The visitor center at Anza Borrego Desert State Park blends into the landscape. The center has a garden where desert flora always bloom in the spring because the cacti, plants and trees are irrigated. Signs help identify the flora.
The visitor center at Anza Borrego Desert State Park blends into the landscape. The center has a garden where desert flora always bloom in the spring because the cacti, plants and trees are irrigated. Signs help identify the flora. Photos by Jerry Ondash
Hit the Road

The Anza Borrego Desert State Park is a go-to favorite

 

I could scold my friends, Brian and Sandy Fitzpatrick, who have lived in Southern California for several years off and on, for never having visited Anza Borrego Desert State Park, but then I’d have missed the opportunity to show it to them.

A bumble bee circles a bright bloom on a cholla cactus near the visitor center.
A bumble bee circles a bright bloom on a cholla cactus near the visitor center.

The park is one of our go-to favorites for a quick getaway, and I’m glad to report that the Fitzpatricks, who live in The OC, now love it as well.
My husband, Jerry, and I had a great time being short-term tour guides in the second largest state park in the country. (Adirondack Park in New York takes first place.)

Brian and Sandy Fitzpatrick of Ladera Ranch in Orange County cross a narrow creek that flows along Palm Canyon Trail. It is their first visit to Anza Borrego Desert State Park, the second largest state park in the country.
Brian and Sandy Fitzpatrick of Ladera Ranch in Orange County cross a narrow creek that flows along Palm Canyon Trail. It is their first visit to Anza Borrego Desert State Park, the second largest state park in the country.

The four of us spent two days exploring the park, as well as making stops in between — Santa Isabel and Dudley’s Bakery on the way out, and the former gold-mining mountain town of Julian on the way home. (Yes, we came away with an apple pie.)

The weather was perfect, and though we were too late for the big bloom on the desert floor, we saw plenty of flowering cacti — beavertail, barrel and cholla — and ocotillos that were at the peak of lushness. There also were a respectable amount of wildflowers as we ascended in altitude on a hike.

The first day of our two-day trip was spent exploring the park’s visitor center where an excellent 20-minute film showcases Anza Borrego throughout the four seasons.

Bigger-than-life metal sculptures like this grasshopper and scorpion are found throughout the landscape near the town of Borrego Springs and Anza Borrego Desert State Park. There are more than 70 sculptures, created by artist Ricardo Breceda and financed by philanthropist Dennis Avery.
Bigger-than-life metal sculptures like this grasshopper and scorpion are found throughout the landscape near the town of Borrego Springs and Anza Borrego Desert State Park. There are more than 70 sculptures, created by artist Ricardo Breceda and financed by philanthropist Dennis Avery.

There also are exhibits on the flora, fauna, geology and history of the park. It takes a lot of imagination to picture the dry desert floor under water, but that was the case eons ago.

The rest of Day One was spent getting up close-and-personal with the larger-than-life metal sculptures of Ricardo Breceda. Now living in Temecula, the artist crossed paths with millionaire benefactor Dennis Avery, who was a Borrego Springs resident and landowner. (Sadly, Avery died unexpectedly in 2012).  The philanthropist, who loved paleontology, commissioned Breceda to create the prehistoric creatures that once roamed the valley. (None were dinosaurs).

As time passed, Breceda added to the collection — a mythical serpent, giant scorpion, historical figures who are a part in the area’s history, and other pieces that are just for fun, like the couple flying through the desert in a 1946 Willis Jeep.

A ladybug explores a flowering cholla along the Palm Canyon Trail in Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
A ladybug explores a flowering cholla along the Palm Canyon Trail in Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Had we time, we could’ve stopped to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market that springs up every Friday in the oddly verdant Christmas Circle in the town of Borrego Springs.

The next morning, we decided to hike the Palm Canyon Trail. The trailhead is not far from the park’s visitor center and is popular, so if you go, don’t expect solitude.

Do expect a hike with many interesting land features and actual running water — a rarity in the desert or anywhere in Southern California, for that matter.

And because the trail takes hikers up, we found lots of wild flowers — parish’s poppy, brittlebush, blooming yucca and some tiny blue, purple and white flowers thatI’m not well versed enough to identify but skilled enough to enjoy.

The climb requires a bit of low-level rock-scrambling at times and ends at a cool oasis created by a thick circle of palms.

Though the best time to visit Anza Borrego Desert State Park has almost passed for this year, keep this destination in mind for next winter and spring 2017.

This spring was a banner year for ocotillos, tall spiny plants that, with moisture, develop deep green leaves and flaming orange blossoms.Visitors to the Borrego Springs area marvel at one section of a metal-sculpture serpent that stretches all the way across Borrego Springs Road. Sandy Fitzpatrick of Ladera Ranch in Orange County checks out one of the metal sculptures in a group of figures depicting the planting and harvesting of grapes. Ricardo Breceda of Temecula is the artist. Colorful chunks of sandstone litter the trail to Palm Canyon, a popular route for hikers who visit Anza Borrego Desert State Park.The Mignon family of Encinitas takes a break in the cool palm grove at the end of the Palm Canyon Trail in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. From left: Yves, Laury, Charlotte and Zoe. “We had never been to Anza Borrego,” said Laury, “and are now totally hooked.”

E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at eondash@coastnewsgroup.com

 

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