5-7-19 Borrego Springs

For the maiden voyage of K’s new Jeep and camper rig, we decided to go to Borrego Springs – somewhere we know pretty well, including the state park campground. We’ve been there a number of times visiting our friends Tracy and Pam, who seem to love the place.

So off we went out the 76, past Indian casinos and Palomar Mountain. We made a quick stop at the Lake Henshaw restaurant, and the fare was surprisingly good. A chicken taco and a BLT hit the spot.

We decided to take the less aggressive route to Borrego through SR78, as opposed to straight down Montezuma Valley Road through Ranchita. The downhill grade on that one is steep, and for a first time out we decided to be conservative.

We reached the campground with no problems, and set up for the first time away from home. Other than a sticky sway bar that I had to kick off, it all went nicely. We nestled into the camper for a quick siesta (well, we *are* retired) and then explored Borrego Springs (the town), all 4-5 blocks of it.

Anza-Borrego is a place that definitely grows on you. It’s harsh most of the year – hot, dry and windy. But it has lots of subtle beauty, and some not so subtle. Here’s a picture of the 2017 spring “superbloom”, in which the desert floor is transformed into one of the finer gardens you’ll ever see. Miles and miles of it…

The next morning we decided to take a walk up Palm Canyon, where we’ve each been many times. For the first mile or so we weren’t even sure we were in the right canyon – we’d done my usual “just dive in and we’ll figure it out” approach to the hike, but eventually we came upon trail signs that proved we were indeed walking up Palm Canyon.

We walked until I decided it was about far enough, as we had very little water and the morning was heating up. (Emily has never let me forget the time we took the entire hike in the summer with one water bottle for three of us. We survived…). And just as we turned back down the hill, the magic happened.

I saw a Bighorn standing on a hilltop, perfectly framed against the sky. He was maybe 1000 feet away. We were thrilled by that, but we had no idea how good it was going to get. Over the next 60 minutes, we sat on a log in the arroyo and watched a family of four Bighorns make their way across and down the mountainside, grazing along the way, until they finally decided to cross the arroyo right in front of us.

P1020564It was unreal. They grazed, the younger ones kicked and ran, all as if it were a show just for us. We got some amazing pictures, but the memory was the treasure. Before we left we saw another 4-5 sheep in a family group making the same trek down the hill. And then another 4-5 behind them!

I had started the hike hoping we might see a Bighorn and some nice cactus flowers. We scored on both counts, and the sheep were more than I had ever hoped. We returned to the camper quite happy and amazed.

With a little Internet research, our sighting of more than a dozen sheep that morning seemed even more fortunate. From DesertUSA  I learned:

“Anza-Borrego is one of the last refuges of the Peninsular Bighorn Sheep. Only 280 of this subspecies remain in the United States and 200 find refuge in the park.

The Desert Bighorn has lived in the Borrego Desert for thousands of years. Bighorn migrated from Siberia over 10,000 years ago, extending their range throughout western North America. Today, Bighorn still range into Baja California, but their numbers have dwindled to less than three percent of the estimated 1.5 million of the early 1800s.”

It turns out we saw a significant number of the estimated 200 sheep in the 600,000 acre park, all within that one small canyon area. Whoa.

Later that day we decided to take in a brand new sight – the Salton Sea. While we’d seen it many times from an airline seat, neither of us had even taken the short 40 minute drive from Borrego to the sea. So off we went.

The Salton Sea is fascinating and tragic. An accidental flooding of the ancient seabed in 1905, filled the desert with precious Colorado River water when a canal was breached. For the first few decades, it was a paradise – a huge freshwater lake in the middle of a hardcore desert. People and wildlife flocked to it until it began to shrink and condense into its current toxic, ultra-salty and increasingly lifeless form. The receding shores of the Sea have no flora and no fauna other than a few birds. Pretty much lifeless.

The town(s) around the Salton Sea are equally depressing. Fields of dreams, hundreds of streets with sappy seashore names, mostly empty. The homes there are classic 1960s and 70s era construction, wearily staking their claim to a receding seashore view. It’s hard to imagine that so many people still live there, but…to each her own.

After returning from the memorable but underwhelming Salton Sea, we stopped for an early evening meal at Carlee’s . Carlee’s is an unpretentious greasy spoon/bar, but is one of the only games in town and was recommended. My expectations were low, but as luck would have it, our excellent day continued. I ordered a jalapeno burger, and was treated to the best, juiciest, tastiest burger I’ve had in a long time. Maybe ever. I realize that part of it may have been situational, like wine tasting. Nonetheless, it was a memorable burger and I’ll definitely go back and try to recreate that feeling.

The following morning we went through the ritual/checklist of packing up the RV, hitching up and moving on. Our first trip was easy to call a success.

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