Exploring Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Palm Canyon Trail at Anza-Borrego State Desert Park

Way down in Southern California, not far from San Diego and the Mexican border, is a place called Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (The name comes from Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish word for bighorn sheep, borrego.) At over 600,000 acres, it is California’s largest state park. At the end of December, Matt and I, and our friend Brian rented a cabin (a teeny, tiny cabin) as a base to explore a bit of the park.

We drove up to our reserved cabin at Tamarisk Grove Campground to find a cozy (by cozy, I mean very, very small) little structure with a pergola on the side, and a fire pit. Admittedly, I expected the cabin to be a bit larger as I was under the impression it could accommodate eight people. On closer inspection, it does – two on the main floor, two in the loft, and four outside in a tent under the pergola.

A cabin at Tamarisk Grove Campground (It looks bigger than it is!).

The cabin was cute. I’m not sure why it costs almost $70/night, but who cares! We had two full days of exploring ahead of us. And even though we spent more time outside of the cabin than inside (The three of us didn’t fit all that well inside at the same time, unless we were sleeping.), we were happy we chose that over camping, because it rained… and snowed!

Day 1 – After breakfast we drove to the park visitor center, but on the way, we couldn’t resist stopping by the amazing sculptures by Ricardo Breceda in the little town of Borrego Springs, right in the middle of the park.

Sculpture by Ricardo Breceda
Sculpture by Ricardo Breceda
Sculptures by Ricardo Breceda
Sculpture by Ricardo Breceda
Sculptures by Ricardo Breceda
Sculpture by Ricardo Breceda
Sculptures by Ricardo Breceda
Sculpture by Ricardo Breceda
Sculpture by Ricardo Breceda

I think we had a little too much fun with the sculptures.

After stopping by the visitor center, we drove up to Font’s Point and had a picnic while enjoying the gorgeous view of the Borrego Badlands.

Font’s Point overlooking the Borrego Badlands
Font’s Point overlooking the Borrego Badlands

From there we went to The Slot, a short hike through a slot canyon. It’s a popular spot, perhaps the busiest place we encountered, aside from the visitor center. After we made it through the canyon, instead of navigating our way back through the crowds, we hiked a little further and up a steep hill to get back to the parking lot.

Hiking through The Slot
After The Slot
The road back to the parking lot.
Our shadows above The Slot as we take the road back to the parking lot.

After The Slot, we had enough time for one more hike before dark. We stopped at the Elephant Tree Discovery Trail as the sky turned a soft pink. And we saw one elephant tree. Because there is only one elephant tree here – they are very rare. I didn’t even take a picture of it. Oops.

Elephant Tree Discovery Trail
Elephant Tree Discovery Trail

Though it was dark, it was barely evening. Instead of heading back to the cabin, we drove to the town of Julian to visit a brewery. It was dark, the road winding, but when we arrived, the town seemed lively and welcoming. There were Christmas decorations and twinkle lights everywhere. I was in love. I don’t know anything about the town of Julian, or if it’s as quaint and charming as I imagined, but we really enjoyed our pints and the ambiance before heading back to camp.

Day 2 – The next morning, we took our coffee (and tea) across the street to the Cactus Loop Trail, a meandering one mile hike through a variety of cacti. After the hike, we made breakfast and then headed out in the pouring rain to explore.

Cactus Loop Trail
Cactus Loop Trail
Teddy Bear Cholla on the Cactus Loop Trail
Fishhook Cactus – Cactus Loop Trail
Cactus Loop Trail
Barrel Cactus – Cactus Loop Trail
Barrel Cactus – Cactus Loop Trail
Cactus Loop Trail
Ocotillo (Not a cactus at all. It’s a shrub!)

We drove to the Palm Canyon Trail, a three mile loop hike with clusters of California Fan Palms. It was still raining, but not as heavy as during our drive there. The oasis of palms is so cool! I’m happy we had the place to ourselves to linger slowly and listen to the occasional bird calls. On our hike out we saw a couple of bighorn sheep on the ridge above. Here is where I curse myself for refusing to buy a lens with a focal length longer then 70mm.

Palm Canyon Trail – The California Fan Palm is the only palm tree native to California.
Palm Canyon Trail
Palm Canyon Trail – See the bighorn sheep up there? No? It’s because I didn’t have an appropriate lens.

For lunch, we ate sandwiches – and had a champagne toast (It was New Year’s Eve!) while overlooking the Carrizo Badlands. The rain had let up a little bit, so we decided to drive through Canyon Sin Nombre, a fun 4×4 road, or hiking trail, with a slot canyon.

Overlooking Canyon Sin Nombre
Canyon Sin Nombre
Canyon Sin Nombre
Canyon Sin Nombre

When we reached the end of the road, we wanted to warm up at the hot springs at Agua Caliente Regional Park. We soaked in the mineral water for a bit – it was lovely. On our way out, we creepily drove by the wilderness cabins at that park. We all wondered if we should have reserved one of these modern beauties instead. These cabins have interior lighting and two queen bed frames. They have a sink! And a toilet! They have a seating area that seats six! Now that is worth the price we paid for that other place. :)

We made our way back to our rustic cabin to make dinner (outside, of course). It snowed on our drive back and turned to rain as we lowered in elevation. We made dinner and had another champagne toast at 9pm (It was midnight on the east coast.).

Early the next morning, as I headed over to the bathrooms, I laughed to myself as I saw bits of debris from the previous nights New Year’s Eve celebrations scattered around. Thankfully, we slept through all of it and I had the crescent moon in the pastel pre-sunrise sky all to myself.


Want to read more? Check out these posts: Baja Road Trip, Wildflowers of Death Valley, and Bodie, Buckeye, and Travertine

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