Beautiful Anza-Borrego

First light

First light

We’ve been in the desert for two months, spending most of December in the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico, and January in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and California.

anza   052anza   011And we arrived at what we think is one of the most beautiful deserts we’ve seen so far during our journey, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in California, located in the Colorado Desert, one of six  sub-regions of the Sonoran Desert.anza   002

The park is named for Juan Bautista de Anza, who, in 1776, led about 300 people over 1600 miles from New Spain (Mexico) to colonize Alta California (San Francisco) for the Spanish.  Since they started in Nogales, Arizona, it seems that we’ve been crossing their path (actually a 1200 mile National Historic Trail) a number of times since we arrived in Tucson.  And seeing his name many times along the way.

anza   028And borrego is the Spanish word for bighorn sheep.  Rocky slopes just above the desert floor here are habitat for peninsular bighorn sheep, also known as desert bighorn sheep, an endangered species which has declined from human overpopulation encroachment.  Alas, we didn’t see any during our brief stay here.

anza   008anza   055anza   009Boondocking is very popular here, and there are a several areas that allow RVs to boondock for free.  In the state park, the main rule is that the RV needs to be no further than one car length from the nearest road (paved or dirt) although this rule appeared to be subject to multiple interpretations.

And one area is apparently in contention as to whether it’s public or private, and RVs have been boondocking there for a number of years, ignoring a couple of no trespassing signs.

We found a pretty good spot a good distance from most other RV’s and with great views all around.anza   053anza   003anza   056

We noticed that the areas where RVs boondocked had less plants than the rest of the desert.  So it’s important to be mindful of the vegetation; drive on established paths and camp in areas that are already cleared of vegetation so as to minimize impact on the remaining plants.  Many of these “campsites” have fire rings which makes them easier to locate.

We were greeted on our first afternoon with the first of several fabulous sunsets.  Desert sunsets are the best!anza   027

The rest of the desert was rich with plants, although this desert doesn’t have the mighty Saguaros, which we saw throughout Arizona, most notably in Tucson.  anza   012

anza   010Many other plants that we first learned about in Tucson are found here as well.  The most predominant are the creosote bushes, but we also saw palo verde trees, and those other iconic desert plants, the ocotillo and, of course, lots of cacti.

There are lots of cholla cacti here, seven varieties in fact, of which my favorite are the teddybear cholla.  But beware the spines of these adorable cacti.  There is also one type of prickly pear cactus in this region as well as barrel cactus.   And a couple of varieties of short, “clumpy” (my scientific description) cacti known as hedgehog.  And there are others that we’re still learning about.anza   014

anza   015The town of Borrego Springs also has several farms around its perimeter.  A couple are tree farms, with palms growing all around them.  There are a few remaining native palms, which are accessible via short hikes, but we didn’t get a chance to go see them.  And, this being California, there are several citrus farms.anza   016anza   019anza   020anza   018

So we bought fabulous pink grapefruit as well as extra juicy tangelos at a couple of fruit stands.  One of the stands was not manned but had an honor system; you picked up a bag (or more) of grapefruit and left your money in a metal box.  Love it!

anza   017anza   013And we made the most delicious vodka and toronja (spanish for grapefruit) drinks with fresh grapefruit juice, a perfect drink for the desert.  A shout-out to our friend Bob (Bob-A-Lu), who introduced us to vodka and toronja while we were living in Puerto Rico.

As for the animals, we’ve not had much luck spotting animals in these parts, except for some hawks and lots of jackrabbits (to Angel’s delight).   But we’ve heard the coyotes often, many times at dusk, and, in fact, we’ve been hearing them pretty consistently since the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico.anza   031anza   029anza   030anza   047anza   048

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is surrounded by mountains. To the east are the badlands, dry areas with very little vegetation and rocks and soil that have been eroded by wind and water, forming steep slopes and other interesting formations.  If you were trying to cross this area in a wagon or a horse you would certainly describe it as “bad”.

There are many fossils buried here and volunteer paleontologists regularly help to collect and preserve them.

As we drove to the badlands for a hike, we noticed some RVs boondocking near the main road right by the cliffs, an interesting option for those that really want to be in a remote place (except for the slight traffic during the day).

We also noticed the State Vehicle Recreation Area with tons of trails for specialized off-highway vehicles and the Truckhaven 4×4 Training Area, a frightening looking obstacle course for street legal 4x4s.

But we were searching for Palm Slot, a slot canyon we’d read about on Nina’s blog and in the park brochure.  The state park doesn’t get a lot of points for signage, as we missed the turnoff for the trail and had to stop and ask state park staff for directions.

anza   039anza   043What exactly are slot canyons?  They are deep, narrow canyons in areas with low rainfall which are formed by specific patterns of rainfall that create rushing water in particular types of rock, most commonly sandstone and limestone.  There are a number of well-known slot canyons in the Southwestern United States.anza   040anza   041

And we ultimately found the entrance to the four-wheel high clearance road that led to our trail and also happens to access the Calcite Mine trail.  This mine was the only site in the United States where optical-grade calcite crystals were extracted for use in gunsights during World War II – in fact the marker highlighting this was the only way we found the road to Palm Slot.  The mine was later owned by Polaroid.anza   044

anza   042We walked a ways down the road and since signage hadn’t been so great just walked into the first slot that had footprints leading into it.

It was a cloudy day and we were keeping a close eye on the weather, as a slot canyon is not a place you want to be in when it rains.  But the clouds were pretty light and we continued.  I had a nagging feeling that this wasn’t the Palm Slot (it didn’t look like the photos I’d seen).  So we turned back to the road after awhile.anza   046anza   045

Even though it was still cloudy, we walked a bit further down the road and found a sign!  An actual Anza-Borrego Desert State Park sign.  This was the Palm Slot.  We hiked in and it was amazing.  The rock had a pinkish hue and was much smoother than in the previous slot canyon.  But it was getting cloudier so we only hiked for a short while.

Jimmy Durante Rock

Jimmy Durante Rock

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Neopolitan Rock

Neapolitan Rock

anza   033anza   037These were our first slot canyons, and they won’t be our last.

After the fact I found a pretty good description of how to get to Palm Slot here.anza   032

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Whale cloud

Whale cloud

As we drove back to our boondocking spot, however, we noticed sand blowing in the distance.  The winds had started up and were blowing some big dust clouds in particular areas of the desert (fortunately not directly over Island Girl).anza   050

anza   023The next day remained windy, and we decided to stow our exterior stuff that morning (we were leaving the following day).  And we took it easy that day and didn’t do much exploring.

That evening, there was a beautiful, stormy sunset, with lots of sand being blown about.anza   022

anza   021The winds continued to blow and increased during the night, so I didn’t exactly get a good night’s sleep (Hector sleeps like a rock no matter what).  Island Girl was shaking around a bit and I wondered about those RVers boondocking by the cliffs in the badlands.

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Fortunately, the next morning the winds stopped.  And we left this beautiful place vowing to return again next winter.

~ Brendaanza   025

Sky Art in the Desert

“Blessings are meant to be shared” – Dennis S. Avery

anza art  004anza art  050Borrego Springs is a small town of about 3500 with many seasonal residents, which is actually an unincorporated area of northeast San Diego County about 100 miles from the city of San Diego.  It’s in a really dramatic setting surrounded by mountains and badlands.

The town was California’s first dark sky community, and has no stoplights. So it’s quite beautiful when the stars come out at night.  And the town’s surroundings are part of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which, at 643,000 acres, makes up more than half of the land of the entire California State Park System.

anza art  011But Borrego Springs might be best known for the life size sculptures found scattered all over the desert around the town on parcels of private land (Galleta Meadows Estate) owned by the recently deceased Dennis Avery, millionaire heir to the Avery labeling fortune, philanthropist and visionary.anza art  002anza art  016anza art  021

The sculptures are crafted of metal by sculptor Ricardo Breceda of Temecula, California, who welds scrap reinforcement bars, wire and metal together, and uses hammers to pound texture into the patches of metal.

Mr. Breceda, sometimes referred to as “the accidental artist” was a carpenter until he fell from a second story during a construction job.  While selling cowboy boots for a living, he traded a pair for a welding machine, and then began to “play” with it as a hobby.  He created his first sculpture, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, when his daughter asked for one after watching “Jurassic Park III”. He continued making sculptures as a hobby for a few years prior to selling any of his works.

anza art  022anza art  003anza art  010anza art  035In 2007, Dennis Avery happened to drive by Ricardo Breceda’s studio and spotted a 30 foot T-Rex leaning over a fence.  Mr. Avery owned about 3,000 acres of noncontiguous parcels in Borrego Springs that he wanted preserved from development, and had opened his land to the public.  A paleontology buff, he had financed a book cataloguing the fossil treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert.

The philanthropist and artist shared an obsession with the prehistoric, and, in 2008, Mr. Avery commissioned Mr. Breceda to create some of the prehistoric beasts from the book, animals that had roamed this area millions of years ago when it was a lush jungle.  They brainstormed the project and Mr. Avery named it “Sky Art”.

I love a great partnership, whether business or personal or both.

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Over the years, the sculpture collection grew to include prehistoric creatures not from this area, then historical incidents and characters, desert wildlife and mythical creatures.  There are now more than 130 sculptures.

Although Mr. Avery passed away last year, Galleta Meadows LLC remains, and a fund was set up so that when any of the sculptures are damaged, Mr. Breceda can repair them.

Hector and I love outdoor sculptures and set out to see all of them.anza art  014

anza art  030They are dispersed throughout the desert near town, to the north and the south and most are located within sight of the Borrego Springs Road.anza art  024

For those wanting a closer up view, there are a number of dirt roads from the main road leading to the sculptures and though some of these dirt roads are made up of softish sand, most are flat and hard.anza art  007

And, of course, I wanted to get REALLY close and walked over to many of them.  There is a lot of detail that can only be appreciated once you are close up.anza art  015

anza art  043There are enormous birds, prehistoric horses, camels and elephants.  There is a wonderful, giant Spanish Padre, an Indian Head, and a jeep going over rocks.anza art  044

Not to mention a sculpture of farm workers working a grape field.anza art  032anza art  028anza art  046anza art  034anza art  001anza art  049anza art  012anza art  038anza art  031anza art  045anza art  036

anza art  008anza art  027anza art  037anza art  005anza art  013anza art  019anza art  009anza art  029anza art  047anza art  039anza art  040One of the most impressive sculptures is a 350-foot sea serpent with various parts emerging from the sand and seemingly crossing the road.

Fabulous!anza art  042

anza art  041Sky Art is the most unique art project I’ve ever seen.  How wonderful of Mr. Avery to have commissioned these unique sculptures and opened up his land so that the public might enjoy them.

~ Brendaanza art  023