Places of the Borrego Desert: Views From the Montezuma Grade of S22

The following panorama was made from three photographs taken from the curve just beyond mile 8.5 on the portion of S22 known as the Montezuma Grade, on 6 December 2005, on an especially clear day:

Most of the photograph is dominated by the upper Culp Valley, with highway S22 looping around the valley from west to east at the far end of the Valley. The Borrego Valley is most of the flat low area beyond Culp Valley out to the Salton Sea, the body of water seen as a blue line below the very distant mountains on the horizon.

The Santa Rosa Mountains dominate the near skyline on the left, with the Chocolate Mountains on the far side of the Salton Sea beyond them and to the right. Borrego Mountain is the isolated small mountain in the distance in the middle right, with its West Butte on the left and its East Butte on the right. To the left of Borrego Mountain are the Borrego Badlands, the convoluted dark hills with wind-blown sand plastered against their near edge. In between the Borrego Badlands and Borrego Mountains is the white salt surface of the Borrego Sink. See the larger version of this picture to see these features more clearly (or click on picture above).

The feature on the Valley Floor to the right of the Salton Sink, on this side of the East Butte of Borrego Mountain, is the part of the town of Borrego Springs that includes the Hospital and the Rams Hill Country Club. The downtown part of Borrego Springs is blocked from view by the mountains just beyond the curve of S22 on the left side of the photograph.

Some of the farther mountains on the skyline are shown on this map and labeled in the following blow-up:

As seen in the photograph, there are actually a number of peaks near the point labeled ~2700', so that designation should only be taken as a general label for all those peaks. There are also two smaller peaks seen to the right of Picacho Peak, which are unnamed peaks directly south of Picacho Peak. Little Picacho Peak is much lower, and is the small bump to the left of Picacho Peak.

See also a version twice as large (or click on picture above), and the original, unlabeled picture.

The Algodones Sand Dunes can sometimes be seen by eye, stretching from the south end of the Salton Sea to the end of the Cargo Muchacho Mountains. In the photograph above, I don't remember if what appears in that location in the picture was a haze layer, or the Dunes themselves. I suspect those are the Dunes, but I am not 100% positive.

The Gila Mountains in Arizona, shown on this map, might be seen to the right of the Cargo Muchacho Mountains on an exceptionally clear day.

If any reader has a better photograph of the distant mountains, I'll be happy to replace my photograph with yours if you grant permission to do so.

The following table gives some of the distances and azimuth angles, as measured from mile 8.5 of S22, to some of the features mentioned above, in order of increasing azimuth:

FeatureDistance (miles)Azimuth (degrees east of north)
Travelers Peak (peak at east end of Santa Rosa Mountains)2172
Fonts Point1477
Borrego Sink988
Peak ~2700 feet, Chocolate Mountains7891
Quartz Peak, Chocolate Mountains9695
Black Mountain, Chocolate Mountains9696
Borrego Mountain, West Butte1596
Picacho Peak, Chocolate Mountains10699
South tip of Salton Sea4499
Borrego Mountain, East Butte18100
Peak 2240, Cargo Muchacho Mountains99102
Stud Mountain, Cargo Muchacho Mountains102103

I used those azimuths combined with angular distances measured in my photographs to label the locations in the photograph above.

The farthest peak seen in the photograph above is Picacho Peak, in the southern end of the Chocolate Mountains, 106 miles away, and just three miles from the Colorado River. Quartz Peak is just six miles from the Colorado River.

The second farthest peak seen in the photograph above is Stud Mountain, in the Cargo Muchacho Mountains, 102 miles away. Stud Mountain is just eight miles away from the Colorado River edge of Yuma, Arizona.

The accuracy of the peak labeling is indicated by the following two plots, which show the error between the location of the peak as measured on my photograph and as measured using Topo!. Most of the plotted points are for locations given in the table above, which can therefore be used to identify the feature corresponding to each point.

Error in labeling the peaks on the large-scale photograph

Error in labeling the peaks on the blown-up photograph

Points corresponding to West and East Butte, and the end of the Salton Sea, were not included in the plot immediately above since they had significantly greater errors due to the following. First, the end of the Salton Sea is very different from that indicated on the topo map, which is not surprising since its size changes with time. It had a discrepancy of 1.5 degrees, 21 times higher than the next largest discrepancy.

Second, the West and East Buttes are seven times closer than the rest of the points in the plot, and hence have a correspondingly higher azimuthal error due to any errors in camera location. Their discrepancy was two and four times higher than the next largest discrepancy, roughly in line with their seven times closer location.

Except for those omitted points, the errors appear to be normally distributed in both plots, indicating that my peak assignments have no major errors. (That was not true for my first peak assignments!) In fact, all the errors in the blown-up plot are less than the 0.1° precision I used for the measurements from Topo!.

Note the much higher accuracy in the measured peak positions in the blown-up photograph, due to the scale of the photograph and the use only of peaks at large distances from the camera position.

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Copyright © 2009 by Tom Chester.
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Updated 16 January 2009.