California deserts: Anza Borrego


In case you didn’t know, there are precious few places in the USA to stay reasonably warm in the winter. Maybe the Florida Keys (expensive). Maybe Yuma (ugly).

I may have overlooked the Anza Borrego because I couldn’t pronounce it. Or maybe I had no idea what it was. Then I heard someone casually mention that he had stayed at the Culp Valley campground and that it was beautiful, remote, and free. Was this the desert haven I sought? 

View of Borrego Springs from Culp Valley

It was that and more. Culp Valley is only one of many primitive campgrounds in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park in southern California. At 600,000 acres the Anza Borrego is the largest state park in California and second largest (behind the Adirondacks) in the country. The park occupies a chunk of southeastern San Diego county; its headquarters and main campground is in Borrego Springs—a small town in a broad valley in the center of the park where the library is excellent; the gas is expensive; ditto for the very small grocery store, and the laundromat sucks.

I finally figured out that the park’s name is a hybrid: Anza is from Juan Bautista de Anza, the Spanish explorer who led the first party of settlers through the region to establish a Spanish colony in San Francisco. (It took them a year, but they made it.) On Christmas Eve, 1775, a baby boy was born in Coyote Canyon near Borrego Springs. Borrego is the Spanish word for sheep because the bighorn variety live on the park’s mountain slopes.

I camped throughout the park for six weeks, and I did manage to stay warm most of the time. Unlike most state parks, this one allows “dispersed camping,” which means you can pull off and camp anywhere (with some limitations). Several primitive campgrounds scattered throughout the park also allow free camping, and I stayed at most of them, from Fish Creek, a low wash between high cliffs to Culp Valley, a high desert campground with magnificent views all the way to the Salton Sea. And yet, I barely scratched the surface of what the park has to offer.

the "therapeutic spa" at Agua Caliente

As I wandered through the park, I became increasingly entranced by its diversity and solitude—I had so much to see, and each place had a different character. Blair Valley, a broad bowl surounded by low mountains, was my favorite. Nearby Agua Caliente is a regional park with a “therapeutic” pool fed by a natural hot spring. $5 gets you in for the day. When I was there, a flock of Yugoslavian grandmas circled the edge of the pool twittering away in their native language.

I recently learned that Eden literally means pleasure park. That describes the Anza Borrego perfectly. For me, it was a haven, a refuge, and an Eden.

To view a slideshow, click on any photo. (They look MUCH better.)

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10 Responses to California deserts: Anza Borrego

  1. Cyndy Pietronico 27 March, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    I am enjoying your travels! I tried to comment before but I think it didn’t go through.I wanted to let you know about Joshua Tree National Park, just north of Salton sea. You have to pay to camp, but I think you might enjoy it there. Have fun and nice pictures too!

    • Kate 27 March, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

      Hi, Cyndy,

      I responded to your last comment, but I’m moderating all comments now because I’ve been inundated by spam. Not fun. I wasn’t aware that I even had to approve my OWN comments. :-( Keep reading–Joshua Tree and Mojave desert blogs are coming up! (I may make it to Death Valley before I leave California.)

  2. Sandy Christensen 26 March, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    Is this your second trip through Anza Borrego, since you said you spent 6 weeks there? I am just finally moving on from Slab City in your journeyings , is this a return to Eden then? I’m so much enjoying your narrative…

    • Kate 27 March, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

      Ahh, Sandy–you follow me too closely. Over the six week period, I went in and out of the Anza Borrego. I went to an RV park once because I was FREEZING; then I went to Slab City for a week and returned to A-B for a few more days. I try to even out the ins and outs in the blog. 😉

  3. Jack Holzbach 26 March, 2011 at 6:50 pm #

    I really enjoyed reading about and seeing your photos of Anza Borrego, You are an adventureus women. What a beautiful place . I would really like the solitude also.

    Sincerely, Jack

    • Kate 27 March, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

      Hey Jack, How great to hear from you!
      Anza Borrego was one of the special places, but I think I became more fond of it because I spent so much time there. Experiencing such solitude surrounded by such natural beauty changes you. I think both you and Marvin would like being in these places.

  4. Marvin 25 March, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    gorgeous pictures! —– my favorite: ghost flower.

    You have to be there in a most exquisite time of year….happy to know it was such a fine stop on your journey…….I´m quite intrigued by the solitude you experience….always look forward to the next chapter.

    • Kate 26 March, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

      I was trying to catch the desert bloom, but was still a little early. The ghost flower was one of my favorites, too, but there were too many to upload, really.
      Sometimes the travel is very solitary, but then I have planned or unplanned periods with people I meet or with relatives. My second week at Joshua Tree was actually with my daughter and sister. Both times are special.


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