Now that the holiday crowds and storm clouds have passed us by we have started venturing out from our southern California base camp to explore the surroundings. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park and only about an hour’s drive from where we are headquartered.
The area is a sort of bowl, that was long long ago an inland sea. Today it is a desert/badlands area surrounded by rocky granite mountains slowly eroding over the eons in the most beautiful way possible. It is home to bighorn sheep, RV snowbirds, and a few die hard full time residents who can stand the 100+ degree weather in the summer.
We decided to take a Jeep tour of the area with Aaron Dennis who runs Borrego Jeep Photo Adventures. Aaron drives you around in his highly capable jeep taking you to great spots for photo’s and taking in the beauty of the place first hand. He delivered on all counts. We saw many beautiful things both in the Jeep and on foot. He had great photography advice and pointed out especially nice shots as we toured about. He knew a great deal about the area, its history and its wildlife. And we had some real adventure navigating the back trails after a recent flash flood had come through.
We got some first hand experience with how rain and wind can create a shifting landscape as Aaron navigated washed out trails or pointed to now covered rock formations or newly released boulders tumbling from the sandstone. It is a great juxtaposition of formations that are truly ancient and a landscape that can change dramatically in the blink of an eye when the conditions are right.
Even the river into the area was nothing short of spectacular. The road we took winds through granite mountains surrounded by snow dusted peaks specked with cacti, sagebrush, creosote bush, smoke trees, several species of cholla and other native plants that can go months without water in the baking sun. While I had to keep my eye on the steep winding road, it was none the less a breathtaking view.
Of the plants we saw, the teddy bear cholla seemed especially ominus despite its cuddly name. From a distance, the cholla has fuzzy branches which kind of resemble teddy bear arms. But the closer you get, you realize that the plant is completely covered in silvery sharp spines. Too close, and you’ll soon discover a cholla arm or ball painfully stuck into you. The spines have minute backwardly facing barbs which allow the cholla have a steadfast grip. We were told not to grab the cholla stem to remove it, you will end up injuring your hand. You have to flick it away with something like a comb and then pull out any remaining barbs with a pair of plyers. When you do flick away a cholla stem, don’t flick it back at yourself or at another person.
Considering the size of the place we only scratched the surface with our 3 hour tour. There are many interesting sites in the area and a great deal of curious plants and geologic features. Like many trips I had a good list of things to look up and read more about when we got back home. And of course we have a hefty collection of photographs, the best of which you can see here.
Tour Guide: Aaron Dennis
Tour Company: Borrego Jeep Photo Adventures