The first rule about the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is that you always say all of its name. You can write it as Anza-Borrego Desert SP. Maybe I will do so. But I really like it so much that I feel like speaking out its full name whenever I am telling someone about it.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is one of my favorite places in the entire world. I discovered it in January, five months ago, and I’ve been back four times since then. You can see me as an Anza-Borrego Desert State Parkevangelist. I like to share what I love, and I share with insistence what I love with passion.
I think I first found out about it on Instagram. As you know, I am a fan of everything Western, primarily landscapes, and a strange place started popping up on my feed. The barren, crevassed hills and lush palm groves growing in its canyons called me with growing insistence. Feeling a bit like Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss’ character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind), I started talking to my friends about the attraction I was beginning to feel. “Do you know about Anza-Borrego Desert State Park? Have you been there? Do you want to go someday?”
It didn’t resonate with anyone. I would not give up. Emboldened by the typical New Year’s resolution to do more of what makes me happy, I made up my mind to go on a solo trip and discover Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. On January the 5th, 2021, at 0600 hours, I left our home in Redondo Beach and headed out to meet the rising Sun.
The weather was extremely unpromising until I reached Temecula, but the clouds and the fog cleared when I got on the 79-E. Let me start by saying this: the road to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is good till the last mile. As soon as you leave the freeway behind and enter Temecula’s wine county, you start wondering if you just teleported back into the California of Steinbeck and Kerouac. The vineyards lead you to the rolling hills surrounding Holcomb Village, and then the roads open into the dry prairies around Warner Springs. You get to cross the Pacific Crest Trail three times, the first two shortly after the airfield lined with dozens of white gliders, and then again after you make a left onto San Felipe Road and climb onto Montezuma Valley.
The S-22 climbs, and your excitation climbs just as much. Not just the first time. Every time you are about to enter the Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
The engine of my faithful Mustang hummed a little louder as it pushed through the last few hundred yards. It paused, rode flat for what seemed a very short laps of time, and then pointed its nose downwards, gliding down the roads in the final descent to a newfound land of wonders.
This is how Anza-Borrego Desert State Park first reveals itself to you.
And this is what you get, a few switchbacks further down the road.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which happens to be the nation’s largest state park, is not a jewel. It is a treasure chest filled with countless gems and exquisite golds. The Palm groves in the canyons are home to the only palm tree that is endemic to California (most of our palm trees where brought to California through Mexico by the Spanish settlers).
I love those palm groves, but I also love each and every plant that proves its relevance in the desert, day after day. Also the trees that owe their presence to man are special there. Go wander north-east of Borrego Springs, and your hike will smell like grapefruit flowers. The breeze blows their scent to you from the orchards surrounding the town.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is also magical where there are no plants. In the badlands where virtually nothing grows, in the narrow canyons where it’s even hard to spy a spider or a bug.
When dusk falls upon the desert in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, it’s as if you emptied a chest of all of its treasure, only to find a fake bottom, that you remove to discover more treasure.
How comes? Because Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is also a Dark Sky Retreat, and on a moonless night I saw more starts than I’have ever seen anywhere else in the world.
And if the Moon is there and scares away the stars, well, she will come to say bye on the morning that you leave, and make sure you come back soon.
I have not been in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park since early March. It’s a little too long, because the desert is my happy place, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the happy place of my happy places.
Have you ever been to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park? Do you want to go now? I do.