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Anza Borrego Desert State Park: Fifty Years of Family Adventures

February 27, 2012

We’ve been camping at the Palm Canyon Campground in Anza Borrego Desert State Park for a while—since the early 1960s, or almost 50 years.


This year five of my six siblings made the trek—and some of our kids and grandkids joined us.

Like last year, I spent the weekend shoeless: barefoot for three days in the late-winter desert, where bone-blessing sunshine, fresh breezes, birds, and blooms made the late winter days spring with desert-lavendar-scented bliss.

Well, not always bliss. The desert rewards inattention with sharp reminders to step with respect (more on that below).

All kinds of hikes await at Anza Borrego, where a mile or three of wandering up a wash can reveal: canyon wrens bouncing their notes down the cliffs of Hellhole Canyon and Palm Canyon and busy bird worlds of  bustling in and out of the palm frond skirts. Eeach oasis is a fascintating spot to lie back on a tumbled boulder and enjoy life’s small sounds and movements.

We found lots of cholla along the Hellhole Canyon trail—I was moved to put on sandals for a bit after a spine-to-sking encounter.

Farther up-canyon, though, it got less cactus-y and more boulder-y, which bare feet are so well suited for: smooth soles = super fun rock scrambling.

My favorite part of any hike is finding water to dip my toes in. Maidenhair Falls, 2.8 miles from the Hellhole Canyon trailhead, offered a refreshing cool-off. Ahh…

Maidenhair Falls, Hellhole Canyon, Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Other barefoot excitement: after 12 miles of fabulously fun hiking over two days, I got a little excited about getting to the end of the Palm Canyon trail, and caught the bottom of my toe on a rock. It looks a lot worse than it felt.

It’s been a relatively dry year, so the amount of annual wildflowers in bloom was relatively less than in the last couple of years. Two shrub species are having a big bloom year, though: firecracker trumpets of chuparosa and dreamy pale bundles of desert lavendar.

Up Hellhole Canyon, I discovered the blossoms of a tree I’d never seen before–desert apricot, in delicate bloom.

What a privilege to introduce my grandchildren to the beauty of the desert.

California’s state parks have become endangered, due to the state’s ongoing budget problems. A march on the state capitol is planned for March 20, 2012, to protest cuts and closures of these precious natural and cultural resources. Visit the California State Parks Foundation web site to see what can be done to help fight the closures.

California State Parks: Love them, preserve them!


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