Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Santee, CA

Yesterday we were up early (for us) for a  75 mile drive east to visit Anza Borrego Desert State Park.  The drive began with a cloudy sky and fog in the valleys.  But as we approached the park the skies began to clear.  As we rounded a turn the desert appeared in the distance.

The road then began a steep, winding decent into the desert floor below.

The view as we entered the desert was impressive!

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park takes its name from 18th-century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep.  With 600,000 acres that include one-fifth of San Diego County, Anza-Borrego is the largest state park in California and, after New York’s Adirondack Park, the second largest in the continental United States.  The park includes 500 miles of dirt roads, twelve designated wilderness area, and 110 miles of hiking trails.  Our first stop was at the visitor’s center, built into a small hill with only the entrance visible.  The volunteer there gave us a wealth of information about hiking and four-wheeling in the park.

Anza-Borrego Visitor’s Center

After leaving the visitor’s center we drove through the small town of Borrego Springs then about five miles to the east.  There we turned off the highway to drive up a trail of soft sand for about four miles to visit Font’s Point, a bluff where you can view the Borrego Badlands.

The trail to Font’s Point

The Borrego Badlands and a young hiker

Great views are everywhere

Next, we took a winding trail back to the main road and continued east to a trail leading to an old calcite mine.  A marker at the trailhead shares some of the story of the mine’s history. “Soon after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government sent specialists to this region to inspect a deposit of calcite. It was to be used in bomb sights and anti-aircraft weaponry.”  This high-grade calcite crystal sharpened the targeting accuracy of gun sights so well, it raised the survival rate of allied bombing patrol missions.  The mine was worked until a synthetic substitute was invented.  Mining stopped there around 1945.

The mine area is about four miles from the main road and can be reached by a very rocky and rutted old road.  The road/trail first drops steeply into the sandy valley of Palm Wash, then climbs to a narrow ridge gradually ascending some 800 feet to reach the Calcite Mine area. There is little vegetation in this area, except for occasional ocotillo and stubby creosote bushes.

Heading down into the Palm Wash

Now we head uphill after crossing the wash

About two miles up the road, it became very rough, so we parked the Jeep in a small parking area and hiked the rest of the way.  Apparently others had the same idea before us, as the area where we parked was covered with vehicle tracks and the road above it had very few tire tracks, but was covered with foot prints.

At the top of the hike there were many interesting rock formations.  One reminded us of the fuselage of a WWII bomber.

Another looked like an ancient wreck of a cruise ship.  Since this area had once been covered with water, we hiked up to it to make sure it was made of stone.

From the hill next to the “ship” the view of the desert below was impressive.  As we looked to the south, pictured below, we could see a reflection of the sun from a point just to the left of the rocky hill in the center of the picture.  What could it be?

A look through the binoculars revealed the source of the light.  Apparently someone had driven a Jeep about half way up the trail.

Once we returned to the Jeep, we looked back to see where we had hiked.  But from this distance, we couldn’t make out where we had been.

As we drove back toward the highway, we noticed a road going to the west in Palm Wash, so we turned and drove in to explore.  Turns out it is one of the trails known as the slots.  We parked the Jeep and headed in for a hike.

If you don’t know what a slot trail is, the picture below will explain.

The sandstone presented some beautiful swirl patterns on the walls of the canyon created by flowing water and wind.

A young, nimble hiker climbs over extreme obstacles

Another young hiker lifts rocks with her back to clear a path

On our return trip into Borrego Springs we stopped at an open desert area where some RVs were dry camping (parking without any hook-ups).  One of the motorhomes belonged to Paul and Nina, authors of a blog we follow.

Panoramic stitch view of our site...why go anywhere else?

Paul and Nina’s dry camp site outside Borrego Springs (pic “borrowed” from their blog)

Paul and Nina were sitting outside enjoying the day while talking with another couple with a blog we follow, Sue and Dave.  Sue and Dave will be moving to Santee Lakes in a site near us next week, so we will meet up with them again.  It was great to meet these two couples, as they are familiar with the area and gave us a great piece of information.  We had decided that we need more time to visit this great park, but didn’t know where to stay.  It turns out that Sue and Dave are staying in the park campground.  We had looked at that campground, but the web site said the maximum length they could accommodate is 35 feet, ruling out our 41 foot motorhome.   But Sue and Dave have a 38 foot Discovery and are parked there with no problem.  So on the way back through town we stopped at the campground and checked out some sites.  They have a number of pull-through sites that are more than long enough for us.  Time for a schedule adjustment.

When we leave Santee in two weeks our plan has been to move to Huntington Beach until the end of December, then on to Tucson, where we have reservations for a month’s stay.   But . . .

Change of plans . . .

We now have a reservation at Anza-Borrego State Park for two weeks, beginning on January second.  For the two days between leaving Huntington Beach and setting up in the state park, we plan to park in the same dry camping area where Paul and Nina are now.   We are not really set up for any long stays without an electrical hook-up, but can do a couple days with little problem.  Paul has installed a number of solar panels on the roof of their motorhome, allowing them to dry camp for longer periods of time.  But we don’t have that enhancement and have installed a residential refrigerator requiring electricity, so our power needs are greater.  But for a couple of days we can just run our generator twice a day to keep the batteries charged, so we will be fine.

So now we are really looking forward to two weeks of hiking and four-wheeling in the desert.  But that’s in the future.  Our immediate  focus is on a trip to Atlanta for a few days to visit our son, Kevin, for a belated Thanksgiving meal.  More on that later . . .

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3 Responses to Anza Borrego Desert State Park

  1. Marsha says:

    Love the picture of you approaching the desert floor.

    They have the most beautiful architect out there. The VC is gorgeous. I love the sky. Those wispy clouds are awesome.

    The backdrop with the young hiker is outstanding.

    Paul nor I knew anything about the Calcite Mine. Very interesting about the use of the mineral. That area is wonderful. I love the landscape, but that wash is a bit nerve wracking.

    Oh I love that slot trail. That looks like so much fun! What nimble hikers you two are for sure. Hope you didn’t have to rub down with Ben Gay after that hike…hehe

    Oh I am so jealous. You two are going to have such a wonderful time there with friends. I will enjoy that area through your blog. Enjoy your visit with Kevin. Make a ton of memories!

  2. rjrvtravels says:

    It is great to have found your blog. We have been following Nina and Paul for a couple of years and clicked on your link in their recent post. It is great to meet fellow “travelers”. We met Nina in while we were both camping in Desert Hot Springs and will be heading to Anzo Borrego in January.

    FYI – we also blog at

  3. Erin says:

    There are slot canyons, and there are slot canyons … this one is the narrowest I’ve seen.

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