northern california renaissance faire

Desert Bloom

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

MOTHER LODE A calendar-worthy scene of flowers carpeting the desert floor reaching into the distance at Anza Borrego Desert State Park in the Colorado Desert. Photo: Ron Erskine

After five years of drought, winter rains doused the southern California deserts this past winter. The result has been a desert wildflower super bloom that has made national news. On average, a special desert spring like this occurs about every ten years. Friends who have made the trip south during past super blooms come back with amazing reports. The most glorious reports are always from Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

We rightfully boast that Henry W. Coe State Park is the second largest state park in California, but it is a distant second. At 600,000 acres, Anza Borrego can swallow seven Coe Parks. A two-hour drive east of San Diego, the park is in the Colorado Desert just west of the Salton Sea.

A trip to Anza Borrego has long been on my bucket list. No more reports from others. In March, I went to see for myself.

After a seven-hour drive, I pulled into the little town of Julian near the park. Park headquarters, motel accommodations, and easy access to Anza Borrego are in Borrego Springs, a community wholly engulfed by the park. But I could find no affordable accommodations there, so I stayed at a little lodge in Julian—a happy surprise as it turned out. This historic town is set in a forest of pines and oaks 4,000 feet up in the Cuyamaca Mountains, the last gasp of water-loving green foliage and a very different landscape than the park twenty miles away and 3,500 feet below.

Early light is the best, so I rose before the sun and set out for Coyote Canyon, a broad valley north of Borrego Springs. Four miles out a dirt road, I pulled over amid an Ocotillo forest in full bloom. These intriguing plants send out a cluster of thorned stalks that spread apart as they rise high overhead before drooping delicately down to an inflorescence of showy red blossoms. As I ventured farther up the wash, clumps of desert dandelion, Bigelow’s monkeyflower, Canterbury bells, beavertail cactus and countless others decorated the ground beneath the Ocotillos.

The patches of color I found were beautiful, but I was looking for the mother lode—a photo calendar scene of flowers carpeting the desert floor reaching into the distance. The reports I read on the internet said that the bloom was lush along Henderson Canyon Road at the foot of Coyote Mountain just north of Borrego Springs.

Eureka! From the road edge the display was jaw-dropping and it grew more spectacular with each step I took. The Colorado Desert in Anza Borrego could not appear more inhospitable. In the surrounding mountains and the sere desert floor, the earth’s bare brown bones are a hostile and forbidding sight. But this spring, for a fleeting moment, a riot of color adorned this bleak canvas. How, I wondered, could a flower as delicate and elegant as a desert primrose thrive here even for a moment?