A FALL TRIP TO THE DESERT: Anza Borrego State Park, California

A FALL TRIP TO THE DESERT: Anza Borrego State Park, California

A FALL TRIP TO THE DESERT: Anza Borrego State Park, California
Anza Borrego State Park, Palm Canyon Trail

In late October, Art and I spent a weekend at Anza Borrego Desert State Park, about a three hour drive southeast of Los Angeles, the largest state park in California and one of our favorites. When I first came to California more than forty years ago, I viewed the desert as a dry barren place. Since then I’ve learned to appreciate the wide variety of wildlife that makes its home there and the amazing adaptations of the many desert plants.

Cholla cactus. When it rains, the cactus absorbs water and stores it for later use.

Most of my many trips to Anza Borrego have been in the spring–when birds are singing, winter rains fill the seasonal streams, and flowers burst into bloom everywhere. This was my first visit in the fall. In contrast, the landscape was almost uniformly brown, the steam beds were dry, and there were many fewer birds– and not many people either.

The walkway between the Visitor Center and the campground is crossed by late afternoon shadows.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon and after checking in at our hotel, the Borrego Springs Resort, we headed for the Visitor Center where we looked at the exhibits and chatted with the helpful volunteers at the desk. We then took a short walk down the paved trail leading to the campground, looking for signs of life.

A bee getting nectar from a chuparosa flower.

We startled a rabbit that scurried away through the cactus and spotted a hummingbird getting its last sips of nectar from the red chuparosa flowers before the sun went down. But otherwise, it was fairly quiet.

Beginning of the solar system walk. “If the diameter of the Sun were 36 inches, the diameter of this steel sign stand, how large would Earth be? How far away? Follow the trail and find out!

Along the walkway we passed markers giving us a vicarious tour of the solar system. Each planet is a proportional size and distance away, giving a sense of the immensity of our universe. (Earth was just a tiny dot, not even a half inch across.)

The sun rises to the east, visible between the palms planted around our hotel.

The next morning we got up early to begin our walk to Palm Canyon before it got too hot. (Even in fall, desert temperatures can be in the 90s.) After parking our car at the trail head a park volunteer gave us a map and nature guide and made sure that we had packed plenty of water for the three-mile round trip hike. Even though the morning air was still cool, it quickly became much warmer.

Although we were unlikely to see them, signs warn hikers of mountain lions and rattlesnakes.

We followed the trail up the canyon, occasionally scrambling over boulders or climbing steps to get to the next level. As we approached the oasis we began to see spots of green, telling us that there was water not far below the surface.

The California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) is the only palm tree native to California.

At the oasis native California fan palms flourish, providing shelter and food for wildlife. Pools provide water for bighorn sheep, coyotes, rabbits, squirrels and other animals. If you are lucky
you might spot the bighorn sheep (called borregos in Spanish) that live
in the canyons and ledges. We saw footprints and scat, but no sheep.
After resting in the shade for a while and sipping some of our water, we headed back down to our car.

Tall rocky mountains border Anza Borrego to the north. Rain at upper elevations funnels down through the canyons.Flash floods carry boulders down from the mountain. Nooks and crannies underneath make habitat for desert wildlife.

The quiet atmosphere made the starkness of the geology even more striking and though we had to look a little harder for signs of desert wildlife, we knew it was still there.

The Verdin is a common desert bird.

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