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Escape to Anza Borrego

Wildflowers and peace await in the desert

Posted: March 26, 2009 5:21 p.m.
Updated: March 27, 2009 6:00 a.m.
A hiker explores The Slot, a winding sandstone slot-canyon a short drive from Highway 78. A hiker explores The Slot, a winding sandstone slot-canyon a short drive from Highway 78.
A hiker explores The Slot, a winding sandstone slot-canyon a short drive from Highway 78.
Even the many prickly cacti of the Anza Borrego have their softer side, with pink flowers capping their thorny leaves. Even the many prickly cacti of the Anza Borrego have their softer side, with pink flowers capping their thorny leaves.
Even the many prickly cacti of the Anza Borrego have their softer side, with pink flowers capping their thorny leaves.
Vibrant yellow California primrose flowers are still in bloom throughout the park. Vibrant yellow California primrose flowers are still in bloom throughout the park.
Vibrant yellow California primrose flowers are still in bloom throughout the park.
Its leaves capped with orange flowers and standing about eight feet tall, an Octillo cactus reaches heavenward near the Carrizo Badlands. Its leaves capped with orange flowers and standing about eight feet tall, an Octillo cactus reaches heavenward near the Carrizo Badlands.
Its leaves capped with orange flowers and standing about eight feet tall, an Octillo cactus reaches heavenward near the Carrizo Badlands.
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It's so quiet.

It almost doesn't seem right. I've grown so accustomed to the 24-hour hum of some kind of activity in Santa Clarita that the sound of silence is foreign to my ears.

And here I am, in the middle of the desert, and all I hear is the wind rushing past my ears and through the scrub brush. I listen closely and hear birds off in the distance. Bugs buzz around the yellow California primroses at my feet.

We drove through the pre-dawn hours, through the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, through the sick yellow glow of sodium vapor street lights, to be here.

Warm morning sunlight crowns my head, and under this grand azure sky I am at peace, free from the sound of machinery and sprawl.

Diamonds in the rough
Anza Borrego Desert State Park lies across a swath of 600,000-plus rugged acres between San Diego and the Salton Sea, with some 500 miles of dirt roads and miles and miles of hiking trails. The park ranges in elevation from 150 feet to 6,500 feet.

Driving from the west, highways S22 or 78 are the best way to approach, taking you up winding mountain roads before dropping you into the largest state park in California and offering sweeping vistas of land untouched by development and suburbs.
The best time to go?

Now.

Go now and drink in the sublime yellows, purples and pinks of wildflowers and cacti still in bloom, taking advantage of still-mild weather.

The park draws its name from Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish word borrego, or bighorn sheep, which are sometimes spotted in the park.

Other wildlife includes roadrunners, golden eagles, kit foxes, mule deer, iguanas, chuckwallas and red diamond rattlesnakes.
You could spend years coming to Anza Borrego in an attempt to exhaust its possibilities, but a weekend affords a good taste of what it offers.

The small town of Borrego Springs is a good staging area. Set on the western edge of the desert, this town of about 2,500 people is a place to gas up, pick up supplies from a tiny grocery store and dine on a tasty, affordable lunch at Carmelita's Mexican Grill on Palm Canyon Drive.

With the exception of a handful of campgrounds, there's no permit required for camping in Anza Borrego. This allows you the freedom to pitch a tent practically anywhere you want.

And so it was, we camped on the side of a dirt road, after a full Saturday of photographing wildflowers in the morning, exploring the this-is-where-people-go-to-disappear outcropping that is Salton City - a village that hangs heavy with the scent of saline waters and dead fish - drinking in the view of the Borrego Badlands from Font's Point, hiking through sun-drenched slot canyons and a palm oasis, and watching the sun set on the jagged ridges of the Carrizo Badlands.

Things to remember
A word to the wise - bring more than enough water with you and stay hydrated. Not to mention sunscreen. The weather may still be mild, but the sun is just as strong as in summer.

Pack layers of clothing. The mornings and nights can be cool and windy - even cold - while the days can be quite warm, even now.
If you're photographically inclined, bring a camera, pack enough memory cards - or film, if you're analog-minded - and make the most of the golden light of the early-morning and late-afternoon hours.

A good deal of the park is explorable by car, particularly if you're open to hiking. However, if you plan on exploring the many back roads and reaping the visual rewards they offer, use a vehicle with high clearance and, preferably, four-wheel drive.

If camping is not your thing, the best place to stay is one of the several motels in Borrego Springs.

Must-see spots include The Slot, a sandstone slot canyon off Buttes Pass Road, a short, dirt-road drive from Highway 78; sunset views of the Carrizo Badlands from a vista point off Highway 78; and Borrego Palm Canyon and its palm oasis, in the northwest corner of the park.

Go now.

Go to escape the hustle-bustle of daily life.

Go to drink in the beauty of nature.

Go now and become intoxicated by the pleasures of solitude.

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