Coyote Creek is San Diego county’s only stream that flows year-round, underscoring just how arid the San Diego region really is. The stream attracted the attention of the federal land office in the mid-1850s, when highways and railways into California were first being explored. The flow of water also dictated the path of the Anza Expedition of 1775, which proceeded up the stream after finding a major well in the Borrego Valley a few days earlier.
To reach the Lower Willows by vehicle, three high-wheelbase crossings of Coyote Creek are usually needed in the winter months (when hiking is possible; in the summer the temperatures are typically around 110 degrees). The vehicle trek from Borrego Springs is several miles over undulating sand roads, climbing through a wide, picturesque valley before eventually encountering the now-impassable canyon from the Lower Willows to Collins Valley above.
At this point, Coyote Creek is a respectable stream and can be crossed by foot via stepping stones through occasional bulrushes.The vegetation is thick, and so sticking to the trail along the stream is recommended. The palms are native Washingtonia filifera, Desert Fan Palm, planted by the original inhabitants of Collins Valley and who very possibly were associated with a rancheria near the palms that was denoted on the 1855 United States Government Land Office Plat of the valley. The greenery is present for about a mile before popping out into a plain of mixed desert scrub, mesquite and, conspicuously, the native fan palms that rise above the other vegetation. Off to the west, about a mile across the valley, is the entrance to Sheep Canyon, where a ranger station was once active. An Indian trail once connected the rancheria to Sheep Canyon and the large canyon to its south, Indian Canyon.
The stream can break to the surface and dive back under the many sandy washes repeatedly. Hikers may find a clear way to the north end of the valley either along the central jeep road or by following any of the washes, otherwise the trek is over light desert scrub to Monkey Hill, where a tectonic monitoring station may be found. Further up the stream scrambles over large boulders, sand coves and steep banks after it emerges from the Middle Willows.
Here at the Willows is found dense vegetation with yet more stands of fan palms, comprising a jungle of zigzaging passages where hikers have sought to blaze the few hundred yards to the north end. The northerly area of vegetation is near the San Diego County Line. Alder Canyon pours into the valley here, and it may be explored for several miles to the west. Alder Canyon cradles a major tributary and during a flash flood is a raging river. Further up Coyote Canyon, the upper Willows may be reached, and beyond that the high valley of Anza.