Touring California’s Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Anza Borrego Badlands

Anza Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in California, is also the largest desert state park in the country, almost 600,000 acres in size. The park is surrounded by mountains and is home to a surprising variety of desert plants and wildlife. Borrego means bighorn sheep in Spanish. They are still in the area, but are elusive and a sighting is rare requiring luck and patience.

Getting to the park from San Diego is half the fun. It’s approximately a two and a half hour drive. The trip takes you through several microclimates starting with the ocean and ending in the desert south of the Great Salton Sea. As you cross the first set of mountains the ecosystem changes from ranchland to austere desert. Plants and animals thrive in the seemingly barren desert.

Flowering Ocotillo

If you want to get to the more remote areas of the park, book a tour with California Overland Desert Excursions, the official concessionaire for the park. They can access areas off-limits to private vehicles. The tour meets at Overland’s office. There the group boards the truck; an M-35-A2 circa 1972 formerly used as military transport. The lumbering vehicle holds 18 people (including the driver). The company offers several different tours, differing in length and degree of difficulty. The Font’s Point Tour is a great choice. The company’s website describes the tour area as: “an ever-changing terrain of canyon, dry washes, palm groves and surreal sedimentary formations. Once off road you’ll be rambling through rugged desert terrain until the end.”

The first stop on the tour is Clark Dry Lake. The truck leaves the main park road for one marked “authorized vehicles only”. This is a perk for being the park’s official concessionaire. The area is rugged and sits atop the San Jacinto Fault the most active fault-line in Southern California. Typically two to 30 tremors a day are felt here; most small and imperceptible. The next stop is an eerily beautiful slot canyon for a two-mile hike. At the entrance to the canyon it’s time to eat the included picnic lunch. During the hike, your guide talks about the vibrant wildlife living in the canyon.

Slot Canyon

After the hike, the tour members reboard the truck and head for Palo Verde Wash, which circles the perimeter of the Borrego Badlands. Palo Verde trees grow on both sides of the wash. They can survive in low-water conditions. They photosynthesize through their green trunks and branches In extremely dry conditions, they shed their leaves to ease the energy load on the tree and continue make their food. The ride continues up Short Wash. The slightly up-hill ride takes you through the Badlands. It is a lesson in geological history, taking you through millions of years of Colorado River sediment in the chronological order of the deposits. The earliest deposits date back four million years, the most recent 250,000. The Borrego Badlands provide the most significant continuous fossil record in the Western Hemisphere. Paleontologists have found evidence of camels, pigmy horses, mammoths and more.

Last stop, Font’s Point at the top of Font’s Wash. The 360° views of the Borrego Badlands and beyond are spectacular. To the north you can see the Great Salton Sea, to the south Mexico. The view alone is worth the trip. From here, the tour returns to Borrego Springs. Time to head back to San Diego tired but glad that you came to explore this unique, otherworldly place.

If you’ve visited Anza Borego State Park, we’d love to hear your experience.

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One Response to “Touring California’s Anza Borrego Desert State Park”

  1. LeslieTravel
    December 6, 2019 at 8:19 pm #

    What a stunning landscape! I had no idea these arid mountain views were available in California. I’ll have to check it out.

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