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The Desert - Anza Borrego

An Enchanted Oasis - Anza Borrego and the Borrego Palm Trail


Another day and another adventure! A visit to the desert area of Anza Borrego State Park, about 2 hours north of San Diego was on the agenda for today. We had visited beaches, climbed mountains, and walked the city, so a day in the desert sounded perfect.

We checked the weather – dry; we checked the temperature – a comfortable 68 degrees, but knew it would be chilly in the shade and the temperature would drop around 3.30pm, so padded vests, warm jackets and sweaters were packed into the car. We took a picnic of Banh Mi and hot tea and lots of water. With cameras and phones charged, shoes laced and sunscreen slathered on our faces we were ready to head out.

The journey was a pleasant drive through changing scenery. The sky was crystal clear, a beautiful deep royal blue, and the sun bright and intense. Once away from the city, we climbed through rocky hillsides and down into a valley and through the town of Ramona. This was a large town, with one long main thoroughfare straight through the middle, lined with restaurants, bars, and small businesses. Some were intriguing and I wondered how much business they would drum up in the surrounding 38 square miles - a sewing machine and vacuum repair, a massage parlor and a European toilet distributor?

Leaving the town, we climbed more craggy hills and entered horse and ranch country.  There were numerous ranches with the customary white fences to contain the equine population. We also spotted a camel farm and another that raised ostriches. There were buffalo along the lower edges of the hills, peacefully grazing on the greenest of grass. The terrain eased out to grassy hillocks and then we were in the Indian Reservation of Mesa Grande, a lush green valley where cows were grazing and contentedly chewing the cud.

We started to climb higher and higher, and eventually came to the edge of the mountain where we looked down upon the wide expanse of the valley below. It was breathtaking, to be so high up among the rocks and shrubbery of the mountain looking down on the vast flat terrain below, like a sea extending towards the horizon, concealing treasures yet to be discovered. The landscape brought to mind the images of Tatooine, the planet in Star Wars, with flat sandy expanses and dry, rocky mountains in the distance. We hoped the inhabitants would be more welcoming! We made our descent winding down the side of the mountain, looking out over the valley which seemed come up to greet us, as we rounded each bend.

We found the visitor center, parked and went inside to ask a few questions. The staff were very welcoming, knowledgeable and accommodating and we asked their advice on where we should walk, considering our limited time. Borrego Palms trail was suggested and we duly took note of the directions and headed back to the car. On the way we visited a planted desert, identifying the cacti, succulents and shrubs that we would see on our hike and had the pleasure of spotting a very large desert hare, whose ears stood to attention, listening to our every move.

A two-minute drive through the campground brought us to the parking lot at the trailhead. The campground looked neat and tidy, with a few RVs parked up alongside covered picnic tables and we noticed ample washing and showering facilities. Camping is popular here, as it is one of the darkest spots in California where the celestial night-sky is clear and spectacular. Another time!

We parked and made sure we still had plenty of water and with our lunch safely stowed in our backpacks, we headed to the trail. Within a few minutes we heard a loud cracking sound echo through the canyon, and looked around to see what had made this loud noise. We saw movement in the brush, and stopped to see what was lurking there. After a few minutes, were treated to a display of seven male Longhorn Sheep rutting and butting each other. We watched intently while they stared each other down, kicked their underbellies to encourage a response and saw them rear and charge towards each other, their horns colliding violently resulting in the gunshot-like sound, rebounding off the canyon walls, and echoing along the valley. They were only a few feet away from us and we managed to snap some great shots and capture some impressive video of this wonderful ritual of male domination.

The show continued, but we had to press on if we were to reach the oasis and arrive back before darkness set in. The start of the trail was sandy and flat and we were on the look out for Tarantulas, Rattlesnakes and Mountain Lions. We had to watch our footing when we entered the steeper area of the canyon, through the babbling spring water closer to the oasis. We saw small finches flitting through the trees and could hear their sweet birdsong in the quiet of the canyon. We saw prairie dogs and their ‘towns’ with little holes dug into the hillside. There were more sheep taking advantage of the remaining sunshine, sunning themselves high up on the craggy hillside, and we suspected they were the females, staying away from the males until they had sorted out the men from the boys! It took a while to get to the oasis, as we stopped for numerous photo opportunities and took in the beauty of the rock formations, the diversity of the plants and tried to recall the names of shrubs and trees.

As we drew closer to our destination, we crossed the spring and walked through a tunnel of tall bushes, that looked similar to bamboo, but much thinner. As we rounded the bend we came upon the palm oasis. It was a magical moment. It felt like we were in a children’s storybook and had come upon an enchanted place where magic could happen or monsters could lurk. The palms stood majestically around us, with their thick fronds enveloping their trunks all the way down to the floor where they spread out like a Christmas tree skirt. We lingered a while, taking in the beauty and awe of the place and munched on our sandwiches, making sure we had the energy to walk back. In the tranquility of the place we suddenly heard a heavy thud and rustling in the bushes. We looked at each other and at that moment every horror movie, or nightmare we had ever had flashed through our minds, only to be calmed by the appearance of two guys who had gone further up the trail to reach waterfalls. We sighed with relief and they informed us that the waterfalls were spectacular but that the trek was quite challenging – one had fallen, but was not injured. We didn’t have time to go further and after some customary photos, we headed back along the trail.

Returning was quicker, as we had stopped to admire mother nature on our way there, but we were still on the lookout for spiders and snakes. After thirty minutes of brisk walking, we were back at the parking lot, the male Longhorns no longer in sight; probably their problems resolved and had gone impress the females?

We returned to the car and headed home, up the mountain along the winding road, looking back on the spectacular vista as the shrubs and RVs became smaller and smaller, eventually disappearing in the sandy haze below. We vowed to return at a later date, to explore more of the desert and take advantage of the numerous activities to be experienced, such as overland driving, biking, more hiking and of course to see the starlit sky in all its glory. Until then, we have beautiful memories and stunning pictures. No snakes or spiders though…maybe next time.

For more information on the park visit:

Click on Photo Below to be taken to a Larger Gallery.

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