Borrego Springs & Anza-Borrego Desert State Park - San Diego County, California
Updated: Aug 10
Fall and Winter is the best time to visit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. As you can imagine, it can get unbearably hot in the desert in summer. It was already hot when we visited this March. We decided to visit Borrego Springs this year after we went hiking to Volcan Mountain, from the summit of which we got a clear view way down into the desert. You might think that the desert does not have much to offer, but the area around Borrego Springs is surrounded by mountains and the landscape is spectacular, especially when the wildflowers are in bloom. The park has natural springs and is an oasis offering habitat for many animal species such as Desert Bighorn Sheep and mountain lions, to name a few, and of course includes about 600 species of native plants. There are hiking trails here to explore, but Hermann and I just took a scenic loop drive on this trip to see the desert wildflowers. We will explore the desert trails next time.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park, named after Juan Bautista de Anza, a Spanish explorer in the 1800's. Borrego, a Spanish word for sheep, is in honor of the local bighorn sheep. The park has more than 600,000 acres featuring canyons, washes, hills and mountain peaks. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helped develop this park in the 1930's.
If you are planning to hike the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), part of the trail passes through this park. There are also four golf courses, a tennis center and horseback riding available in and around town. Are you into stargazing? The park was designated a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2018.
The visitor center is located at the end of Palm Canyon Drive, 2.5 miles from Christmas Circle, a giant roundabout in the heart of town. The visitor center building was partially built underground with native plants planted on its rooftop. It is an ideal type of construction in a desert where it gets extremely hot in summer.
You cannot possibly go to the state park without visiting the town. It is the gateway to the park. Borrego Springs is located between the Salton Sea and the high mountains of San Diego County. The town is surrounded by the state park. You will not find any traffic lights here; in fact, we never saw one traffic light on the entire drive from our house and back. Borrego is the winter destination for “snowbirds,” people who temporarily migrate to get away from winter cold. A couple we met there have been spending half of the year in this town since the early 1980s. The desert has its own charm, you just have to discover it. We did.
Christmas Circle Community Park
The hub of Borrego Springs is the Christmas Circle Community Park, located at the center of town. It was said that the park was named to commemorate the birth of Salvador Ignacio Linares on Christmas Eve in 1775 in nearby Coyote Canyon. Many outdoor community events take place here. Citrus groves are found here, as well as date palms and desert plants. You can visit one of the citrus stands, if you have time, along Borrego Valley Road.
Mother nature was very generous with rain this year. Plenty of rain also means wildflowers are abundant. March to April is the best time to see the wildflowers in and around Borrego Springs. They usually start blooming in late February or early March. We chose the right time since they were at their peak when we went in mid-March. It was cool, sunny and breezy, a beautiful day for photo ops. As you will see from the pictures below.
Not the entire valley was covered with wildflowers. But there are huge pockets of them found along the west side of Di Giorgio Road just north of town, along Henderson Canyon Road (this road leads to the Salton Sea) and near Coyote Canyon. The surrounding mountains - Santa Rosa Mountains to the west and north, San Ysidro and Vallecito Mountains to the south - lend an amazing backdrop for these beautiful wildflowers. No harm was done to these wildflowers while we were taking photos. Just saying! There are plenty enough bare areas to walk on without stepping on them. A hat and sunscreen is definitely needed in the desert, the sun is so intense that you will feel hot even if the temperature is cool, as we learned.
There are many species of wildflowers in the Borrego Desert, but the majority blooming when we were there are Sand Verbena (Abronia villosa), Desert Sunflower and Desert Marigold.
SKY ART METAL SCULPTURE
So, after immersing yourself in wildflowers, driving around the town of Borrego Springs, you will find over 130 large metal sculptures of animals, found mostly at the Galleta Meadows Estate, along Borrego Springs Road. The metal creatures were created by southern California artist Ricardo Breceda, known for his large metal sculptures of animals. Some of the sculptures were inspired by animals that roamed this same desert millions of years ago. Others depict historical characters and local history. It was fun driving around these animals. You don't even have to get out of your car if you don't want to.
Driving back home we took the meandering but scenic Montezuma Valley Road. We stopped at the lookout and enjoyed a panoramic view of the valley below.