Before I even boarded the plane from Boston to San Diego, my sister was already busy planning some day trips for us. She knows that I love hiking and nature. Normally, San Diego is on the arid side but this spring has been an unusually wet one (at least for this region!). As a result, this was the “greenest” of all my visits to San Diego. Fields of wildflowers were blooming everywhere. To someone like me who is coming from a fairly green and damp climate, seeing fields of wildflowers is nothing new but I could certainly appreciate that this is not the case in San Diego. When my sister mentioned that the desert flowers should be blooming about this time, I jumped at the chance to go out to the desert to see them. I later learned that some desert plants will wait up to ten years before blooming, waiting for the right spring, a rainy one, to bloom. I was thrilled that my visit coincided with this.
So last Sunday, we drove about two hours from San Diego to Anza-Borrego state park. The drive there was interesting..lots of different kinds of landscapes to look at..from farm land to arid landscapes to finally the desert. First we headed to the visitor center.
The Anza-Borrego visitor center
Even before we entered the visitor center, an impressive stone building that gave the impression of being built for that environment, we encountered this guy. What on earth was he doing? And a better question, what is he?!
A road runner
My sister told me that this guy is a road runner, yes, the nemesis of Wiley Coyotes everywhere! He was taking a dirt bath in the sand. Cool.
Closeup of the road runner
Thrilled that I had already had my first wildlife encounter, we stepped into the visitor center. The rangers were very helpful and when I asked about where we could see the borrego (the Spanish word in these parts for “sheep”), they told me that they are not seen often but if we wanted to see them, to start with a trail off of Palm Canyon Drive.
I take trail warnings very seriously probably to the annoyance of those around me but I was more than happy to carry probably more water than we could need. It is the desert after all!
Palm Canyon Trail
We found the trail with no problem. The heat was about 95 degrees fahrenheit and we had already missed the high point of the sun since it was about 3:30pm. If hiking in the desert again, I would probably start a little later, maybe around 4pm depending on the time of year. The heat was intense but it felt great on my winter white skin (which was whiter than normal from all the spf lotion I slathered on).
The landscape wasn’t what I thought it would be. I think I was thinking of the Sahara, forgetting that there are many different kinds of deserts. From the park’s web site:
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five-hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas and miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the California Desert. The park is named after Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish name borrego, or bighorn sheep. The park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti and sweeping vistas. Visitors may also have the chance to see roadrunner, golden eagles, kit foxes, mule deer and bighorn sheep as well as iguanas, chuckwallas and the red diamond rattlesnake.
I wasn’t so keen on encountering a rattlesnake but the rangers had assured me that they are more afraid of people than we are of them. I didn’t mention my irrational fear of snakes which makes me lose my mind if I see one but I’ll take their word for it!
Nic and Clarissa on the trail
We started on the trail. Then someone got sunscreen in their eyes and someone else (me) realized that they forgot to put on their hiking boots and was still wearing street shoes. Back to the car. So after a false start, we were finally off. The sun and heat were intense but my new vegan t-shirt with UV protection and my dorky safari hat really made a difference! Clarissa, however, wasn’t feeling great in the heat. After just a short time on the trail, we stopped and Nicole and I expressed concern that Clarissa’s face was a bright shade of red. She drank some water and while we rested I happened to look up at a little rise right above us. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We had been warned that most people do not get to see the borrego. Yet, here were nine to ten of them right in front of me. “Guys!!! Look behind you!!” I said. They both turned and they too were speechless.
The lone adult male checks us out
The group circled us in a half moon shape, always on higher ground than we were upon the rise.
They half-circled around us
They stopped for a while and seemed to be contemplating us. We could see a couple of babies, one adult male, and the rest appeared to be female.
Looking into the distance
This, I think, is my winning shot. I had to work fast but I caught her looking at me as I snapped many pictures of her. She graciously allowed me to do this!
Looking at me?
And then suddenly, as if we missed some signal that was clear to them, they ran off, beyond the rise, well out of our view. I searched for them with my eyes across the landscape but I couldn’t find them which stumped me! It was almost like seeing a ghost, or what I imagine it would be liking seeing one as I haven’t myself–they seemingly appeared and disappeared without a trace. I was beyond joy..so happy! As much as I loved all the things that we did on our trip, these five minutes with the borrego were the absolute best moments for me.
I think this is Ocotillo..a tall, spindly desert plant
All three of us individually claimed credit for the borrego sighting. Clarissa exclaimed in her dramatic Italian accent that the borrego had appeared to save her from dying of heat stroke in the desert. Nicole, being an Aries, claimed that the borrego, rams, appeared because of her. I claimed it was a symbol intended for me to get off my butt and finish my squirrel book. We never did come to a compromise on this but maybe it’s just nicer that way?! After our shock wore off, we remembered that Clarissa was showing signs of overheating so we decided to call it a day and head back to the car. I wasn’t even disappointed that we didn’t make it to the dessert oasis at the end of the trail. Seeing the borrego was all I needed. The hike back was a little slower and gave me some time to enjoy the landscape a little.
I saw some funny little lizards run across the trail, way too fast for me and my camera. We saw the cutest little rodents too..no idea what they were. Made me miss my own fuzzies back home a little more.
I think this is Cholla..a kind of cactus
The trip to Anza-Borrego was amazing. I hope to go back next year and until then, I hope the awe of seeing the borrego stays with me for a very long time!