Leaving the Salton Sea area, we journed 80 miles toward the coast to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest at 600,000 unspoiled acres … almost the size of Rhode Island!
It’s a weird name, but comes from the name of an 18th century Spanish explorer, Juan Bautista de Anza, who tromped through here while opening a new route to San Francisco; combined with the Spanish word for sheep, Borrego, of which there are reportedly many here.
It was the wrong timing to take advantage of many of the park’s excellent hiking trails, as I was still recovering from a surgery a week and a half prior. But we couldn’t resist trying two of the easier ones, The Slot and the Palm Canyon Trail. The Slot, a 17-mile drive from the campground, is a narrow slot canyon carved by wind and water.
Like all good slot canyons, its has beautiful features and very narrow sections that you can’t help but apply the name Fat Man’s Pass.
I’m not calling my husband a Fat Man by any means, but he sure has found himself in a lot of tight squeezes over the years!
The best feature of this Slot trail, is that you reach the slotty (not to be confused with slutty) portion very quickly — like within a mile. Great for kids, old people, and those recovering from medical procedures!
Was it the most amazing slot canyon we’ve seen? It definitely was not. That honor goes to Little Wild Horse in Utah … read all about it here! But it was still a fun afternoon at Anza-Borrego.
Anza-Borrego’s Palm Canyon Trail is about 3 miles RT, but you can add a mile each direction by hiking to the trailhead from the campground, which is nestled at the base of the canyon. In just an hour, you go from the sandy desert floor to a cool oasis!
Climbing up-up-up, it follows a stream that leads to a canyon filled with California fan palms, many of which were nearly lost to a January, 2020 wildfire.
The spring blooms and rock-hopping possibilities made for a fun outing!
Borrego Springs is a small community in the middle of Anza-Borrego SP. For a tiny place, they have a disproportionate number of talented artists, and host a number of festivals, including the Borrego Film Festival, and many art shows and fairs. At this one, four-month-old Finn learned to trust all the people wanting to pet her, and Philip learned that our credit card does actually have a spending limit. 🙂
Within Borrego Springs, you’ll find the famous Sky Art Metal Sculptures. Philanthropist Dennis Avery, a rich dude due to being heir to the Avery Label fortune (are there even any other brands of labels? I don’t think so) purchased 1,500 acres here for preservation, calling the area Galleta Meadows. He then commissioned artist Ricardo Breceda to construct an incredible menagerie of 130+ metal sculptures throughout the desert.
Breceda did not start out to be an artist. After falling and getting injured in his construction job in Mexico, he took up a job selling “exotic boots” (the nature of the exoticness not immediately clear — for adult movie stars? for Joe the Tiger King? ), but at some point traded some boots for a metal torch. His daughter begged him to make a life-sized dinosaur after watching one of the Jurassic Park movies, and his new career was begun, because doesn’t every new career begin with a dinosaur?
Camels, sloths, sabretooth tigers, mammoths, tortoises and more, including many fanciful, only-in-your-imagination critters abound.
But it’s not just animals … Indian chiefs, vehicles, early settlers in the area, and more, all compete for your attention.
Each rusty sculpture has amazingly intricate details, from layered eyelids to shaggy metal “fur” on the critters, and even the tiniest details on people and vehicles.
But wait for it … wait for it …. the most fantabulous of them all! Behold: a 350-foot long sea serpent, with the head of a dragon 15 feet above the desert floor, and the tail of a rattlesnake, undulating through the desert floor.
All sculptures are available to visit 24/7/365, with no cost to visit, and dog friendly as well.
Grab a Visitors Guide from the Borrego Chamber of Commerce to go on a scupture scavenger hunt in the desert!
>> For another super-cool free-to-visit art park, check out our post about Lakenland Sculpture Park in Michigan! <<
40 miles away and yet 20 degrees cooler due to its mountaintop locale, Julian, California is known for its apples, and whatcha gonna do with all them apples every year? Julian has created an entire economy around PIE, that’s right, I said pie. You can’t throw a stone, er, make that an apple peeler, down main street without hitting a pie shop. The locals will recommend Mom’s Pie Shop, but you can’t argue with the line snaking out the door at all hours at Julian Pie Company.
Julian has underground tours of this former gold rush town’s Eagle and High Peak Mine, a wide assortment of ways to fill your belly and wet your whistle, and a walkable downtown with darling little shops.
Especially on weekends, expect crowds of tourists, including motorcycle gangs and car clubs, to descend on tiny Julian. We dined at Julian Beer Company with about 30 members of the “Suicadas Gang,” which sounded scary, but who were very pleasant and seemed dangerous only insofar as that they were going to eat all the chicken wings before we could order any.
With large packs of coyotes howling around the campground every morning around 4 AM (surprise! also the time the dogs needed to be taken out to pee … GREAT) and super-dark skies filled with stars and planets galore, we thoroughly enjoyed Anza-Borrego and its full hookup campground nestled at the base of the mountains. (See the tiny white RV roofs? We’re in there somewhere!)
We barely scratched the surface of things to do and see here, but now we’re leaving the desert solitude behind, and heading to the foothills of San Diego for some sea breezes and morning mist!