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

62 thoughts on “Desolate, Dramatic Anza Borrego Desert State Park, CA

  • Spring is the best time of year in the desert. It’s so colorful. Wish I could get Collins to hike, but that’s not going to happen. Looks like you’re having a great time.

    • I agree with you Karen. Spring is the best time in the desert. Even a drive out to Anza Borrego to see the wildflowers in bloom would be worth it. Hope all is well with you and Collins.

  • Definitely sounds like a wonderful time with hiking friends. I love that so many cacti were in bloom. They are gorgeous. I’ve never caught a barrel cactus in bloom. I only get to see the fruit after the fact. The little fishhook cactus is so cute with that neat circle of tiny blooms. We’ve never been to the mud caves. Guess we’ll have to return!! Love your final photo! The B&W sure does demonstrate the drama of the area:)

    • I am claustrophobic so I opted for the slot canyons down the road instead of the mud caves. I was told afterwards that the slots were more constricting than the cave was. So next time I will have to go for the mud cave as well.

  • Wow… I loved your opening sentence. “I find the desert intoxicating in the spring, like experiencing a fine wine for the first time.” what a perfect way to describe the spring bloom in the desert. “Intoxicating” that it is! Wonderful photos and some great hiking was had!

  • You create such poetic imagery with your words, LuAnn. I agree, the desert is intoxicating — and lucky you, to be there with so many of the cacti in bloom. Glorietta Canyon is one of our favorites, along with Borrego Palm Canyon, of course. I love the smell of creosote bush after a rain. 🙂

    • Thanks Laurel! I missed seeing all the wildflowers but when I began to see all the different types of cacti in bloom, I was a happy girl. Thanks for the tip on Glorietta Canyon. 🙂

  • Wonderful descriptive narrative LuAnn , you really made me feel I was there . Those smells and sights and your awareness of it all evoke a longing to explore such places like that again myself . We’ve only had a couple of trips to Arizona and Utah – so many other wonders to see .
    Happy Hiking . Your photos are quite lovely indeed .

  • Anza Borrego is one of our favorite places ever. You are so right about the hiking. Just a fantastic place to see God’s beauty.

    The desert can’t be beat in the spring. Gorgeous!

  • This is a lovely area. We went there to see the huge sculptures but are not capable of the long hikes that you guys do, so it’s sweet to be able to see this scenery through your camera lens.

  • The last time I was in the desert in the spring was Operation Desert Shield/Storm. I remember how different it looked from when I arrived in the previous October. Flowers growing right out of the rocks – a truly amazing sight.

  • I have seen several posts from Anza Borrego Desert State Park, seems to be quite a popular spot to visit. And I can see why from all the pictures I have seen. The desert flowers are beautiful! And the hikes look fun! A very interesting landscape to discover. Beautiful.

      • I would love to go back to the US, there are still many parts I haven’t got the chance to visit. We were supposed to go to Death Valley, but it was too hot for us and the access was forbidden, unfortunately; that was a huge disappointment.

      • We are still wanting to go to Death Valley also, and one spot that I wanted to see I learned requires a special vehicle to get to. 😦

  • LuAnn, for most of the year it takes a keen eye and lots of patience to spot interesting things in the desert. You great photos show that spring is the exception to the rule. This looks like a fun group. ~James

  • Now I’m normally not a fan of wine, thinking it all tastes like vinegar but perhaps I really should give it a proper go. Interestingly the first business I saw when I first touched down in America was a ‘Naked Winery’ just outside Portland. The mind boggles over that one.

    It just shows that the desert is a vibrant and colourful place and not at all barren, you are a wonderful guide and I hope the camera is back with you on your next jaunt.

  • When I went there, i only planned to stay a day and so had only one basic place in mind. There really is so much more to Anza Borrego. More reason for me to come back. 🙂 I love BS. 😀

  • Your opening paragraph sets the tone for this gorgeous post LuAnn! What a captivating landscape…and how enticing you make it sound! Hope I can experience the feeling someday.

  • I have never seen desert in spring. These are fabulous photos, LuAnn! I can’t believe, I missed you recent posts… 😕

  • Well, LuAnn, I just discovered your blog and am very impressed. I had no idea you were blogging! So happy that you and Terry are our neighbors and I look forward to reading your adventures while you are on the road or trail. We pretty much stick close to home anymore but maybe your posts will motivate us.

    • I haven’t blogged since we have been back, taking a hiatus for now. We are very happy to be surrounded by such wonderful, talented neighbors at Jojoba. It has been wonderful getting to know you and Norm.

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