California's Southern Desert
Following winter rain, the Southern California desert is carpeted with tiny flowers, and then the cacti come into bloom, adding to the pastel show of color. The largest state park in the lower 48, Anza-Borrego's 600,000 acres include mountains higher than 6,000 feet, palm covered canyons, badland areas, and some of the most wondrous desert wildlife in all of California.
The park is less than two hours' drive from San Diego, and 3.5 hours from Los Angeles. The town of Borrego Springs is aurrounded by the park, and is the access point for the park's attractions.
Where to Start Your Visit
The State Park Visitor Center is located at the north end of Palm Canyon Drive, the town's main street (County Road S-22). This building is definitely the place to begin a visit to the parkj. Kids will enjoy reading the park's Junior Naturalist handbook, available here, and a short trail leads through the desert in front of the center which is buried in the desert landscape. Because of the intense heat of the summer months, the park's interpretive service starts in November and ends in May. However, the park facilities are open year-round.
Anza Borrego is one of the world's foremost fossil and bone yards. Thousands of fossils have been collected in the park area, and are now catalogued and stored in the fossil library. Most are fossils of small (and some very, very small) animals. However, more than 100 species of large animals have been unearthed in the park, including the giant ground sloth, bison, llama, ancient dog, American lion, zebra, horse, dromedary camel, mammoth, and many others. These animals thrived in what is now the Borrego Badlands, where waving seas of grass grew to the edge of a primeval sea.
Tours of the Daniel Laboratory and the fossil library are offered during the prime season. A score of other interpretation events take place on a regular basis, including discovery hikes to the Coyote Badlands, others at the 17 Palms Oasis, and hikes through Box Canyon. Several driving tours to more remote locations are accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Visitor Center (760) 767-4205
Park Headquarters: (760) 767-5311
Campground Reservations: 800-444-7275
Wildflower Hotline: (760) 767-4684
What to See & Do
Scenic Areas & Park Trails
Hiking is a major activity in the park, and there are several excellent trails to excplore. Many of the park's million visitors each year take off across the ridges, and through the more remote canyons. If you're considering backpacking in the open desert, you should notify the visitor center staff of your intentions.
The most popular section of the park is Borrego Palm Canyon, which has its own campground. A trail -- 3 miles round trip -- leads through the canyon to a native palm grove and a stream whch runs year-round. A brochure for this walk is available. and a slightly longer alternate return trail provides fine views of the Borrego Valley.
Tamarisk Grove, 13 miles from the visitor center, contains additional trails, including the short -- 1-mile -- Cactus Loop Trail which provides panoramic views of San Felipe Wash and nearby mountains. This trail starts across the road from the Tamarisk Grove Campground. Another trail leads almost a mile to Yaqui Well, a desert waterhole that frequently attracts wildlife.
The Blair Valley and Bow Willow areas of the park are located southeast of Borrego Springs, on County Road S-2, south of Highway 78. Blair Valley is a 28-mile drive from town, while Bow Willow is another 27 miles south. Three short trails lead through Blair Valley, including a hike to the remains of an old home on top of Ghost Mountain, where two writerss -- Marshal and Tanya South -- lived and raised a famuily during the 1930s and '40s. Another trail (Morteros) leads to granite boulders, where one can see Indian grinding holes. The morteros in the rock are about 10 inches deep and 3 inches across. The third trail in this area (Pictograph) leads 1 mile to pictographs painted on a boulder by Diegjueño Indians. Farther along the trail is Smuggler Canyon, and a waterfall, with fine views of the Vallecito Valley and a restored stage station.
For more information on the area, go to the Borrego Springs Page.
Three developed campground are found in the state park, in addition to a group campground. Additional primitive campgrounds are scattered around the park. Of the two developed car campgrounds, Borrego/Palm Canyon hhas an RV and trailer hookup campground that does not permit tent camping. A campground without hookups is also located in this area.
Tamarisk Grove Campground, south of Borrego Springs, has tent and RV camping, without hookups. Four other primitive campgrollund accommodate trailers andRVs, and three are suitablefor tents and pickup campers. Unlike most parks, this park has an open wilderness camping policy.
One of the benefits for tent campers -- and car campers as well -- is the park's open camping policy. It's possible to drive along a sideroad, park beside the road, and walk into the desert to camp. reservations for open camping are not required. You just seek out a place and set up camp for an unusual, private, overnight experience.
To make reservations for the developed campgrounds, phone 800-444-7275. When making reservations, you'll save time by using the following campground designations:
Borego/Palm Canyon Hookup Area
Borrego/Palm Canyon Non-Hookup Area
Tamarisk Grove Campground
Vern Whitaker Horseman's Camp (located north of town in Coyote Canyon)
For overnight accommodation in Borrego Springs and nearby Julian,
go to the Borrego Springs Page.
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