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Carpets of wildflowers at Anza-Borrego Desert!


Last updated 3/20/2008 at Noon

Beavertail cactus at the Anza-Borrego State Park

The air was fragrant with a mingling of wildflowers and orange blossoms at the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Shakespeare would have called it “April Perfume,” but it wasn’t yet April; in fact, it was March 14, and the desert was in full bloom.

Once a year I am able to wow the family with my knowledge of wildflowers thanks to my Cal Poly University botany professor, Dr. Richard Pimentel, who not only required his classes to learn the common names of the flowers but the Latin names as well. He also helped to instill in me a delight for wildflowers and a compulsion to search for them.

In San Luis Obispo County wildflowers abounded, but here in drier San Diego County the flower hunt has been a more difficult task. However, this year the Anza-Borrego Desert is rich with abundant blooms due to the heavy winter rains.

It was a long drive, approximately 100 miles, but a picturesque one, through green fields and over mountains as I took I-15 south to SR-78 east, skirting Ramona and Julian. To get to the park’s Visitor Center I followed SR-78 to S-3 through Borrego Springs, then turned left on Borrego Springs Road and left on Palm Canyon Drive. It was confusing at first because the park itself surrounds the town of Borrego Springs.

It was past Borrego Springs near the park’s Visitor Center that I found the amazing carpets of wildflowers. From Palm Canyon Drive there are two places to observe this year’s vibrant display: at the end of Di Giorgio Road and out Henderson Canyon Road.

Di Giorgio becomes a dirt road, and I heard that there are beautiful flowers out that way, but with my low-to-the-ground sports car I wasn’t going to risk driving it. However, at the end of the paved road, at the mouth of Coyote Canyon, there were also many wildflowers.

Prickly poppy with its large blooms and the smaller onyx blossoms brightened the landscape with their petals of white. By far the most abundant flower in this area is the violet sand verbena. Orange groves added their sweetness to the fragrant air. With apologies to Shakespeare, it was March Perfume!

The Henderson Canyon area was a breathtaking sight with wildflowers as far as the eye could see. I was surprised to see that they were growing in gold-flecked sand, probably rich with iron pyrite. The most prominent flower in this area is the yellow sweet-scented desert sunflower. Also abundant is the violet sand verbena.

Scattered about the yellow and violet flowers were a few white dune evening primrose, prickly poppy and California evening primrose. There were also forget-me-nots, phacelia, popcorn flower, brown-eyed primrose, chicory, desert dandelion and the large dune sunflowers.

Driving back toward S-3 on Borrego Springs Road I came upon fields of gangly ocotillo cactus. I was compelled to stop the car and wander through the forest of cacti, some of which were in bloom with brilliant crimson flowers. Barrel and beavertail cactus also dotted the landscape.

Since restaurants were not nearly as abundant as the wildflowers, I packed a lunch for my family that we enjoyed while amidst a field of violet sand verbena. I actually packed breakfast, as well, so we didn’t have to stop at a restaurant until dinner. We found facilities at the Visitor Center as well as at the Tamarisk Grove campground on S-3.

The Visitor Center is worth a stop with a slideshow and various interactive displays. Maps of the park are available, as is a wildflower pamphlet. Trails surrounding the center wind by a sampling of wildflowers and cacti.

The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California with five hundred miles of dirt roads, paved roads and miles of hiking trails.

Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza provided the Anza portion of the park’s name and Borrego is taken from the Spanish name for bighorn sheep. These sheep, as well as roadrunners, golden eagles, kit foxes and mule deer, live within the park boundaries. The red diamond rattlesnake is also a resident, so be watchful.

Only one hundred miles away lies a different world. Anza-Borrego resembles a moonscape in places and is vibrantly colorful in others. The spring winds that sweep over the desert floor bring with them the scent of wildflowers but also the pervading scent of dust and rock from the stark and ancient mountains.

Anza-Borrego Desert

State Park

Visitor Center

200 Palm Canyon Drive

Ocotillo cactus on Borrego Springs Road

Borrego Springs

Visitor Center: (760) 767-4205

Park Headquarters: (760) 767-5311


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