Secret Splendors of the Desert

Anza- Borrego Desert State Park®

The Introduction

copyright 2008 Splendors Publishing

AThere used to be a sign on the road leaving the town of Borrego
Springs, within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park®. It expressed
the sentiments of those who know and love this desert.
While I no longer remember the precise wording of the sign, it
basically said, “If you love it here, don’t tell anyone about it.”
While the sign seems to have disappeared, the sentiment remains
for some lovers of desert wilderness.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park® is California’s largest state
park, but one that is not well known. Very few people I have
talked with have heard about it or know where it is. It is located
in the southeast corner of San Diego county, its eastern boundary
very near the Salton Sea.
Borrego means sheep in Spanish. The mountains of Anza
Borrego are still home to significant herds of desert bighorn
sheep, just as they were during the era of early Spanish exploration.
The sheep are elusive, however, and sightings are rare.
Archaeologists believe that humans lived in the area for over
20,000 years and that a more temperate climate existed in the distant
past. Geologic evidence of prehistoric fresh water lakes can be
seen along the flanks of the dry mountains.Washingtonia palm
oases scattered in the park are remnants of an epoch when much
of this area was grassland savanna.
In the northern portion of this desert is the town of Borrego
Springs. North of town are citrus orchards. The orchards, town,
and adjacent development are possible because of underground
springs fed by the mountains surrounding Borrego Valley. These
mountains rise to approximately 5,000 feet in altitude and get
winter rains and some snow. Santa Catarina Spring, which usually
runs year-round, flows from above Sheep Canyon and is the
source of Coyote Creek. Coyote Creek flows through the valley
between the Coyote Mountains in the northeast and San Ysidro
Mountain to the southwest.
The Coyote Creek watercourse forms a narrow fertile band,
much like a miniature Egyptian Nile River valley. I have seen bats
in flight, attracted by the water and its food sources, drinking directly
from Santa Catarina Spring. In the vegetation along Coyote
Creek, I have seen a western diamondback rattlesnake lounging in
the branches of creosote bushes, three to four feet off the ground,
being cooled by the evaporation of creek water. My first clue that
he was there was his warning rattle as I climbed up the bank of
the creek.
The El Vado Desert Gardens are within this oasis paradise.
At the right time in early spring, everything seems to be blooming
at once: prickly pear, cholla, barrel cactus, ocotillo with its long
spidery arms and vivid red blooms, and many other desert wildflower
species. The lush spring bloom during years with adequate
rainfall gives one the feeling of being in a tended botanical garden.
The riot of hues is surreal, seemingly painted with a palette
of bright primary colors.
The southern portion of this desert park is much more arid
and inhospitable. Grand geologic features such as Split Mountain
boggle the mind; great geologic and climatic forces were obviously
at work to create the narrow slot through Split Mountain with its
magnificent anticline (severe uplift fault). The general topography
in the southern part of the Park is very rough. On one of our first
trips here, we were planning to travel a four-wheel-drive track
called Pinyon Mountain Road.We looked at the map and wondered
why it was emphatically marked “one way travel” with arrows
indicating the direction. It did not take long to figure it out.
It was impossible to turn around, and once we started down the
very steep “Heart Attack Ridge,” we knew there was no turning
back!

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