While Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is oriented to exploration by vehicle, a number of fine hikes await the desert trekker. A note to the uninitiated: Hiking in this section of the Colorado Desert is guaranteed to make a desert rat out of anyone.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park includes virtually every feature visitors associate with a desert: washes, badlands, mesas, palm oases and much more. This diverse desert park boasts more than 20 palm groves and year-around creeks, great stands of cholla and elephant trees, slot canyons and badland formations.
Anza-Borrego is diverse, and it is huge; more than three times the size of Zion National Park. The 600,000-acre park stretches almost the whole length of San Diego County’s eastern border between Riverside County and Mexico. Its elevation ranges from 100 feet below sea level near the Salton Sea to 6,000 feet above sea level atop San Ysidro Mountain.
California’s largest state park preserves a 60-mile long, 30-mile wide stretch of Colorado Desert from the Santa Rosa Mountains to the Mexican border. Lower in elevation than the Mojave Desert, the Colorado Desert is also hotter and drier. (The Colorado Desert in the extreme southeastern portion of California is only a small part of the larger Sonoran Desert, which covers about 120,000 acres of the American Southwest.)
The park, set aside in 1933, is named for the Mexican explorer (Juan Bautista de Anza) and the Spanish word for bighorn sheep borrego. De Anza traveled through the area in 1774, and the bighorn sheep still roam this land.
Travelers are welcomed to Anza-Borrego by what is probably the best visitor center in the state park system. Numerous self-guided nature trails and automobile tours allow visitors to set their own pace. An active natural history association and foundation sponsors many regularly scheduled ranger- and naturalist-led activities.
Among the sights are Calcite Canyon, where nature’s cutting tools, wind and water, have shaped the ageless sandstone into steep, bizarre formations. The elephant tree grove is another strange sight. Its surreal color scheme, parchment-like bark and stout elephant-like trunk is something to behold.
Directions: Most visitors drive to the park via Highways S22 and 78. These highways travel the eastern side of San Diego and offer the motorist grand Colorado Desert views. The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center is located at 200 Palm Canyon Drive in Borrego Springs.