Anza-Borrego Desert State Park ~ Land of Slot Canyons and Prehistoric Creatures

We felt like parolees being given a short release so we decided to make the most of it and head inland for a very quick trip.  This is not our preferred way to tour but I think we both feel a sense of urgency to see a few more sights before we leave the San Diego area.  Time is flying and we have only three weeks remaining before we make our trek up north to Yellowstone.

We had heard about Anza-Borrego Desert State Park from friends Nina and Paul of Wheeling It.  To be honest, our destination was to be The Slabs but the park was on our way so we decided to take a quick tour.  Given that this is the largest state park in California and the second largest in the country, there was no way to do it justice as it covers over 600,000 acres, with 500 miles of dirt roads and 100 miles of hiking trails.  It will just have to stay on our bucket list to explore in-depth at a later date but it seemed like a crime to bypass it altogether given how close we were.

Anza-Borrego was named after the Spanish explorer Juan Batista de Anza, known for his discovery of an overland trail across California, and the Spanish word borrego, meaning bighorn sheep, which inhabit the park but are rarely seen by visitors .  The park sits in a bowl surrounded by the Santa Rosa and Vallecito Mountain ranges.

As is our normal custom when we visit parks, we stopped at the visitor center, which was small but very nice.  A lovely volunteer from the state of Washington gave us some literature and the lay of the land.  We wanted to see about taking a sunset/moonlight hike with an interpretive guide, given a nearly full-moon was forecast.  As you might expect, this hike had been filled some time ago.  We settled for a visit to one of the slot canyons instead, with the promise of seeing the moon rise over the desert.  However, if you enjoy hiking as we do and have the time, the 6-mile Hellhole Canyon Trail, with some boulder-hopping and bushwhacking, looked interesting.

Hopes for seeing any wildflowers on our drive out were slim due to the lower than average rainfall this season and sadly we saw none.  Not a huge disappointment as we had been desert rats for years, living in Arizona, and had seen these beautiful floral displays pushing up through the arid desert floors before.  If you haven’t seen spring in the desert, when there is adequate rainfall and the floor is carpeted in vibrant colors among the prickly cacti, you really owe it to yourself to take a hike!

Ricardo Breceda metal sculpturesWhat we did see which was highly unusual and may not be seen anywhere else was a scattering of life-size and oversized metal art sculptures dotting the sandy desert.  These works of art were the brainchild of Ricardo Breceda, of which the book Ricardo Breceda, Accidental Artist by Diana Lindsay, has been written.   With over 500 plant and animal fossils having been uncovered in the park, Breceda set about to recreate some of these creatures that roamed this desert millions of years ago. Prehistoric mammals, wild horses and a 350′ long serpent (not seen but we had heard) have been deposited over three miles of this arid landscape.  We glimpsed a giant scorpion and grasshopper staged for battle as we drove out to the slots.

Ricardo Breceda metal scuptures

We arrived at the Palm Slot late afternoon and if you didn’t have even a rudimentary map, as we did, I’m not sure you could find it.  It was a short one mile trek to the mouth of the canyon and, as we approached, my heart rate quickened a bit.  I must admit to being claustrophobic and I was having flashbacks to the slots in Utah we had traversed some years back.  This was not nearly as intimidating, so piece of cake.  The only worry at all was that of snakes, as we had been warned that several had been spotted recently.

Here’s Terry, appearing to hold up the archway near the entrance, beckoning me to join him.  Hmm, do I really want to do this?

Come on Lu, no need to be afraid.

Ok, I can do this.  Time to overcome my fear of tight spaces.  The deeper into the slot I go the more I enjoy it.  See, I’m even smiling.

Terry decides to jump right in and join me, not be to outdone by his wife.

This really was an easy slot canyon to negotiate, even if you are a teensy bit claustrophobic.  And on our way out, we were rewarded with the rising moon. Although not the most spectacular we have seen, we were promised a moon and that’s what we got!

For those who like to boondock, there is such a wide expanse of desert, with broad sweeping vistas everywhere you look.  No need to feel cramped out here. We are still weighing the whole solar panel issue ourselves and would love to hear from some of you who have elected to install them.  Tell us what you think.

By the way, if you find yourself going through Julian to get to Anza-Borrego, we are told it is a must to stop at the Julian Pie Company.  We did stop in, eyed the great-looking pies in the display cases, but resisted.

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