Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

After such a long, harrowing drive to get here, we are excited to be back in the southern desert where the clear, blue skies and golden California mountains dominate the scenery.  The park is named for Captain Juan Bautista de Anza who led an expedition of soldiers and settlers through this land in 1775; and Borrego is the Spanish word for lamb or sheep as in the bighorn sheep which call this park home.

Marilyn in Borrego Palm Canyon
the large grove of palms is just further up-canyon

At 9am, we are ready to hike the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail, the only trail for which there is a fee.  However, since we are camped in the campground where the trail begins, we "get in free".  And we have to be out of our campsite by noon so we hustle to do the 3-mile round-trip hike.  We climb up the canyon, sometimes through the dry wash bed.  We pass many desert plants - desert lavender (with some scented, purple blooms still on them), cholla (choy'-ya) and ocotillo (o-co-tee'-yo) which are now dormant for the winter.  The area must be gorgeous when the cacti bloom.  Suddenly, a small creek emerges, with grasses and small palms alongside it, and a few waterfalls as we progress up the canyon.  Then the grove of about 75 huge fan palms (California's only native palm tree) standing about 50 feet tall appears over the rocky, bubbling creek which is really a spring that surfaces just above the palms and disappears underground again a little further downstream, perhaps 1/4 of a mile.  It surfaces again in the valley and feeds the aquafer that is the water life-line of the town of Borrego Springs.  An oasis not only in the desert, but in this canyon which climbs thousands of feet.

At the Visitor Center, we learn that a flood (specifically a wall of debris) in 2004 swept away a couple of hundred palms from Borrego Palm Canyon, devastating the trees and part of the campground at the end of the canyon.  The Center is also full of very informative and passionate volunteers and staff who share our disbelief at the lack of popularity of this amazing desert park, except in late February and March when the wildflowers bloom.  Then, extra staff are posted in the Visitor Center parking lot and there is a "wildflower hotline" that people can call, similar to our Muskoka fall leaves hotline, to learn when the peak is.

Marilyn at Maidenhair Falls (the fern on the left)
Hellhole Canyon is another hike amongst various desert flora to a palm grove and just beyond to Maidenhair Falls which is currently only seeping, but the Maidenhair Fern is beautiful and lush along the rock wall.  The view of the valley and Borrego Springs far below (900 feet from the falls) is quite a site.  During our lunch stop on the rocks above the palm grove, a medium-size bird of prey glides in and lands on a rock only about 30 feet from us.  He perches for several minutes and poses for a photo.  I think it is a falcon at first (they have some here), but looking in my bird guide later I discover it is a Northern Harrier.  Other tiny birds I think are wrens also swoop around us and hide under the palm skirts on the trees probably picking out small insects.  They are quite noisy and very tiny, about 4 inches high.
Norther Harrier in Hellhole Canyon

Second Crossing in Coyote Canyon - it's deep but we're not stuck!
A trip up Coyote Canyon proves to be disappointing.  This is a 4x4 road that crosses the creek several times, but the road becomes more and more rough with large rocks pointing up out of the sand.  We drive as far as the Third Crossing, several miles shy of our intended destination of Salvador Canyon (where there are more palm groves), have lunch and return to town.  Here, we auto tour the Sky Art metal sculptures: horses, dinosaurs, birds, farmers, and my favourite the serpent.  These were created by artist Richard Breceda at the request of Borrego Springs' great philanthropist, Dennis Avery (his father invented the self-stick "Avery Labels").  Avery lived here from 1990 until 2001; he passed away last year.  He had purchased several parcels of land on which the 131 sculptures sit throughout 28 different sites, called it Galleta Meadows Estate, and invited the public to visit, even camp, on the property.  What a unique and interesting man and place.
Marilyn with the serpent Sky Art metal sculpture
More on Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to come in future posts...

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