Although the small town of Borrego Springs is small and remote, it loads up on the hospitality so much that you will remember this place long after you’ve departed. It has a way of capturing your heart through the charming resorts, the welcoming visitor center, beautiful scenery, and the unique art displays that puts this town in the likes of a “must see” destination. It is approximately 90 miles from San Diego, and 150 miles from Los Angeles, making this an easy visit from both of the major Southern California metropolitan areas.
The Heart of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Anza-Borrego State Park is located to the east of San Diego in Southern California. It is a gold mine for 4 x 4 activities and remote hiking trails. You can purchase 4 x 4 tour packages or rentals, or bring your own. It is a wonderland for the adventurist seeking raw open spaces to explore with its many trails and off roading possibilities. For those of us that live in sprawling metropolitan cities, it is a refreshing change to experience the openness of the land. Plenty of camp sites are available throughout the park, however, if roughing it is not your thing, you have the option of staying at one of the several resorts in Borrego Springs. The city lies in the heart of the State Park and is full of its own charms apart from the rugged wilderness of the rest of the State Park. It is also the location of the Anza-Borrego State Park Visitor Center, a recommended stop for the beginning of your trip.
Anza-Borrego State Park Visitor Center
The visitor center is a beautiful (and cool!) spot to get maps and learn more about the surrounding desert. It is a destination in its own right, as it has many things to see and do, including strolling through the arid gardens, and learning about the history in the museum displays. When you first pull into the lot, you won’t see the building, since it is built underground. Follow the clearly marked signs for the Visitor Center and it will be easy to find. There is a short movie to watch in the theater that is a fascinating glimpse of the desert through the year’s seasons. Kids will like it too because of all the animals featured in it. For me, the movie made me even more excited to get out and explore! There are helpful guides that can offer ideas for what type of adventure you might enjoy. Bottled water is also available at an affordable price, just incase you forgot your own. There are fun activities for kids, including a treasure hunt that my daughter did. After you are done exploring the inside of the building, outside you can enjoy the beautiful rugged scenery. The center is nestled in the ground to provide an energy efficient way of staying cool in the harsh desert heat. Surrounding the building are gardens and views of the nearby mountains that it is nestled in. You can go up to the top of the building and get some great vistas. Please keep in mind the hours- October through May, open daily 9am to 5pm. June through September, weekends and holidays only, 9 to 5
Finding a Place to Lay Your Head
At the visitor center, you will get guides to the city of Borrego Springs, which will have a list of the different types of overnight lodging. You could also use this link on hotels.com. I like using hotels.com because there are lots of pictures, reviews, and great prices. You can decide what works best for you, but you will see that there are several resorts that offer different amenities based on what your needs are. We stayed at Palm Canyon Hotel and RV Resort, not too far from the visitor center. It had a charming western feel, and it felt perfect for my family. There was a live band on the restaurant patio when we were there, which gave the place such a lively atmosphere. There is just something about that “saloon” feeling while in the desert of the “wild west” that made it feel appropriate.
Galleta Meadows- Beasts in the Desert
One of the most fascinating parts of a visit to Borrego Springs is seeing the metal art sculptures of Galleta Meadows, known as “sky art”. These random sculptures dot the desert terrain, often in isolation, just waiting to be discovered in a manner similar to that of treasure hunting. In order to find them all, you need to get a map from the Borrego Springs Visitor Center or the ABDNHA desert store. Some of them are so hidden that they are impossible to see by just passing by on the road, and then some of them are so obvious that you can’t miss them.
Large areas of land known as Galleta Meadows Estates were owned by a man named Dennis Avery, heir to the Avery Dennison empire that is known for their handy self stick labels. A philanthropist and well loved by many, he invested into Borrego Springs to preserve the land, and to contribute a gift to the public. The city of Borrego Springs was near and dear to him, since he lived there with his family, raising his children in the community. He was an art lover and wanted something unique for his land. He found Ricardo Breceda, who is considered the “accidental artist”, since it was not his first mission in life to be an artist. Yet, with such a grand commission to create art for all that land, how could he resist?
Ricardo has a talent that you can see in the detail of many of these sculptures. Each one has a life all its own. They are fashioned after what the earliest occupants of the land were imagined to be. They are fun, and a sight to behold, especially when you are standing there on the raw desert land, surrounded only by only the native flora, the tall mountains as the backdrop, and the art. For some reason, standing alone in the wilderness gives the sculptures a surreal feeling. Part of the adventure is also finding each sculpture from your map. As you are driving, it is an exciting moment when the installation comes into sight, as if you had found the treasure. There are over 120 sculptures throughout the Borrego Springs area, so allow yourself the time to explore. I spent 2 days on the self guided tour, both at sunset, and again in the late morning.
Some of these installations are in remote areas that require driving on a dirt road. At times it can get bumpy, however, it is relatively easy to do. I was able to do it in my Toyota Camry…although it did need a bath afterwards.
Because of the remote location and desirable weather, Borrego Springs is a perfect place to see the stars without the city lights. In fact, it is considered one of the best places to see the stars in the United States! The city of Borrego Springs holds the unique status of being an International Dark Sky Community. It is a rare badge to be honored with. The geographical location and the citizens’ commitment to keeping light pollution at a minimum make it possible. It is hard to believe that a town so close to major metropolitan cities can be a mecca for stargazing, but because of the miles of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and large mountains that surround the town, the sky remains pure and free of light pollution. Also add in the dry weather almost year round and you have the perfect recipe for stargazing! Keep in mind the lunar phases if you go to see the stars, and plan your trip preferably when there is a new moon. You can do it on your own, or you can do a stargazing tour. Dennis Mammana has spent over 4 decades studying the stars, and makes the perfect guide. Visit his website to learn more about the services he offers by clicking here. He also lists the celestial calendar if you wish to plan your visit around a cosmic event, such as meteor showers.
During the months of February to April, the area comes alive with the wildflowers. It is one of the many sights that Borrego Springs is known for. The visitor’s center will have information on the best areas for viewing. The open window is hard to predict, because it depends on the weather patterns in the region. I was there in late March, early April, and the season of bloom had already passed, even though technically I was within the normal period. The weather that year had not permitted for a long display of blooming. You can call the Wildflower Hotline for 24 hour news and updates at (760) 767-4684. This will be a helpful tool in planning your trip if you wish to see the flowers, since timing is everything with this activity. Also remember that it is considered a peak time for tourism is the area, so it may be a good idea to make reservations in advance at one of the local resorts.
Borrego Springs- Something for Everybody
No matter what type of activity you prefer, Borrego Springs is sure to satisfy. It is close enough to San Diego that you can get there within a couple hours, and still feel that you are miles and miles away. If you enjoy camping, there are multiple campground sites within the Anza-Borrego desert. Maybe a relaxing resort is more your pace, then you can choose your style of relaxation from one of the many resorts in town. You can go biking, golfing, 4×4, hiking or just regular sightseeing. Just remember that this is the desert, so summer temperatures do get pretty hot, and winter can get a little chilly. Visiting at each time has it’s pros and cons. During the off peak summer, you can find phenomenal stargazing and good deals at the resorts, with still time to explore the desert in the cooler morning hours. The winter and spring seasons, especially wildflower season, are considered peak season because of the more tolerable weather. Resort prices are also a little higher. If you want to continue your desert adventure, directly to the east is the Salton Sea and the colorful Salvation Mountain, both being a unique adventure in their own right.
Below is a list of helpful phone numbers:
Wildflower Hotline (760) 767-4684
The Visitor Center (760) 767-4205
Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce (760) 767-5555 www.borregospringschamber.org
Campground Reservations (800) 444-7275 www.reserveamerica.com
Park Headquarters (760) 767-5311 www.parks.ca.gov
Anza-Borrego Foundation (760) 767-0446 www.theabf.org