Anza-Borrego All photos by Ellen Baker | Camping spots strewn throughout the park

Let’s keep this one a secret. It’s the best-kept secret that I have discovered recently and I am writing about it in a printed AND online publication—what’s wrong with me? Apparently I really have faith that you Submerge followers are some down-to-earth, cool fucking people. Let’s prove me right and not turn this place into a shit show like many of my favorite outdoor destinations have become. University Falls, I’m talking about you.

The weekend was fast-approaching and per usual, my bones ached for some sort of adventure. The forecast predicted rain in every inch of California. I spent endless minutes on my iPhone weather app typing in arbitrary California towns in search of clear skies for the weekend. Reaching a point of acceptance that it would be a wet weekend, a friend mentioned the desert in Southern California: Anza-Borrego. Clear skies. Done.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park lies two hours northeast of San Diego; a long drive for us Sacramentans but a well-worth-it trip, even if only for a mere three-day weekend.

5 p.m. on Friday rolled around, and I threw my already packed bags (this, a rarity; a proud moment indeed) into the car. We didn’t make it all the way to the state park on Friday night but the five hour drive to Kern County was not all that bad. My faithful driver, who didn’t nap the entire way, might think otherwise. The following day consisted of a dip in the nearby hot spring, chats with the locals who built the hot spring 30 years ago and a few hour drive to the outskirts of the park. There also may have been a stop at an Irish bar off the highway (not so sure about the Irish part, but they were playing Irish music and called it Irish night).


{A view from above the park at night}

I woke up Sunday morning to the sun beams peeking out from behind the clouds, illuminating the surrounding hills, blue skies beyond. Down the hill we ventured into the park. Prior to this trip I was quite excited because it was the weekend of free entry into all state parks. Turns out Anza-Borrego is always free. With hundreds of miles of dirt roads to adventure on, these roads are also open for camping. There are a few rules regarding where exactly you can camp, but free camping almost anywhere? Seriously? I’m sold.

Walking into the visitor center, which is located almost underground, every employee I spoke with was well-versed in the ins-and-outs of the park and even shared a few secrets of where to go to escape the crowds.


{Logan the Dog romping through the desert}

There are slot canyons (think 127 Hours), badlands and breathtaking wildflower blooms if you go during the right season, i.e., right now! I have never witnessed the wildflowers but I have heard incredible reviews and seen photos that look unreal. I may even make another trip down there just to see the flowers, like, this weekend. The endless miles of dirt roads are perfect for ATVs, bikes, hiking and just exploring on foot. If you’re not into any of these things, I’m pretty sure there is also a golf course somewhere nearby.

As far as national and state parks go, I approach them expecting crowds. Arriving at Anza-Borrego surprised me when the busiest place in the entire park was the visitor center bathroom. Whether your visit is extended or simply a long weekend, the park is spaced out on such a huge mass of land you could explore for weeks or just spend a full day in a slot canyon, bird watching or hiking through the badlands. The sunsets are absolutely mind blowing, and flashbacks from Jurassic Park may roll through your mind as you drive through valleys on the windy dirt roads. If you follow these dirt roads you can find petroglyphs and pictographs. I didn’t stay long enough to learn the difference between the two—let me know if you find out. Giant boulders are scattered about the desert and talus-filled cliffs loom over the roads. If you’re a cactus professional, you’ll like this place; I felt like I was on a different planet for the majority of my exploring. The flora is green from all the rain we have been having, the wildflowers are blooming, the skies are blue, the sunsets red, the people are few and the land is vast. Keep this one quiet and adventure on.


{Meandering dirt roads}

    Ellen Baker

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    Rock scrambling, exploring and taking photos along the way.