Desolate, Dramatic Anza Borrego Desert State Park, CA

I find the desert intoxicating in the spring, like experiencing a fine wine for the first time.  If you have ever done a wine tasting away from the crowds, your entire focus is on the depth of colors, the aroma of flowers, leaves, herbs and spices, the tastes you experience as you roll that first sip around your tongue.  A good wine seems to dance in your mouth.  I believe the desert in spring in many ways is synonymous to this.  There is a harmonious balance amidst the complexity of all the desert sights and smells.  It speaks to us on a cellular level, engaging all of our senses.  On a cool, clear morning, standing at a trailhead not often traversed, looking out over the vastness of an open desert or a winding canyon, the colors and textures dance before your eyes and if you take a deep breath, the sweet smell of sage, acacia, and palo verde beckon you to move deeper into the wilderness. Hover near a creosote bush and you will remember why you love the smell of rain in the desert.

Recently we returned to Anza Borrego Desert State Park to spend five days with the Jojoba Hills hiking club.  You could spend five weeks here and not experience everything this park has to offer.  Covering 600,000 acres, with 500 miles of dirt roads and 110 miles of hiking trails (many only available with high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles), this park draws you back time and again.  It even has a Sky Trail, which has been described in the Pilots Getaway magazine, and 50 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail meander in and out of the park.

We had been here a few weeks back when the desert was just beginning to awaken from its winter slumber and although the wildflowers were lovely, they were not yet at their peak.  This visit they were beyond their peak in many areas we visited, thanks to the hot desert winds and this big fella.

Soon to be a lovely moth.  Photo credit Doris Potter at www.dbase.com
Soon to be a lovely moth. Photo credit Doris Potter at http://www.dbase.com

Like an army on the move, he and tens of thousands of his best buddies have chomped through entire fields of wildflowers these past few weeks, leaving barren desert in their wake.  These colorful but rather creepy (at least to me) caterpillars are the white-lined sphinx moth, aka hummingbird moth, who lay their eggs on the leaves of young plants.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow underground, where they pupate and emerge as moths and the cycle continues.

While the desert wildflowers were vanishing the cacti decided to step up and create beautiful splashes of color across the landscape.  Here are just a few of the lovelies that we found while hiking:

Each day was filled with hiking and gatherings at the end of the day to share our adventures with the rest of the group.  Some of the hikes that we tackled during our stay were:

L-R, Cj, Art, Nancy, Frank, Terry & Margee on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
L-R, Cj, Art, Nancy, Frank, Terry & Margee on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

Nancy heading into the mud cave, flashlight at the ready.
Nancy heading into the mud cave, flashlight at the ready.

Mud Caves at Arroyo Tapiado

Margee and Terry in the slots
Margee and Terry in the slots
Big Mud Cave, now a slot canyon after part of the roof collapsed.
Big Mud Cave, now a slot canyon after part of the roof collapsed.

Big Mud Cave (now a slot canyon) at Arroyo Tapiado

The gang ready to head into Glorietta Canyon, where we found many of our flowering cacti.
The gang ready to head into Glorietta Canyon, where we found many of our flowering cacti.

Glorietta Canyon

Frank getting cozy with a barrel cactus while the teddy bear cholla close in.
Frank getting cozy with a barrel cactus while the teddy bear cholla close in.

Cactus Loop Nature Trail

The Slot at West Butte was enjoyed by the rest of the group while I headed back to Jojoba Hills to attend an art journaling workshop.  Someone (who will remain nameless) was responsible for photos but forgot the camera.  Hmmm, wonder who that could be? 😉

Anza Borrego is a hiker’s paradise and a photographer’s dream.  The topography can change at a moment’s notice, from soaring mountains, to barren desert, claustrophobic slot canyons, rippling badlands, to fields of wildflowers and brilliant blooming cacti.  For those who love the desert there can be few better.  I can think of no other place an hour away from our winter base to better spend time with our Jojoba friends.

A barren yet dramatic landscape
A barren yet dramatic landscape
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