Hiking in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park

The Anza Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California stretching from the Mexican border north some 60 miles or so more north towards Palm Springs.  We went on a day trip and saw only one piece of the entire park hiking a single trail.  Nevertheless, we did get a sense of the park despite our short stay.

We left Palm Springs fairly early. The drive to the park is straight down the 10 interstate until you reach Indio at which point you branch onto the 86 and head south.  When you arrive at the town of Salton City, you take the S22 (also known as the Borrego Salton Sea Way) west.  The road is not in fantastic shape but it gets you to the park:

Along the way you will see a large area of the land being used by off-road vehicles. There was a fairly visible presence of both off-road ATV type vehicles and camping vehicles from cars with small trailers to monster RVs.

Eventually the road runs into Borrego Springs which is a small town based around a large oasis in the desert.

This following was taken from the car as we drove into town:

Like other desert environments in the US southwest, the Colorado Desert can be characterized by its vegetation.  The Sonoran Desert is known for its giant Saguaro cactuses; the Mohave Desert for its Joshua Trees.  The Colorado Desert, sometimes considered part of the Sonoran Desert, has creosote bushes, the ocotillo – not a cactus but a deciduous desert plant – and many other plant varieties.  The Western Fan Palm, the tree found at oases throughout the region and the only native palm tree in North America, is typically found in a Colorado Desert environment.

The visitor center for the park was be partially buried – presumably to help manage the extreme heat of the summer months:

A short interpretive walk showcased some of the key aspects of the park and the Colorado Desert. Here is a large ocotillo which is not a true cactus:

Between the various plants growing in the desert was some pretty cool looking, colourful ground cover.

We came planning to take one good hike and the one that was recommended was the Palm Canyon Trail with trailhead a short drive away:

The trail starts in a dry river bed. There was a surprising amount of vegetation and a fair number of plants were flowering.

As we climbed out of the river bed the trail wound its way through a field of rocks and boulders.

There is lots of vegetation from many different plants to be seen along the way including this colourful ground cover.

After a fair hike through the rocks we came around a ridge and got our first view of the oasis.

The 2004 Flood

In September of 2004 a rainstorm dropped a large amount of rain on the area around the Palm Canyon. The resulting flash flood ripped apart the oasis leaving only a quarter of the trees standing. The remainder were scattered around, several being washed downstream by the fast flowing water. A good account of this event and the effects on the canyon is listed in the references at the bottom of this post.

Here are some of the palm trees that were ripped out of the ground during the flash flood.

At times, the path to the oasis was somewhat creatively constructed around the large boulders.

Some of the biggest boulders were found as we approached the oasis. The stream of running water became more obvious as well.

How much power was their in the flood waters? Check this out:

Finally – the Oasis:

The oasis comes with a small waterfall too.

A pond with water just down from the waterfall is covered with what looks like duckweed. I wonder how that got here?

We started back down the trail, eventually taking a different fork to follow a different trail back to the parking lot.

In case you didn’t get the scale of the earlier picture with boulder on trunk here is a version with boulder, trunk and me.

The running water supports lots of different types of vegetation that look like they belong in a wetter climate.

Event away from the stream, there were many flowering desert plants.

As mentioned some of the logs were moved a long way down stream. This large palm trunk was found more than half way back to the parking lot.

And that, as they say, is a wrap – to the hike at least. We didn’t see many birds and I wasn’t able to get much on camera. There was a Shrike and a high-up hawk and a few sparrows.

We stopped in Borrego Springs for lunch and then headed back on highway 78 which runs south of the S22 towards the south end of the Salton Sea. We were off to check out the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge though I’ll leave the details of that for another post.

References, and Further Reading

The article: Anza-Borrego: Plant Guide To Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail has extensive information on the Palm Canyon Trail, its vegetation and the September 2004 flood.

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