-time, I would abandon my beloved New York Yankees and cheer full-time for San Diego. Will it happen? We can only hope.

Third Photo: Just another stunning mountain and desert scene. You would get spoiled living along this corridor.


California Scenery

Sweeney Pass

If you are cycling from Shelter Valley to Ocotillo, expect the majority of it to be a gentle downhill. It will be a wonderful ride.

However, there is one ass-kicker of a climb named Sweeney Pass. I'm guessing it's a 2 to 2.5 mile ascent. There are two switchbacks.

John got way ahead of me. In the second photo, I put an arrow over him as he rode ahead. See him? (Obviously click the photo to see it at a larger size.)

For about 15 to 20 minutes, I was struggling and sucking air like I was on Day 1 and Day 2. I also captured a shot when I had a good view of the road below.

And then the hill finally ends. Every cyclist knows there is no such thing as a perfect ride with smooth roads, downhill and tailwinds... all at the same time. The cycling gods wanted to remind me of my humility right here.

A video showing all the beauty...

Southern Overland Stage Route

California Desert Scenery

Great Southern Overland Stage Route

Great Southern Overland Stage Route

The landscape photographer in me wanted to get more shots. Adjacent are four.

Peaceful and quiet road ...

At one point, we passed a group of dirt bikers who were riding out.

I just felt "video happy" today ... :)

My gosh, we've got an imposing mountain, wide open space, and a charming desert in that fourth photo. The outdoor scenery was easy on the eyes for John and me.

John cycling up a hill ...

Steve Garufi Bicyclist

Steve Garufi Bike Across America

Photos of Me

Much thanks to John for capturing photos of me while I was riding.

These shots are rare. After a while, I grow tired of the only images of me being unflattering selfies. :o)

Bike Ride For Empathy

Imperial County, California

Desert Quote

Imperial County, California

My bike tour would go through eight states, but how many counties? I didn't count. All I knew was, this was the first county line I'd cross. Bye bye San Diego County, and hello Imperial County.

Nearby was a fitting and funny quote about the desert. The structure was worn, and so in case you can't read it, I'll repost it here:

"This is the desert. There's nothing out here. Nothing." - N. Karayasiles.

Ocotillo, CA Wind Turbines There was more descent and even a friendly tailwind as we biked towards Ocotillo.

When we saw the wind turbines, we knew we were getting close. You can see these massive windmills from Interstate 8.

Lazy Lizard Saloon In Ocotillo, I briefly stopped in front of the Lazy Lizard Saloon.

Then two people named Joe and Cathy came out and were curious about what I was doing. It turns out they are cyclists who live in San Diego. They went for a drive to Ocotillo just to get away from the city on a Saturday. We had a nice talk about cycling in the region. They gave me well-needed encouragement about my trip, and I talked to them about coming to Colorado with their bikes and doing some tough and scenic mountain rides.

Soon after, I posted this photo of us on Facebook and suddenly I got a bump in "likes" from their friends who were now tracking my updates.

Thank you, Joe and Cathy! :)

Rough Road From Ocotillo, we had 27 miles remaining to reach El Centro.

We took the W. Evan Hewes Highway (Road S80) which runs east and adjacent to Interstate 8 through Plaster City, Dixieland and Seeley. For about 10 to 15 miles, it was miserable riding on a bumpy and abandoned road that almost nobody has a reason to travel on.

Ron As we approached El Centro, another cyclist rode up from behind me. His name was Ron, a 55-year-old guy from Maine who said he wanted to shake things up in his life. What better way to do that than bike across the country? A few days earlier, he also began in San Diego and planned to finish in Tallahassee.

Notice those sandals. He did show me they were shoes that clipped into the pedals.

Elevation in El Centro Long at last, we arrived in El Centro and stayed at a Motel 6. John researched the elevation in El Centro and his phone reported -41 feet. Wow!
El Centro, CA Pretty sunset colors in El Centro.

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