Pictorial Highlight: Anza-Borrego Desert #1

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in eastern San Diego County is one of my favorite places in California.  Breathtaking scenery, with stunning vista after stunning vista, seemingly after every turn, until you start to think, There can’t POSSIBLY be more…!  But there is.  It is massive, the largest state park in California, and one of the more difficult to traverse.  A lot of the more famous locales you have to get to by driving out on desert washes, dry riverbeds created by flash floods, when it rains in the nearby mountains and torrents of gushing water pour forth in narrow channels circumscribed by the land–and the water in turn circumscribes new texture and form to the land–the beautiful give and take of nature.  On my second trip out there, I got my truck stuck in the soft sand of the “shoulder” of the wash; Anza has an Open Camping policy, which means you can camp anywhere in the park, so long as you park at least 3 feet off the road.  Ha!  It is truly something else, occupying 600,000 acres, about one fourth of San Diego County’s vast acreage.  It is so huge and magnificent that I just couldn’t bring myself to choose only a small number of pictures, so I’m doing a double-pictorial on Anza.  And now to the important part–THE PICTURES!!

Dropping into the desert basin, from inside a small rock cave.


Such incredibly varied terrain in one view…


All of these pictures are from 3 separate trips to the park in 2009; a lot of them aren’t the greatest quality because many were taken before I got my decent camera.  However, I feel that the subject and the emotion conveyed is far more important than the equipment anyway–same way I feel about romantic partners, ha!


Barrel cactus flower.


Sunrise at part of the Borrego Badlands.


This is easily over a hundred feet tall. The textures are so arresting…

Years and years of flash floods brought sediment from the mountains and surrounding desert into this desert wash until it built up and up…I long for the day when this will be a common sight, even in cities…



This is just below my feet, a sort of mini-wash, no more than six inches across. A sort of micro-desert.


“Water, water, water….There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount, a perfect ratio of water to rock, water to sand, insuring that wide free open, generous spacing among plants and animals, homes and towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation. There is no lack of water here unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.”

-Edward Abbey, from his magnificent Desert Solitaire

And where there is water…


There is life! Poppies bloom in the early-spring desert.


Arizona lupine, and at the bottom some desert sand verbena.


Stunning display of brittlebush.


And there’s magic in them there hills…



A side anecdote. Rebecca and I took the Desert Palm Canyon Trail, 5 miles total, hoping to catch a glimpse of these marvelous but rare, threatened creatures. We were nearing the very end, the parking lot. Then we came across two women staring into the distant rocky hills, hands shading their eyes from the sun. “Do you see something??” I asked, hope rising. “There’s a bighorn sheep out there.” With some pointing and describing, you could just make him out, some 300 yards away and blending with the surrounding terrain, only visible when he moved. Rebecca and I rock-hopped and rushed off-trail, through the desert landscape. We ended up getting within 50 feet of TWO of the borregos (Spanish for sheep). The picture quality is atrocious because I zoomed in the picture so you could make out the animal better, and I think it’s worth it. The two sheep were fighting over the sweet liquidy innards of this barrel cactus. This one had burst open the cactus with blows from his powerful horns. The second one tried to move in for a taste, and they got into a brief head-butting scuttle.

It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.


Am I driving on the road, or is the road driving on me? Am I reading the map, or is the map reading me?




Live life on the edge or don’t live it at all! Rebecca, several hundred feet above the Borrego Badlands…


Do you know where the sediment creating the Borrego Badlands comes from?  The Grand Canyon.  That’s right, the Grand Canyon, some 400 miles away.  Millions of years ago, Anza-Borrego was part of the California Gulf, an extension of the Gulf of Mexico.  It gradually receded as the Colorado River eroded its pathways, creating the Grand Canyon in the process, and dumped millenia of sediment into the Colorado Desert, of which Anza is a part.  Staggering.  Read more about the park’s fascinating geologic history (there once lived WALRUSES here!!).


It’s the shirt, man.


Wish you were here indeed…



10 thoughts on “Pictorial Highlight: Anza-Borrego Desert #1

  1. Pingback: Travel Theme: Texture | Rewild the West, and All the Rest!

  2. Michele

    Great entry Jan! I’ve lived in SD for a long time and only went there once or twice. Did you ever check out the mud caves?


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