I love California, and this post is part of a California Extravaganza where we’re featuring writers from around California and the United States and even across the world who are all sharing their unique perspectives of California. Today, we welcome Bill Frank of Santa Fe Travelers who shares a wonderful memory of a family trip to Anza Borrego, the largest desert park in the United States near San Diego, California.
If you’re visiting San Diego and looking for a great day-trip, look no further. An excursion to (and through) Anza Borrego Desert State Park, about 2½ hours east of San Diego, will please the entire family. From grandparents to grandkids, there’s something for everyone. While you can tour the park on your own, if you want to get off the beaten path to hard-to-access places, book a tour with California Overland Adventures. They tour the park in a vintage M-35-A2 military transport truck. The lumbering six-wheel vehicle can hold 18 people (including the driver) and gets around well on the rough terrain here. They offer several tours of the park. Our family chose the four-hour Font’s Point Tour. The website describes the tour area as “an ever-changing terrain of canyon, dry washes, palm groves and surreal sedimentary formations. And once off road you’ll be rambling through rugged desert terrain until the end.” It was a great choice.
Anza Borrego, the largest state park in California (and the largest desert state park in the country) encompasses almost 600,000 acres and is home to a multitude of desert plants and animals. It’s is name, Borrego, is the Spanish word for bighorn sheep. They used to be plentiful here. While there are still some left, they’re elusive and sightings are rare.
Getting to the park is half the fun. The trip takes you through several microclimates starting with the Pacific Ocean and ending in the desert south of the Great Salton Sea. It rained heavily in San Diego the night before our family tour and the leaves of the lush coastal vegetation were dripping on the route out of town. The mountains ahead were topped with snow. Further into the mountains near Julian there was snow on the roadside. Upon crossing the first set of mountains, the ecosystem changed from ranchland to austere desert landscape. Here, two-hours from San Diego plants and animals thrive in the seemingly barren desert.
The first stop on the tour was Clark Dry Lake where tour guide, and company owner, Joe Raffetto talked about the early settlers who came to this region for the solitude. On the way, the group passed lots of wildflowers in bloom and evidence of the area’s military use in World War II including remains of a military plane believed to be from that era. The truck turned off the main park road at a sign marked “authorized vehicles only”. This is one of the perks of being the park’s official concessionaire.
This rugged park sits atop the San Jacinto Fault (part of the larger San Andreas Fault). It’s the most active fault-line in Southern California and typically experiences two to 30 slight tremors a day. “Most are small and imperceptible,” Raffetto said. At the next stop, an eerily beautiful slot canyon, the group ate the sack lunch Overland supplies as part of their tour fee. After lunch there’s a two-mile hike into the slog canyon. As the group hiked, Raffetto talked about the vibrant wildlife living in the canyon.
After the hike, the group reboarded the truck and headed to Palo Verde Wash, which circles the perimeter of the Borrego Badlands. Palo Verde trees line both sides of the wash. These trees are able to survive in this arid environment by photosynthesizing through their green trunks and branches In extremely dry conditions, they can shed their leaves to ease the energy load and still make food.
After the hike, the group reboards the truck and heads to Palo Verde Wash, which circles the perimeter of the Borrego Badlands. Palo Verde trees line both sides of the wash. PERIOD These trees are able to survive in this arid environment by photosynthesizing through their green trunks and branches In extremely dry conditions, they can shed their leaves to ease the energy load and still make food.
Then, the slightly uphill ride headed up Short Wash and through the Borrego Badlands. “It kind of takes you through time” said Raffetto. This ride takes you through millions of years of geological history as you view Colorado River sediment in the chronological order of the layered deposits. The earliest deposits date back four million years; the most recent 250,000. According to Raffetto, 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.
Next, the truck headed up Font’s Wash to the last stop, Font’s Point. The 360° views are spectacular. To the north you can see the Great Salton Sea, to the south Mexico; all around you are the Borrego Badlands.
At the end of the day, the family piled back into the car and headed back to San Diego. Tired and hungry at the end of this day, a special day filled with lasting memories.
For more in our California Extravaganza series check out our California Extravaganza Tag Page.
Santa Fe based freelance travel and food writer Billie Frank blogs at Santa Fe Travelers, a treasure trove of information on the oldest capital city in the USA. She and her husband/co-blogger, Steve Collins own The Santa Fe Traveler, a trip-planning and tour business. Find Billie on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Hi, I’m Clark. My wife Monica and I are the people behind Family Trek. If we’ve not met before, let me introduce myself. I live in Lake Tahoe and along with my wife and kids I’m on a quest to work less, live more, and travel the world. After losing everything — my money that is — and moving into my in-laws garage, my wife and I began the exciting process of reinventing our lives. As J.K. Rolwing said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation from which I re-built my life.” My wife Monica and I have 3 kids and when we’re not traveling we call Tahoe home, where I ski 50+ days a year. You can check us out on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.