As each spring approaches, I head to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to view wildflowers. In spring 2017, a wet winter led to a "super bloom," with sweeping carpets of desert lilies, dune evening primroses, purple sand verbenas, desert chicories, and desert sunflowers stretching as far as the eye could see.
This year, however, the dry winter has dampened the display of wildflowers in the state park, California's largest with nearly 650,000 acres. Still, it's worth a visit to marvel at the mesmerizing desert landscape.
“It’s the beauty, the solitude, and the surprise that bring people to Anza-Borrego,” says retired park environmental scientist Joe Hopkins, who now works as a volunteer.
Start your sojourn at the park’s visitors center (760-767-4205 or 760-767-4684 for the wildflower hotline; www.parks.ca.gov) for updates on wildflowers, road conditions, hikes, and wildlife sightings of everything from desert bighorn sheep to the thousands of Swainson’s hawks that migrate here each spring.
Start early for a hike up the Palm Canyon Trail. You’ll be able to relax next to a gurgling stream in the shade of a fan palm oasis and may also get a fleeting glimpse of the park’s namesake. Borrego is Spanish for “sheep,” and these desert dwellers nimbly traverse the granite rocks of the open book–shaped canyon as they come down for a drink. Two rams butting their curled horns can send shock waves down the canyon.
An often-overlooked trail is Hellhole Canyon. It doesn’t get a lot of traffic, and the fan palm oasis is dense and rich with the sounds of birdlife and burbling water. Day-use fee is $10 per vehicle; park hours are dawn until dusk daily.
Not up for hiking? Take a ride with California Overland Desert Excursions (760-767-1232; californiaoverland.com) in a jeep, off-road van, or military truck through the badlands, canyons, and oases. It's especially stunning at sunrise and sunset. Mix in a desert lily or a spindly ocotillo overlooking a landscape carved over time by water, and you have a work of art.
The Borrego Art Institute’s Kesling’s Kitchen (760-767-7600), named after well-known San Diego architect William Kesling, serves wood-fired pizzas, roasted chicken, and Greek salads.
The town of Borrego Springs serves as the staging area for many park activities. Stores and restaurants line Palm Canyon Drive.
“We want to get as many people out into the park as possible,” says volunteer Pam Blake of the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, whose Borrego Desert Nature Center store (760-767-3098; abdnha.org) has the best selection of books about the area. “It’s about conservation and the protection of the desert.”
Since December 2005, the Borrego Art Institute, or BAI, (760-767-5152; borregoartinstitute.org) has cultivated a growing arts culture involving painters, photographers, sculptors, glass artists, and workers in clay and textiles. Galleries present exhibits throughout the year, and BAI offers daylong or two- or three-day art classes and workshops from October through April. BAI admission is free; classes and workshops range from about $100 to $250 a day.
Don’t miss the area’s more than 100 scrap-metal sculptures by Ricardo Breceda.
Each of the 15 rooms at the adobe-style Borrego Valley Inn (760-767-0311; tinyurl.com/ycnnh22o) has tiled floors and private desert gardens, where you can gaze at star-filled skies. Spring rates start at $245.
The 100-room Borrego Springs Resort and Golf Club (760-767-5700; borregospringsresort.com) is a more moderate alternative. It has a spa, a fitness center, and an 18-hole championship golf course. Rates start at about $143.
Top photo: A hiker looks over the Borrego Badlands in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. | Photo by Chuck Graham
Free San Diego Region and Imperial County maps are available at an Auto Club branch. For information about TourBook guides and TripTik Travel Planners, visit a branch or go to AAA.com/maps.