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California Desert: Anza- Borrego

Updated on November 25, 2016
Spring in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Spring in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park | Source
Spring wildflowers in the Borrego Valley
Spring wildflowers in the Borrego Valley | Source

Desert wildflowers from Anza- Borrego

Justicia californicum and Phacelia tanacetifolia.
Justicia californicum and Phacelia tanacetifolia. | Source

There is a pristine beauty to the desert which many fail to appreciate. Instead it is seen as a barren and dusty expanse of land between mountains, unbearably hot, dotted w/ odd cactus and tumbleweeds, and populated by rattlesnakes and scorpions. Yep, "death valley" pretty much sums it up! On the other hand, as the sun sits lower in the sky, there is an exquisite play of shadow and light creating depth in a beautiful palette of pastel hues: purples, corals, blues and pinks. I can see why Georgia O'Keefe felt compelled to paint it! When the right conditions bring rain, the seeds from the prior spring's flowers germinate and the desert comes alive in a burst of colorful bloom. This is a total transformation! I recommend a spring visit and promise it will change any misconceptions of the desert as a lifeless wasteland.

Of all places on earth, the desert is likely the most fragile. Although the plant life is able to withstand extreme fluctuations of temperature and prolonged periods of drought, it does not easily recover from careless human encroachment. When native flora is disturbed, the fauna that depends on it is also adversely affected. In 1994 the California Desert Protection Act was signed into law by Bill Clinton, and the Mojave National Preserve joined Death Valley and Joshua Tree as federally protected wilderness areas. The law has since been amended to further expand protected boundaries and to allow for sustainable energy generation by wind turbines.

desert brittlebush- Encelia farinosa
desert brittlebush- Encelia farinosa | Source

Be prepared:

Since the desert is so vast and lacks prominent landmarks, it is easy to find oneself lost and without enough water. Always let others know where you are headed. Carry a cellphone, or explore with others. Use available trail guide maps and STAY ON THE TRAILS. Always carry more water than you think you'll need and be aware of salt depletion. Take a hat, sunscreen, and bandana. Wear closed- toed shoes and beware of cholla cactus debris on the trails.

Here in Southern California, we have the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. A Sonoran desert habitat, this remarkable area allows for a wide range of activities including camping, biking, horseback riding, bird watching, hiking, and nature study. It is also home to bighorn sheep and collections of both historical and cultural significance. It's 600,000 acres make it the second largest state park in the continental United States.

February through April are the best times to see the glorious wildflower displays amidst the native desert trees, shrubs, and cacti. Behold the stunning yellows and golds of the brittlebush, tidy tips, and poppies; the blues of the phacelias, lupines, milk vetch, and sand verbena; the whites of the desert chicory, primrose, yucca, and Salvia apiana; and the vibrant reds of the ocotillo, Indian paintbrush, and justicia. In the Borrego Valley, wild flower sightings include lavender sand verbena, a favorite host plant for the white-lined sphinx moth caterpillar, and white desert primrose punctuated with the red blooming ocotillo trees. Keep a lookout for lizards and the California chuckwalla. As temperatures warm and the blossoms fade here, more flowers can typically be found at higher elevations and in the canyons. San Felipe Canyon is a good place for bird watching because more trees and woody plants can be found here including desert ironwood, catclaw (Acacia greggii) and smoke tree. The red tubular flowers of the justicia attract many hummingbirds. Yaqui Well is an easily accessible watering hole used by native Americans and often clumps of cattails can be found here. Cholla cactus, yucca, creosote bush, Indian paintbrush, ocotillo, opuntia, and California barrel cactus abound along the trail. Another natural oasis, but a much more rugged hike, is Palm Canyon. Here are pools, waterfalls, and the only palms native to the Southwest: Washingtonia filifera, the desert fan palm. Winter and spring are the best times to take to this trail. There are two levels to this hike, and the 2nd leg involves much strenuous boulder hopping. This location is teeming with birds, bees, and butterflies which are attracted to the pollen-rich blooms, and rock overhangs offer a respite from the direct sun. It is one of the most popular spots for experienced hikers.

My own desert visits inspired the following haiku which I'd like to share along with my husband's personal photographs.

ocotillo- Fouquieria splendens
ocotillo- Fouquieria splendens | Source

Strokes of cirrus clouds

Align with dancing branches.

Desert masterpiece!


Cholla cactus- opuntia
Cholla cactus- opuntia | Source

Desert spooks abound

looming shapes personified

prickly, just the same.


blue Phacelia
blue Phacelia | Source

In wind's fickle bursts

wiry stemmed clusters vibrate.

electrified blue!


Sclerocactus polyancistrus- Mojave fish- hook cactus
Sclerocactus polyancistrus- Mojave fish- hook cactus | Source

Fresh pink attraction

belies the spiny message.

tactical defense


The desert at night:

Darkness in the Anza-Borrego can bring some great star-gazing opportunities. It is also the time to see bats which come to catch insects and pollinate the cactus flowers. Listen for the yip of coyotes and the hoots of owls.

I'd recommend a day trip and picnic or an overnight camping visit to take in some of the best stargazing after a day of exploring and nature photography. Those with a passion for outdoor adventure and hiking may consider a week-long stay. Wildflower bloom will always be contingent upon rainfall, wind, and temperatures. Deserts are places of rugged beauty shaped by the fast moving torrents of water from flash floods and the erosion from high winds. I'd suggest checking the website before a visit to get the latest updates on wildflowers and conditions. Enjoy the beauty, capture it with a camera, and leave no trace of your visit except in the guest register!

Anza-Borrego | Source

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

© 2011 Catherine Tally


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    • GNelson profile image

      GNelson 5 years ago from Florida

      Great Haiku with the pictures.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 5 years ago from Los Angeles


      Thank you for your positive comments! I am glad to have you as a new follower :>)

    • starstream profile image

      Dreamer at heart 4 years ago from Northern California

      I love these nature inspired word impressions. I am an artist and always strive to imprint nature on my canvas in some creative way too.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hello starstream. I'm so glad that you enjoy my nature-inspired haiku. I admire that you can express yourself in paint. It is far easier for me to face a blank page than a bare canvas! The nice thing is that we can be attuned to the beauty there and inspired to create in so many different ways. Thank you for your very thoughtful comments.


    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It's been a long time since I visited that area....the pictures are's obvious you have the ability to see the beauty in all of nature.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 2 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Bill. Thank you for the nice compliment! I think my art studies help me further appreciate the contrasts of forms, light, and color too:)

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