The park’s name was derived, in part, from that of an early Spanish explorer, Juan Bautista de Anza, who came through in 1774 in search of a land route from Sonora, Mexico, to Spanish settlements along the California coast.
The explorer’s name is combined with “borrego”, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep that live in the rocky hillsides of this desert region.
Early American history holds a prominent place in the Anza-Borrego story: between the years 1848 and 1880, a steady stream of California-bound travelers crossed the Anza-Borrego Desert along the Southern Immigrant Trail and by way of the Butterfield Stage Line on their way west from Missouri.
This was the only all-weather overland route across the American continent at that time. Thousands of sheep and cattle also made the arduous journey as Arizona ranchers drove their herds across the desert to feed the hungry miners in the California gold fields.
Covering more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego is the largest state parks in the contiguous United States. From a distance, its mountains and valleys look dry and barren—yet amidst the arid, sandy landscape are regions rich in vegetation and animal life.
Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface. A multitude of birds shelter beneath the long frond skirts hanging from the palms, and a few desert bighorn sheep roam the rocky mountain slopes. Coyotes fill the night with their laughing song and mountain lions prowl the high country. Two-thirds of Anza-Borrego remain pristine wilderness.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is located on the eastern side of San Diego County, with portions extending east into Imperial County and north into Riverside County. It’s about a two-hour drive from San Diego, Riverside, or Palm Springs.
Many people approach from the west through Julian via Highways 78 and 79. These highways descend from the Peninsular range of mountains with beautiful views of the great bowl of the Colorado Desert.
From Indio we took State Route 86 south and turned west on S22.
This scenic 21-mile route to the state park is often referred to as Erosion Road. The first scenery along this roadway is riddled by fractures and faults, abundant evidence of earthquake motion.
Referred to as the Borrego Badlands, these twisted sedimentary layers resemble a miniature Grand Canyon of washed-out, rainbow-colored hills. Floodwaters cascading from the Santa Rosa Mountains to the north carved deep valleys, gullies, washes, and sharp ridges into this dramatic, intimidating landscape. Iron deposits in the soil created brilliant pink, red, yellow, and green hues.
Driving to the state park visitor center we were momentarily confused. Walking up the trail there were no buildings in sight. Then we realized that the visitor center had been built underground with a desert garden covering it.
The 7,000 square-foot building houses exhibits, a small theater, and bookstore. Park rangers were helpful in answering our queries and directing us to interesting scenic drives and hikes.
The park has 500 miles of back-country roads, unlimited hiking trails, guided nature walks, and unobscured views of the night skies.
This park is preserved forever, for the deep, palm-filled canyons, lofty crags, wrinkled badlands, and endless vistas provide a lifetime of exploration and tranquility for our generation and many generations to come.
A geology lesson in the making, still being altered by erosion and flash floods, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a wild and remote place, with much of it accessed via primitive roads, or on foot. But the payoff is stunning stillness and unforgettable beauty.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with its incredible beauty, its mystery, and legends is quite a lure. And there’s so much more to discover on our next visit.
Where to Stay: Palm Canyon Campground (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park); The Springs at Borrego RV Resort and Golf Course
In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.