For those that love the outdoors, living in southern California has a few advantages. The beach, deserts, and mountains are all within a couple of hours of each other. As the slight changes in weather occur, you can shift your activities to another ecosystem. In the fall and winter, the deserts in California are simply amazing.
In this article, I’ll be speaking about the Colorado Desert which is actually part of the larger Sonoran Desert. While not necessary, a four-wheel-drive vehicle can transport you to more interesting places to hike.
Why hike in the desert? Many reasons, but here are a few:
- The solitude is prevalent. Living in an area like SoCal with its millions of people can give you the feeling of being surrounded. The desert with its wide open spaces is like being transported to another world
- The flora is astonishing. There is always something blooming and growing in the desert. The variety of chaparral and cacti will bring out the botanist in you.
- There is wildlife, you just have to look for it. Hummingbirds, chuckwallas, roadrunners, foxes, jackrabbits, and hawks. Some days you will see many, some days – none.
- The terrain can vary. The desert isn’t all flat and sandy. The Peninsular Range in SoCal brings some variety to the landscape, especially in the Anza Borrego area.
We combine hiking with off-roading and exploring. Using a local guidebook named Afoot and Afield: San Diego County we copy a couple of pages from the book, stick it in our packs and head out. This resource is loaded with amazing hikes providing detailed explanations of the surroundings. There are slot canyons, wind caves, and fossil fields all over the place. We have seen palm oasis’, desert streams and the strangest geological formations.
A few precautions on desert hiking. Trails are often not well-marked or maintained. There are no trees and very few references on the horizon. It is a great way to develop and improve your land navigation skills. We have been turned around on more than one occasion. The compass and GPS are great companions. While the weather doesn’t change quickly in the Sonoran desert, the winds can be strong and blowing sand is annoying.
Look for upcoming desert hikes on my blog. I’m excited to share some of the more interesting ones with you all. A good resource for the Anza-Borrego region is listed in the link below,
Type of trail: Out and back.
Composition: sand, decomposed granite, scree.
Distance as hiked: 3.1 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 600 ft.
Temps: 75-85 deg
The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park spreads out across three counties and is the largest state park in California. In fact, the second largest in the U.S. after Adirondack Park in New York. It was actually named after a Spanish explorer Juan Batista de Anza and Borrego meaning “bighorn sheep”. [¹] Like much of the golden state, the Anza-Borrego is a contrast in landscape and an opportunity for solitude. Part of the vast Colorado Desert, it is home to so much flora with animal life that is often hidden to the casual observer.
My favorite route to Borrego from north county San Diego is up the 15, skirting Palomar Mtn on the 76 and up the 79. The drive one of transition as you leave the coastal desert, pass through orange groves, around the beauty of Pala and Pauma Indian reservations and the high arid landscape flanking the west side of Julian. Early morning is the best time for the drive as the sun starts to burn off the marine layers and clouds blanketing the Palomar range. Yeah, part of the fun is getting there.
Having never seen an oasis, I headed toward the park headquarters and made my way to the campground where the trailhead to Palm Canyon Oasis began. Little did I realize that there was an $8 day use fee to park. Lesson learned, next time park at the visitor center and walk the extra mile on a sidewalk with interpretive signs about the area. You can also take a side-path that is full of wildlife.
The trail meanders through a canyon with evidence of a catastrophic flash flood that washed away huge palms and displaced massive boulders. Farther up, trickles of water are the first evidence of the oasis. Soon, the trickle turns into a stream with small cascades. The wildlife is drawn to this area in the morning and after sunset. Frequent this area and you are likely to see small herds of Bighorn Sheep.
The trail is the most popular in Borrego, so I recommend going during the week if possible. I know, most of you work for a living but Sat/Sun is the busiest time on this one and the number of people just takes away from the experience. Nevertheless, it’s a trip worth taking.
1. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anza-Borrego_Desert_State_Park