Anza-Borrego

August 21, 2019  •  3 Comments

FEBRUARY 2019

Anza-Borrego State Park (CA)

This travel log is for a short excursion we took down to Anza-Borrego State Park in the most southern part of California in February, 2019.  We drove down from our home in Palo Alto (near San Francisco) and spent the night in Palm Desert (near Palm Springs) where our small Rental RV was delivered to us the next morning.  We then drove the RV and our Volvo to the park which was only another hour or so away.

Where is Anza-Borrego?
01 Map 1 - Anza-Borrego SP Position01 Map 1 - Anza-Borrego SP Position

The park itself
01 Map 2 - Anza-Borrego SP in SoCal01 Map 2 - Anza-Borrego SP in SoCal

Anza-Borrego State Park

At 650,000 acres (1,015 square miles), Anza-Borrego State Park is California’s largest state park.  It sits in the northwest corner of the Sonora Desert which itself extends south through much of northwest Mexico.  Wikipedia claims that the park is in the Colorado Desert but it turns out that the Colorado Desert is but one section of the larger Sonora Desert.  The Sonora Desert is claimed to be the hottest in Mexico, but in the US the Mojave Desert (centered about halfway between Las Vegas (NV) and Barstow (CA) takes that honor.  As an example, the average high temp in the Mojave Desert in July is 116f (47c) and in the Sonora Desert (or at least Anza-Borrego part) it is “only” 103f (39.4c) – and remember that is the “average” for the month.  I suggest not going to either in mid summer unless you like being baked like a Thanksgiving Turkey.  But we went in February when the temps were quite moderate.  Didn’t need a jacket at night or shorts during mid day which was just about right.

The park itself surrounds the town of Borrego-Springs and the park headquarters, visitor center-museum and main campground are right next to the town.  As you drive around the park you will find yourself passing through this town many times as you go from one trail head or overlook to another so if you’re not roughing it, finding a place to stay in Borrego-Springs is a good choice (not that there are many other choices).  Here your options range from 50’s style motels on up to high end golfing resorts.  If you have an RV, your options range from just a flat patch of desert up through luxury trailer parks with attached golf courses.  Where ever you decide to stay, book early if you are planning to go anytime near peak wildflower season (mid February through mid March)

You can get into the park from the Salton Sea to the east of the park on either CA78 or S22.  The Salton Sea is just south of places like Indio, Palm Desert, and Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley.  You can also get into the park from the west on CA78 from places like Escondido, Carlsbad, and (with a bit of meandering) San Diego.

Other than these main roads into and through the park along with RT S2 which more or less goes down the west side of the park, most other roads in the park are not paved.  There are actually over 500 miles of unpaved roads in the park.  Many of these dirt roads are passable in good weather by a regular car with normal or high ground clearance (leave your Ferrari home).  However, some require a Jeep type of 4 wheel drive vehicle.  Check in at the visitor center or one of the ranger stations for info on what roads to avoid in your particular vehicle type and/or current weather conditions. 

On our trip, we mostly stuck to the paved roads but did take to a half dozen or so dirt ones using our Volvo XC70.  This is a 4WD cross between a small SUV and a station wagon and never got stuck.

As far as we could tell, most of the publicized attractions (popular trails, easy access attractions, services, and overlooks) are in the northern part of the park and centered around Borrego Springs.  In fact, for the most part we stayed pretty much on or north of CA78. 

If you are wondering about the name of the park, it was actually 2 parks that merged.  One was Anza State Park named after the 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the other was Borrego State park where Borrego is Spanish for sheep.

Where we traveled in and around the park
02 Map 3 - Anza-Borrego Our Track02 Map 3 - Anza-Borrego Our Track

Camping

There are 4 developed campgrounds, of which 2 have drinkable water but interestingly enough,  3 have showers which leaves one to speculate what sort of water you’re showering with at the one with showers but no drinkable water.  But, one of the 2 with drinkable water is restricted to folks who bring horses.  So, unless you bring your horse, there is really only 1 campground with drinkable water.  That one is the Borrego Palm Canyon campground which is quite close to town and the visitor center.  But, as one would expect, it is also the largest (119 non group sites many of which have hookups) and the most densely populated.  All the other campgrounds around the park have between 10 and 16 sites with sites more widely spaced. 

In the undeveloped campground domain, there are 8 campgrounds, of which 7 have pit toilets and only one has picnic tables.  Of those, only two have designated sites and the rest you just find a patch of desert that strikes your fancy within a perimeter and set up camp.

So, if you like having a few modern conveniences - like drinking water - you’re stuck with Borrego Palm Canyon campground.  If you’re Ok drinking out of our own water containers that you fill up at Borrego Palm Canyon, but still like the idea of a nice shower after hiking all day, you can add Tamarisk Grove to your list.  Another interesting thing is that in addition to 16 tent and RV (<21ft) spaces at Tamarisk Grove they also have 11 one room rustic cabins you can rent.  These have an electric light but no power outlets or inside water.  They come with a table, a couple of chairs and wooden sleeping platforms (no mattress though). 

We had rented a small RV (van conversion with a bathroom and small kitchen) and as we don’t like being in crowded campgrounds with RV’s the size of small cities we opted to “camp” in the Tamarisk Grove campground rather than the more popular Borrego Palm Canyon Campground.  Our campground was quite pleasant.  This campground had spigots for non potable water as well as hot showers and flush toilets.  The van had a good size fresh water tank so for the most part we left it there and toured around in our Volvo.  The campground has shade structures at each site but also the Tamarisk trees provided some shade.  Even though the campground is right by a road, there was virtually no traffic after dark. 

One of the reasons we opted for this campground (about 15 minute drive from town) rather than the bigger one right next to town was that I wanted to do some night sky photography and it was much more likely to be dark where we camped.  There was still some light pollution but not nearly as much as the big campground.  The Milky Way wasn’t “out” at night when we visited, but at least I got to give the technique a try on the one cloudless night of our trip.  It was quite windy that night so my tripod vibrated a bit and the stars were not as sharp as I had hoped.  I really do need to get a different lens if I’m going to do this sort of photography, but it was worth a shot (no pun intended).

Wildflowers

Route S22 East of Borrego Springs
Anza-Borrego wildflower bloom 2019Anza-Borrego wildflower bloom 2019

One of the main attractions at Anza-Borrego, especially this year, are the spring wildflowers.  As it turned out, due to a wet winter with late spring rain 2019 had what they call a “super bloom”.  It was so prolific that it was covered by national news media including most the national as well as local TV news programs.  Of course, when we planned our trip we didn’t know this was coming and the timing for our trip was dictated by family obligations rather than aiming for the peak bloom season.  As it turned out, and we knew ahead of time, we were about 2 to 3 weeks ahead of the peak wildflower week which is usually late February to early March and we were there in early February.  In fact when we were there the people who study these things predicted only a slightly better than average bloom due to the heavier than normal winter rains, but that was it.  We figured we’d catch maybe just the beginning of a decent bloom, which we did. 

But many times nature does what nature does and while we were there, a pretty significant rain storm blew through (more on that later).  This late soaking is thought to have upped the predicted average bloom into a superbloom which exploded a few weeks later.  But, even though we were early for the superbloom, there was a short stretch along RT S22 east of Borrego Springs that had some nice patches of wildflowers conveniently located right along the paved road.  In the park there are 346 genera in 92 different plant families, and hundreds of these are flowering species of which a dozen or so were in bloom during out trip.  I particularly liked the Desert Lily.

Desert Lily
Desert Lilly,  Anza-Borrego SP, CADesert Lilly, Anza-Borrego SP, CA

Desert Lily
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More Desert Lily
Desert Lilly,  Anza-Borrego SP, CA #2Desert Lilly, Anza-Borrego SP, CA #2

In the spring there are several websites that can tell you where the flowers are.  You can also just ask at the visitor center and they’ll mark the current locations on a map.  If you are planning a visit with this in mind, be prepared for two things.  First is to be disappointed if you miss the peak or it doesn’t materialize that year and second, be ready to share your experience with a large number of like minded people.  The peak bloom period is the busiest time in the park with pretty much every campsite and motel room booked out well in advance.

Cactus

When one thinks of desert areas the image of cactus tends to spring to mind.  Even though cacti are quite prevalent in the deserts of the American Southwest, as you saw above there are many other types of plants as well.  But, unless these other plants are flowering, they many times stay well hidden underground (especially in the summer) to avoid the moisture sucking dry heat. 

But cacti have adapted to the brutal summer sun and heat.  Cactus are one of many types of succulents that thrive in arid places and Anza-Borrego hosts several types.  Most of these plants have extensive root systems to collect what little rainfall comes their way but their main adaptations are that they are like water bottles and are able to store water inside for months or years.  They have also adapted by not having leaves that allow water to evaporate out of the plant.  Instead, most varieties have spines or thorns to keep thirsty animals from biting into the plant to get that stored water. 

While there doesn’t seem to be those tall saguaro cactus made famous in movies that look like people with their hands up.  There are several other types in abundance such as Agave (succulent), Ocotillo, Cholla (mostly Teddy Bear but also Golden, Silver and a few others), Barrel, Fish Hook, Yaqui Mammillaria, and Beavertail (a Prickly Pear look alike but without spines)

As you walk around desert areas, even on established trails, it’s best to have thick sole hiking boots and wear long pants.  It’s amazing how easily a cactus spine on the ground can go right through a standard sneaker sole.  And, even though there are only a few types of cactus where the thorns actually shoot off the plant at you if you get too near, you really don’t want to brush up against one with bare legs.  Fortunately, we avoided these misfortunes but did happen by a few very unhappy folks who learned this the hard way.  This really is a “look but don’t touch” environment.

Ocotillo Cactus
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Don’t brush up against these guys with long or short pants
cactus spines, Anza-Borrego SP CAcactus spines, Anza-Borrego SP CA

Teddy Bear Cholla
Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus,  Anza-Borrego SP, CATeddy Bear Cholla Cactus, Anza-Borrego SP, CA

Hikes & Drives

As is the case with most wild lands type of National and State Parks, Anza-Borrego State Park has some attractions you can drive to as well as many hiking trails  Hiking trails rang from the All access Nature Trail  by the visitor center (level, < ¼ mile, paved)  to a 12 mile strenuous hike with a 2,000 foot elevation change.  Needless to say, we skipped the 12 mile hike but did manage several others. Maps, guides pamphlets, and advice can be had at the visitor center.

Desert Gardens and Coyote Canyons

After we saw and photographed the section of RT-S22 with the wildflowers, we needed to find a place for a picnic lunch.  The free visitor guide we picked up at the Visitor Center was quite handy in this regard as it shows where such things are located.  North of the town was just such a picnic table symbol on the map labeled “Desert Gardens”,  This was along a dirt road that then extended further north up into what was labeled “Coyote Canyons”.  Well that sounded nice so off we went.  It wasn’t too hard to find the dirt road as it was just an extension of Di Giorgio road from town. 

On the way, in non park sections near town we passed a couple of “resort” style upscale trailer parks with attached golf courses, some citrus farms and some palm farms.  Eventually the pavement ended and we were on a sandy unpaved road suitable for pretty much any car or SUV. We were no longer surrounded by the presence of man but were basically moving up the eastern side of a valley. 

This valley was about a mile wide with various forms of cactus and other plants along the bottom of the buff colored hill rising up to our right.  As we drove along, we would pass through different sections where a specific type of cactus would proliferate.  Then a bit farther would be a patch with another kind.  This was kind of interesting as even subtle changes in altitude, orientation or soil conditions create habitats more suited to one variety than another.

Not too much longer we arrived at the “Desert Gardens” picnic area.  To be honest, given the name, I expected an oasis sort of thing, with some sort of spring and a palm tree or two.  But it was really just more of what we’d been seeing.  There were half a dozen or so picnic tables spread out up the hillside in between clusters of Ocotillo Cactus – many of which were in flower – with a patch of Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus nearby.

Flowering Ocotillo
Octillo in bloom, an-Borrego SP CAOctillo in bloom, an-Borrego SP CA

Teddy Bear Cactus
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Teddy Bear Cactus – cute name, not so cute thorns
Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus,  Anza-Borrego SP, CA #3Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus, Anza-Borrego SP, CA #3

After our picnic lunch we continued up Coyote Canyon on the dirt road for another mile or so until we came to a place where the dirt road forded a decent size stream.  The stream itself wasn’t too bad for driving across but the banks were pretty steep and sandy so you couldn’t just get up a head of steam and plow across the stream bottom.  So, we decided to turn back.  As we were turning around a jeep came along and went right on through with no problem – must have been a rental..

Where the road crosses a stream
15 Coyote Canyons Stream Ford15 Coyote Canyons Stream Ford

Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

Starting from very near the big Borrego Palm Canyon Campground (near the town and the visitor center) is the trail head for the Palm Canyon Trail.  This is a 1.5 mile hike up a valley to a lush palm oasis.  And, of course, 1.5 miles back to your car.  This is one of the most popular kikes in the park.  At the trail head are much appreciated restrooms and you can also pick up a trail guide from a little box on a post.  The trail guide refers to numbered posts on the trail and describes what you’re looking at. 

The trail guide says to leave 2 hours for the round trip.  Ha!  Well, maybe for younger folks but as is the usual case for us old geezers, we have to take these estimates with a bit of humor.  In our case this 3 mile, 2 hour, hike took 3 hours so I guess, all things considered we average 1 mile per hour.  I’ll have to remember that.

Although the trail is going up the canyon it is not particularly steep or strenuous.  Although it can get quite warm as most of the time you are in direct sun with no shade nearby.  There are a few ups and downs and at one spot near the Oasis you have to scale a boulder maybe 3 or 4 feet high (high enough to need your hands) and slither through a narrow gap between some rocks.  Then there is a sort of steep decent of maybe 20 or so feet back down to the stream – or you can skip that decent and enjoy the view of the oasis from your higher vantage point.

The trail roughly follows a small stream that you have to cross from time to time but many times this burbling water flow is out of site and out of hearing range.  But at times the trail is near the stream and many hikers sooth hot feet in the cool water.  We were there in February so I don’t really know if the stream dries up in the summer or if it’s fed by a year round spring up the valley. 

We started this hike somewhat late in the day, around 2:30pm with a storm threatening to blow in from the west.  It was still quite sunny and warm as the clouds hadn’t arrived yet but you could see them building up over the tops of the hills.  So, fully laden with camera gear for me and hiking poles for my wife, off we went.  

The first section is pretty level and is on an alluvial plain which forms from sand and gravel that is washed down the narrow parts of the valley and then spreads out - fan like - once outside the valley walls.  And, as we had picked up one of those trail guides we stopped at the numbered posts to read about whatever was there.  The first post, #1 warned us not to touch the cactus which was good advice and explained how cacti work.  #2 was about plants with leaves vs. no leaves and how they each cope with desert conditions.  #3 was about flash floods and on it went. 

At one point, we happened by a throng of folks all gazing at a hillside.  Among the throng was a ranger with a spotting scope.  Apparently there was a mother “Peninsular Bighorn Sheep” with a baby “over there”.  Even with instructions (“see that lighter colored rock with the dark sand below it?  Well go up and a little to the right of that rock and you’ll see the lamb laying in the shade of a bush”).  Even with my longest lens I could not find the darn critters.  So, I took a peek through the spotting scope and indeed there it was, but still couldn’t locate it with my camera.  The mother and lamb are theoretically in this photo someplace, but the devil if I can find them. 

There’s a mother and baby Big Horn Sheep on this hillside someplace, but I can’t find them
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However, I was able to spot a very happy Ocotillo in full leaf.  The leaves on this type of plant burst out within 24 hours of a good rain and grow to full size within 5 days.  The chlorophyll in the leaves soak up energy from the sun and sort of charge the batteries of the plant.  Once it has been dry for several weeks the leaves whither and fall off to prevent water loss.

Ocotillo in full leaf
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We also found an equally happy Chuparosa
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Borrego Palm Canyon Oasis
Palm Canyon.  Anza-Borrego State Park, CAPalm Canyon. Anza-Borrego State Park, CA

On our hike back to the car we came to a fork in the trail and a sign pointing left saying “To Trail head”.  There was also a sign pointing right that said “To Trail head”.  Well, since both trails seemed destined to arrive at the same place, with neither showed distance, and we had come up on the one to the left we took the trail to the right.  Not a good choice.  Rather than just meandering down the valley along a different route, this one decided to go up the side hill of the valley before heading in the right direction.  But even then the trail kept going up and down to get across smaller valleys coming in from the side.  Add to that the fact that it was getting dark and we had not brought our flashlights and there was that approaching storm which was starting to blow bits of rain in from a few miles away.   But we eventually made it back to the car just as the last remnants of twilight faded into night and without the rain catching up to us.

Pictograph Trail

The Pictograph Trail is an easy 1.0 mile (one way) trail once you get to the trail head.  To get there you leave paved route S2 in Blair Valley and head east.  At the turn off is one of those rustic campgrounds with pit toilets, no water, no tables and no defined campsites.  In other words just a flat piece of desert with a cinder block outhouse along a sandy dirt road.  From S2 it is 5.5 miles (30 minutes) on a sandy, one lane, dirt track.  Again, most normal cars will be OK if you don’t go too slow in parts with softer sand and take the little detours around low spots where water collects after a rain.  It’s good to have GPS on this dirt road as the area has many unmarked forks off one way or another and it’s not always obvious which is the correct one.

There are actually 3 scenic attractions listed along this dirt road.  Marshal South Home site, Manteros Trail, and Pictograph Trail.  We just opted for the Pictograph Trail.  Once on foot you go up a not too difficult trail a couple of hundred feet to a low spot between two taller hills then once past that a very gradual descent into a broad desert valley on the other side.  Again, there are all sorts of plant life and if it’s not too hot and you watch carefully you’ll see some lizards and other small critters scurrying about.

It took us about 40 minutes to get to the pictographs.  They are carved and painted onto the flat side of a large bolder that at one point rolled down the hill and landed there.  According to a sign by the trail head, the meaning of the various drawings is not really understood but the sign says they used red pigment to denote female and black to denote male.  The sign also says that this site may have been used for rites of initiation for young boys as well as for young girls as some of the graphics seem to relate to visions and spirit helpers.

Plant strewn little ridge one climbs from the parking lot
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Several different cactus species line the trail
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Pictographs etched into flat side of bolder
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Narrows Earth Trail

The Narrows Earth Trail is a self guided nature trail with a trail guide you pick up at the trail head.  Unfortunately there were none in the box so we just made up a story at each numbered sign post.  This is a very flat 0.5 mile loop trail that travels over an alluvial plain and just a bit up into the canyon from which the plain formed.  Along the trail, of course were all sorts of cactus but also varying geologic forms which we couldn’t interpret without a handy guide.  But it was a pleasant walk nonetheless. 

Narrows Earth Trail, Alluvial Plain
Cactus Wash, Narrows Earth Trail, Anza-Borrego SPCactus Wash, Narrows Earth Trail, Anza-Borrego SP

Not sure what made these holes
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Palm Slot

Palm Slot is not listed in the pamphlet as a hike, but is shown on the map.  It’s a little tricky to find as it is not really marked.  There is just a small gravel parking area on the north side of route S22 just inside the eastern border of the park.  Of course that is not going to help you much as the border of the park is not marked either.  However you can more or less detect the border of the park as there is a subtle change in the Asphalt on the road.  That little parking area itself is a bit below the road height so unless there are some cars present it is quite easy to miss the entrance. 

This little parking area is pretty much right on the rim of a sheer cliff down a few hundred feet to a canyon bottom below, which in itself is a nice but not great scenic view.  But, off to the left of that little parking area there is a somewhat hidden dirt road.  It’s not all that hard to find but isn’t immediately obvious when you first drive into the lot.  So, here is where it gets interesting.  The road goes down the side of that cliff to the riverbed at the bottom of the canyon at a pretty steep angle.  Then add to that the observation that it has not seen a grader in quite a while.  There are some deep ruts from erosion that one must either skirt around or straddle between your wheels as well as some undercarriage threatening boulders in the road that one must dodge.

Although we did see some regular sedan type cars that had gotten down the road, I can only assume that they were able to make it back up again which in many regards is a bit trickier due to patches of loose gravel that compromises traction.  I would probably not do it in a car that doesn’t have 4WD.  But our trusty Volvo handled it with aplomb. 

Once on the sandy riverbed at the bottom you can go straight across and up a much smaller bank on the other side to someplace called Calcite Mine, or you can turn right, and go down the valley in the riverbed (not even sure this is an official dirt road) or you can turn left and go up the valley toward Palm Slot Canyon – which is what we did. 

The going was quite easy – especially considering that descent into the canyon.  Some places it was a single dirt lane between large boulders or what are low islands when there is water in the river and at some places it widens out and you can take your pick of 3 or 4 tracks to follow.  We were kind of wondering if we’d know when we got to the slot canyon at all.  But, no worries, it became obvious when we arrived at a spot that was too narrow for a car to fit through and there were 3 or 4 other cars parked there. 

Once on foot, it was a quite pleasant hike along the canyon bottom with sheer sandstone cliffs rising on either side.  Now, to be honest it doesn’t hold a candle to the slot canyons near Page Arizona (e.g. Antelope Canyon) but it certainly did qualify for the word “slot” in its name.  Some places were wide and others quite skinny.  There were a few spots where you had to navigate up what would be a small cascade or waterfall if there was water but for the most part pretty easy.  Another nice feature is that through much of the walk you are in the shade.  We spent about an hour and three quarter on this hike.

By the time we got back to the car, most of the other cars were gone and as none were strewn around the bottom of the canyon apparently they all made it back up the hill to the paved road – As did we.

Natural Bridge over trail
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Little dry “waterfall” to go over
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Narrow “slot” section
Palm Slot Canyon, Anza-Boreggo SP, CAPalm Slot Canyon, Anza-Boreggo SP, CA

Just the right size
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Bill Kenyon Overlook Trail at Yaqui Pass Summit

This trail is just a hair south of the Yaqui Pass Summit.  Well, “summit” may be a bit of an exaggeration as it tops out at 1,725 feet, and Borrego Springs itself is at 597 feet.  From Borrego Springs the paved road (S3) gently rises over a distance of 10 miles.  The other side of the pass is steeper and a bit twisty as it goes down into a valley where the Tamarisk Campground is (where we camped).  In case you care, William (Bill) Kenyon was a park supervisor for some time. 

The trail itself is a 1.0 mile loop from the quite large parking lot.  Actually I’m pretty sure the parking lot had some other purpose in the past such as maybe a hotel was there once or maybe it was a staging area for equipment used to build the road as it is way too large and flat to have been built for just being a parking lot.  It is officially also designated as a campground but with no marked sites, no toilets of any kind, no tables and no trash cans – and for that matter, no campers – it is just a large gravel parking lot.

The hike is quite easy and pretty level along the top crest of the ridge (I won’t call it a mountain even though it has a “pass”).  There are some nice views of the valley below and the surrounding landscape and what we have observed to be a typical collection of desert plant life. 

I don’t know what this was, but it seems to have not been successful at this location
Dried out.  Yaqui Well Nature Trail, Anza-Borrego SP, CADried out. Yaqui Well Nature Trail, Anza-Borrego SP, CA

Ocotillo and some variety of Cholla cactus
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California Barrel Cactus cozying up to a Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus
California Barrel and Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus, #1, Yaqui Well Nature Trail, Anza-Borrego SP, CACalifornia Barrel and Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus, #1, Yaqui Well Nature Trail, Anza-Borrego SP, CA

Fonts Point Lookout

Fonts point lookout is a short walk of about 200 yards up a little hill from a parking area that is in turn about 4 miles up a dry wash conveniently well traveled by cars.  We went up there twice.  One time we were too late for sunset and for our trouble had to drive back down that dry wash in the dark.  The second time we were in time for sunset – except for the overcast sky to the west totally obscuring the sunlight. 

Fonts Point is a peninsula of land with serrated badlands below.  No where near as impressive colors as the Painted Desert in Arizona that has a profusion of colors, here at Fonts Point it is mainly a buff color affair with some muted reds in the distance.  In good light I’m sure it is way more impressive but even in flat light the erratic, mazelike landscape is quite interesting.

Serrated landscape from Font’s Point
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To the west from Font’s Point
Below Fort Point #1, Anza-Borrego SP CABelow Fort Point #1, Anza-Borrego SP CA

To the east from Font’s Point
Below Fort Point #2, Anza-Borrego SP CABelow Fort Point #2, Anza-Borrego SP CA

Borrego Springs

We already talked about the town of Borrego Springs at the top of this blog.  But to continue, it is a low key desert town catering to a good tourist trade.  There is the requisite grocery store, gas stations, bank, restaurants and a few art galleries that I won’t bore you with. 

Not very much I would consider as remarkable in this town, but I did find two photographically interesting things to shoot here.  One was a little church on the outskirts of town in the Spanish Mission style called St. Richard’s.  While it looks very much like it came from the period of Spanish exploration of California, it was actually built in the 1950’s. 

Saint Richard’s Church
St. Richard's Church, Anza-Borrego, CASt. Richard's Church, Anza-Borrego, CA

The other interesting subject we stopped to photograph was a small herd of rusty mammoths.  Artist Ricardo Breceda has created various pods of critters scattered around the edges of town.  This pod was of mammoths but in other locations there are pods of  wild horses, saber tooth tigers, a 350 foot long serpent using the desert as its ocean, desert tortoises, and a variety of dinosaurs, among other things.  In our driving around town we stumbled on the horses, serpent and mammoths, but only stopped to photograph the mammoths.

"Dess
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Rain

The definition of the word ‘desert’ is that the area receives less than 10 inches of rain per year.  You’ll notice that the definition does not have anything to do with temperature or elevation.  You can have high deserts as well as low deserts.  You can have hot deserts as well as cold deserts.  Much of Greenland is technically a desert as are portions of the Arctic.  However, in most cases when we think of deserts we conjure up scenes of the American Southwest, Northern Africa and the Middle East.  In these deserts the conditions that result in minimal precipitation also wind up making those areas quite hot .  Thus our mistaken notion that deserts must be hot places.  And, Anza-Borrego is certainly one of the hot deserts.

So what about that low precipitation concept.  Low precipitation does not mean no precipitation.  Even the driest deserts get some rain from time to time.  Most get a smattering every year but some can go many years without any measurable rain.  Anza-Borrego does get some rain almost every winter.  On average they get between 5 and 6 inches of rain per year with most falling from December through March, plus the single month of August.  Dec, Jan, and March average around 0.5” with Feb and Aug having 1 to 1.5 inches.  So, being there in February it was not too surprising to get some rain.

On the day before we were to leave the park, rain was predicted to start late in the day and continue over night.  Since it was going rain overnight we thought we’d maybe bail a day early and head up to Palm Springs where the next day we could take the gondola to the top of a nearby mountain (weather permitting)  So, we headed into town (once again) for a stop at the library where we could get some internet to see if we could get a room in Palm Springs for the night.  But, as is apparently common in Borrego Springs, the entire town had no Internet.  But we had our mobile phone and soon discovered that rooms in Palm Springs at that time of year, and on short notice were outrageously priced, so we gave up on that idea. 

But with the rain coming in, there really was no point spending the last night in the campground and then rushing the following morning to get out early enough to drive up to Palm Desert to return the RV and then drive back home.  So, we booked a room in Indio, (near the RV drop off point) for the next evening.  We figured that the next day we’d do indoor stuff in the morning and if the weather cleared we’d see some more stuff in the park after lunch, then collect the RV in the campground in late afternoon and head out.

After making all the hotel arrangements, there was still plenty of day left, and it hadn’t started raining so we drove back for our 2nd visit to Fonts Point which I talked about earlier, and from there drove back past the campground again to a place called Palm Canyon. 

Ok, if you’re confused join the club.  It seems that dozens of attractions in this park have the word “Palm” and or “Desert” in the name and this is just another one of them.  This is a dirt road that goes up into a couple of canyons.  Not the most interesting drive we’d taken, but it was pleasant.  At the end of the canyon you can continue of foot pretty much all the way to Mexico if you wish.  But we were just driving around, keeping an eye on the clouds as we did.  One does not want to be caught up one of these canyons where the road is basically just the river bed when rain is washing down th canyon from above.  But, we were careful and even though there was some drops blowing in from the approaching storm there was no problem.

Rain storm coming in (Palm Canyon)
Desert Rain. Palm Canyon, Anza-Borrego SP CADesert Rain. Palm Canyon, Anza-Borrego SP CA

Well, that night it rained like crazy as predicted.  We were very happy to be in an RV rather than a tent. 

The next day (our last day in the park) rain was expected to continue till mid day so we planned an indoor activity. We drove all the way down to the southern half of the park to a place called Agua Caliente Springs which happens to be in a county park.  There they had a campground/trailer park with a couple of nice pools - one indoor and one outdoor – both heated by thermal springs.  The pools were standard swimming pool designs so you really wouldn’t know that they were thermal pools rather than just heated swimming pools.  But, as it was pouring rain outside, being indoors at a pool was superior to playing cards in the cramped RV. 

We left the pool around lunch time and as cooking burgers on an outdoor campfire in the rain was not all that attractive an option, after we left the pool we decided to find a restaurant for lunch.  The closest eating establishments we could find on Google or our GPS were in the town of Julian, about an hour’s drive away and for the most part in the right direction.  After heading north on S2, we arrived at the junction of CA78 where we could turn right to get back to our campground or turn left to go the 11 miles to Julian.  So left we went. 

Even though we were quite hungry we never made it to Julian.  About 5 miles down the road toward Julian we came upon a police cruiser parked sideways across the entire road with its red and blue lights flashing.  Just beyond the cruiser was a raging river.  It’s not clear if there used to be a bridge there or not, but there certainly wasn’t one there now and the water was well over 6 feet deep and moving quite aggressively.  So, on to plan “B”.  We retraced our steps and headed back past our campground and on to Borrego Springs (once again) for some food. 

Now nourished, and with the rain stopped, we headed back to the campground, put all the loose things away in the RV and started the drive out of the park to our newly booked hotel in Indio.  So, once again through Borrego-Springs (hopefully for the last time) and headed east on S2 toward the Salton Sea.  But wait a minute.  Just outside of town, the road was blocked with saw horses and a sign saying “Flooding  Road Closed”.  Now what?  The other way out to the east would add another hour and it wasn’t even clear if that road was even open anyway.  And, going out the West side would be an extra 2 to 3 hours and again not clear if those roads were even open.  Not only that, but I couldn’t find any road closure info on the Internet. 

While we were stopped there looking bewildered a passerby stopped behind us and said that they had just tried the other east exit and it too was closed so that’s why they came here to try this way out.  So, what to do?  But all was not lost.  Another car came by from beyond the closure and stopped as well.  Turns out this was a local who lives in Borrego Sprints.  She was very nice, and told us not to worry, the road was not flooded, just a bit muddy where dry washes flow over the road when it rains, “Happens all the time when it rains”, she said.  It had been flooded overnight but as the rains had stopped a few hours earlier the water flow had dissipated and just the wet mud was left.  She said, there would be no problem with either the RV or the Volvo. 

As it turned out she was 100% correct.  When we got to those usually dry washes, the road was indeed covered in mud, but by slowing down to 5 or 10 miles per hour, there was no problem other than a mud splashed car or RV.

So, we made it out of the park with no further issues and to our hotel.  Well, “no further issues” if you don’t count a flat tire on the Volvo achieved at the entrance to the hotel which couldn’t be dealt with till the next morning.  But that’s another story.

========================================

I hope you enjoyed reading about our visit to Anza-Borrego State Park and will stay tuned for our next adventure this past spring to Greece.

PLEASE LEAVE COMMENTS AS I ENJOY HEARING YOUR REACTION TO WHAT I'VE WRITTEN

This blog is posted at:

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2019/8/Anza-Borrego

These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website. 

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/anza-borrego-trip-all   (all images)

         Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .

Thanks for reading – Dan

 

(All images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way.


Comments

Pearl Chow(non-registered)
Enjoyed reading about your Anza-Borrego adventures. Brought back memories of our family's trip several years ago. We didn't have the rain, but definitely remember the wind which collapsed our tent in the middle of the night. Lovely photos as well, Dan. Thanks!
Karen Roe(non-registered)
Beautiful images and great description of trip. We have flash floods in Texas that close some roads regularly. I have a former coworker who was from California and retired to Las Vegas because she loved the desert. This helped me understand why. Hope you guys get to San Antonio soon-I'd love to see the photos you could get here.
Joan Barksdale(non-registered)
Loved the image of Ellen in the slot! I read every word of your blog. You paint a picture with your words as well as your photos. You guys are very adventurous and I’m a bit envious! So much to see in our state.
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