Were you one of the thousands of looky-loos who visited Anza Borrego Desert State Park in the last two weeks to ogle at the much ballyhooed Big Bloom?
We innocently wandered into the fray (20,000 visitors, it was reported) with friends from Wisconsin who had never seen a flowering desert. We had — but not like this. Stories of the “super bloom” and the swarms who came to see it were not exaggerated. Hordes of visitors wandered mostly on the desert floor not far from Christmas Circle in the town of Borrego Springs. They marveled at the carpet of desert sunflowers, dune primroses, purplemat and sand verbena. They squatted among the foliage to examine more closely this miracle of nature. They snapped photos and selfies and panoramic pictures.
They also wreaked havoc on tiny Borrego Springs (population 3,500), which normally welcomes spring and the attending visitors with relish.
But this year?
Restaurants ran out of food, the town’s plumbing was challenged (certainly not enough toilets), parking spaces were all but non-existent, and with temps in the mid-90s, the paramedics were kept busy treating people who didn’t bring enough (or any) water. (It’s the DESERT, people …)
And except for a few ambitious early birds, there was not a chance of getting into the park’s visitors’ center.
Sheriff deputies were out in force, directing traffic in front of barricades that blocked entry to the center’s parking lot.
While waiting in traffic, we saw one rather timid woman approach a deputy and ask, “Could we ___?” and before she could complete the question, the deputy bellowed, “No!”
We avoided most of the mayhem by driving five minutes south of Christmas Circle on Borrego Springs Road and introducing our Midwest friends to the Breceda sculptures. This was followed by an uncrowded lunch at the Borrego Springs Resort (no bare cupboards here), then we spent some time leisurely strolling the fields lining Henderson Canyon Road. Cars were parked along the road as far as you could see, but there was no problem finding an opening.
You’d think after dealing once with the heat and descending “locusts,” as I heard one local refer to the hordes, that we’d be crazy to return the following week — but we did.
Good thing, too, because the desert was showcasing an even more splendid palette.
We returned with friends from Orange County, and expecting the worst, we arrived Sunday, when most people head home. Though Borrego Springs was busier than usual, the stories in the media must have scared away a lot of folks. The crowds were not overwhelming.
We also didn’t think that the Big Bloom could get any finer, but we were wrong. On this second visit, there were additional flowers to complement the previous week’s floral display in the flatlands. People walked through the fields of saffron-colored desert daisies like so many sojourners in an impressionistic painting. Upon closer examination, we could see that the caterpillars were enjoying the floral display as much as the looky-loos.
Also, the cactuses had begun to display their regal blossoms. The beavertail, with their bright pink, waxy flowers, were the leaders, but the cholla, hedgehogs, barrels and ocotillos weren’t far behind.
This time, we put on our hiking boots and headed up the mountain from the Hell Hole Canyon trailhead. There were plenty of flowers everywhere and the cactuses were showing off their colors even more as we ascended to the ridge. We were rewarded for our slow, hot climb with a magnificent view of the Borrego Valley.
I doubt we’ll see anything close to this year’s Big Bloom again in our lifetimes.
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E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at firstname.lastname@example.org
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.