"I'd had no particular interest in the Southwest at all as a young girl, and I was completely surprised that the desert stole my heart to the extent it did." ~Terri Windling, artist

Red wave over Anza Borrego State Park
Anza Borrego Desert State Park is yet another massive preserve of the wild Sonoran Desert of the most southern part of California. This park preserves the unique flora and fauna of the the desert which extends as far south as Cabo San Lucas and well into Arizona. It is a desert that is similar to the Mojave Desert but with some important subtle differences. Ocotillos are the hallmark of this land; tall and slender, these cactus bloom with crimson flowers in the spring. It is a color display that can cover entire hillsides and many people travel to Anza Borrego just to see the desert bloom. Best of all? Its located only about 2.5 hours from the Los Angeles/OC areas and about an hour from San Diego!
Proud Ocotillo
California's Largest State Park

Anza Borrego is a national park sized state park. In fact, its larger than 42 of our 58 national parks! This is to say, there is much to explore within its regions. There is also a great deal of variation in elevation and environment. The western portion of the park flanks the mountains east of San Diego and create the rainshadow. The northern end of the park lies close to the 8,716ft Toro Peak which is high enough to receive snow. East of here lies the Salton Sink which contains the Salton Sea. This "accidental" sea is over twice the size of Lake Tahoe and is essentially a giant basin. The central and southern portions of the park contain a great deal of Native American history along with hundreds of off road and hiking trails.
A very visual display of the rainshadow effect
Activities of Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Anza Borrego is a hiker's paradise. The trails are generally unique and designed to give the hiker good views of the Colorado Desert. In the winter, these trails can be downright pleasant and its cool enough to comfortably cover some good distance. The Pictograph Trail, in the south-central part of the park, takes the hiker to some ancient Native American pictographs which have somehow survived hundreds of years of heat, cold, and flash floods. The Marshal Homestead can also be reached from this area. The ruins are somewhat derelict but the story behind them is very humorous! Lastly, my favorite hike of Anza Borrego State Park is The Slot which is a true slot canyon that is 100ft deep at some points.
Ancient Native American Pictographs
This park is also off roader's paradise. 4x4'ing is probably the most popular activity and the website reports that over 500 miles of off road trails permeate the park. Some trails are easily bypassed by sedans while others require technical driving and know-how.
Wildflowers in bloom at Anza Borrego State Park
I don't know if this is one of those "locals-only" secrets, but the wildflowers of the desert are a rare sight and timing is everything. Wildflower viewing is spectacular in the park but the season can be very short: two weeks some years. Therefore, if you are serious about seeing the wildflowers of the park, contact the ranger station and give them your address. They will send you a postcard two weeks before the wildflowers bloom and you won't even have to risk being let down!

Next up, I'll tell you how to hike The Slot!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!