Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, located in the Colorado Desert of Southern California, is 600,000 acres of the most beautiful, rugged land we have seen so far. Everything about this place is harsh, from the rugged, rocky mountains and hot, dry weather with crazy wind gusts that come out of nowhere to the rattle snakes, scorpions and
plant life filled with thorns just waiting to stick, stab or cut you.
In all our years of hiking out west, we never ran into a single rattle snake, yet within a weeks time, I nearly stepped on two while hiking in two different canyons. During our stay at Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, one hiker died, two people were sent to the hospital for snake bites, at least five people were treated for heat stroke and quite a few suffered ankle injuries. The desert is not for the weak. If you are looking for a nice sanitized park experience, this is definitely not the place. It is exactly what a desert experience should be and we loved it. If you do visit the area, come prepared to just take off and explore on your own. Some of our most amazing and rewarding experiences were discovered through tribal knowledge or just heading off in some random direction. Some of the best hikes can not be found in a brochure. You will have to talk to locals and be ready to wander off the beaten path. You will truly be able to say you have earned every experience you have.
We first came to the area in January for a six-day visit. We quickly discovered that we wanted and needed a lot more time to explore this incredible park. Two of the days we stayed at the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground and got wind of a camp host position. We decided we could kill two birds with one stone. We could explore the area during our off time and check the box for the experience of camp hosting. We came back to Borrego Springs in mid February and volunteered as camp hosts for 8 weeks. We could have boondocked for 30 days free camping just down the road, but it was a very interesting experience to camp host at this campground during the overwhelming, record-breaking crowds for what was dubbed in the media as the “Super Bloom ”.
With the above average rains in January and February, this rugged desert transformed into a garden paradise. It appeared that every plant produced some sort of blossom. Each time we went out to explore a new area of the park, we ran into unique flowers.
This could be a once in a life time event as they say the super blooms happen once every 10+ years. We picked a great year to work in the park. We were able to immerse ourselves in the environment for the very short period that the blooms peak. We would never have been able to have such a great experience in our old lives, where working for the weekends would have meant visiting the area when tens of thousands of people were also trying to do the same thing. I don’t do crowds or sitting in traffic very well. I would have turned around long before I ever got close.
Living in the park for 8 weeks was the way to go. We were able to experience the complete evolution of the flowers from brown desert to fantastic blooms everywhere and back to brown desert. Part of the process included the arrival of an incredible amount of Sphinx Moth caterpillars that chow the flowers and then the arrival of a record number of Swainson’s Hawks that stop to feast on the caterpillars during their yearlt migration north. The desert bloom is quite a phenomenon.
At the doughnut hole center of Anza-Borrego State Park sits the town of Borrego Springs. The park completely surrounds the town. At the western edge of Borrego Springs is where the main campground, Borrego Palm Canyon Campground and the park Visitor Center are located. For a very tiny town, there are a surprising amount of great places to eat, drink and shop.
Borrego Springs was a hideaway for movie stars back in the 50’s with the 50’s decor still apparent at many places today. Like every thing else in Anza-Borrego, the town looks and feels a little harsh, but is perfect for this desert environment. When you first drive through, you feel this town is a throw back to bygone years. But after wandering around you realize it is quite a modern town, with art galleries, a history museum, golf resorts, fancy restaurants and a division of the San Diego Library. You would not be aware that there are actually 5 golf courses in the area. Some of the resorts are perfectly hidden within the desert.
The nearest major city to the park is Escondido about 65 miles to the west over twisty mountain roads. The town does have several excellent restaurants, two markets and a pretty good farmers market. The markets are a little pricey, but given that the closest super market is a 130 mile round trip away, the prices are not so bad. Every two to three weeks, we would drive to either Palm Desert or Escondido to resupply the necessities.
The popular canyon just west of Borrego Springs is the Borrego Palm Canyon. Borrego is Spanish for lamb. The area is known for its Bighorn Sheep habitat. The Borrego Palm Canyon provides an excellent water source for the Borrego to drink and steep rocky hills for them to retreat to at night. Some people have been coming to the area for 60 years and never have seen a Bighorn Sheep. We were lucky enough to catch the ewes and lambs from a distance, but were also treated to close up group of a dozen or more rams.
Our favorite way to explore an area is by hiking, but there are several great drive to areas in the park as well. But just like the hikes, the two-tracks into the cool areas are very rough. A 4WD vehicle isn’t totally necessary, but a higher clearance vehicle is a big help. The drive to Fonts Point takes you to a location you would never have guessed was there. There is no easy way to get there, but the effort is absolutely worth it.
We spent 8 weeks immersed in Anza-Borrego. It was awesome to work with a great bunch of people and explore the area. We went on several great hikes and got to participate in the yearly spectacle of the desert bloom. We barely scratched the surface of this massive place. We are looking forward to continue exploring next season.
Stay tuned to more detailed posts on the hikes we took, the flowers and our camp host experience.