Bisnaga is an Americanism for the Spanish Biznaga, which refers to tall barrel cactus. Friendly to hikers for some 1.5 miles of trek, starting from the parking area, it is one of several bajadas (drainage basins) that carry off the rainfall gathered in the drapes of the stately mountain to the north, 5,349 foot high Whale Peak.
At an elevation around 1,400 feet itself, the wash is accessed from County Highway S‑2 about 1 mile north of the entrance to Agua Caliente County Park. Look for signage for Bisnaga Wash at a pull-out on the east side of the road, which has convenient parking for a few cars. Another 0.9 miles up County S‑2, to the north toward Vallecitos County Park, is Bisnaga Alta Wash, a well-defined bajada no less than 500 feet wide and offering excellent hiking with opportunities to see gardens of barrel cactus along its 2.5 mile length to the foot of Whale Peak.
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Bisnaga Wash is relatively flat and bordered on the north and south by low hills. Within a short walk from the road, around the east side of a prominent hill, you can find beavertail cactus and several types of cholla cactus, including the seldom seen pencil cactus. Continuing north toward Whale Peak, the barrel cactus, Ferocactus cylindraceus, are plentiful not only in the wash but hugging the rocky swales of each new micro-canyon that pops in from the east and west.
Some barrels grow over 6 feet tall. They were a reliable source of water for pioneer travelers. The abundance of them here should not be surprising since this lay directly on the Butterfield Stage Route, as do many at the Box Canyon historical site farther up the Butterfield route.
A number of birds are common here, including California quail, cactus wrens and Costa’s hummingbirds.
Annual spring wildflowers are abundant when there has been sufficient rain and growing conditions. Desert dandelions can carpet some areas of the broad wash and the rolling, rocky ridges which border it.
The unusual-looking Christmas tree plant is also found here; this plant is parasitic on nearby tree roots, does not have leaves, and shoots up stalks that look a little like miniature pink and white “Christmas Trees” when in bloom.
Click on any thumbnail below to enter the light box and slide show with optional comments panel. Photos by Barbara Swanson unless noted.