Looking for a wildflower getaway? Try Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Dune Evening-Primrose, Caterpillar
Dune Evening-Primrose, Caterpillar Special to the Sierra Star

Yes, we were on our way to the largest state park in California (620,000-plus acres) to seek the holy grail of the flower world - a super bloom. The park has over 500 miles of dirt roads that are not always open even to 4-wheel-drive vehicles when the rains have eroded them so seriously that they are impassable. For those wanting to experience the desert in a more intimate manner, there are hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails established throughout.

The Pacific Crest Trail winds in and out of the park several times so this could be your chance to tread on a portion of this famed path.

In mid-March, travels had taken us to Irvine. On our way to ABDSP, we passed through the poppy filled hills of Lake Elsinore admiring them from the freeway.

We had not yet reached the visitor center in the dark night sky community of Borrego Springs so we used the tried-and-true method of finding the local attractions (wildflowers). We stopped where others stopped. Getting out of the car, camera in hand and backpack loaded with lenses, I was not sure whether I would be wanting an up close macro or a sweeping vista view of the flowers. I stepped over the dirt berm lining the road that keeps the rains contained - the same rains that came at just the right time this year and two years ago to prompt the burst of blooms.

I had not done my homework, so I could not name the blooms I was seeing. I began to listen to those who were treading carefully around blooms. “Oh, the ocotillo is not blooming yet,” said a middle-aged visitor who scampered up to the imposing spiny shrub found in rocky deserts.

Later that day, we would find many of the ocotillo shrubs with their slender, upward spreading stems covered with a forest of tiny green leaves (they are leafless during most of the year) and bright orange/red tubular flowers sprouting from the tips of those stems.

Our next stop was the Visitor Center. Volunteers mapped out the areas where blooms were currently at their best - some easily accessible with 2-wheel-drive, some along hiking trails. I would highly recommend the $2 “Spring Wildflowers” pamphlet for help in flower and plant identification.

Although the name of the park “Borrego” translates to “lamb” or “sheep,” we did not spot any of the bighorn sheep that populate the park. We did spot a roadrunner and a black-tailed jackrabbit and we enjoyed the Ricardo Breceda metal sculptures of vineyard workers and a larger than life scorpion and grasshopper.

With a park this big and a visit on a weekday, we did not find the crowds overwhelming. We did carry water, food and paper maps with us for just as is true in our Sierra Nevada mountains and Yosemite National Park, GPS systems are not always reliable there.

If you go

A plethora of information is available to help you plan your visit:

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center: Open 7 days a week Oct.-May from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Location: 200 Palm Canyon Dr., Borrego Springs, CA 92004

Phone: 760-767-4205

Online visitor guide, maps, flower bloom updates:

Wildflower hotline: 760-767-4684