Thursday, March 16, 2017

Visiting Anza-Borrego Desert Park and the Sultan Sea Recreation Area in CA

The greater amounts of rain and cooler temperatures in these desert lands provided the perfect recipe for producing a banner year for wildflowers!  So we journeyed to Borrego Springs, CA to see the first “super bloom” Anza-Borrego Desert Park has experienced in decades.

It’s about a three-hour trip from our camping area in Q, so we got a VERY early start at 5 a.m.  As we traveled, I could see snow still covered the mountaintops outside Coachella.  Continuing on, groves of palm and citrus trees dotted the landscape, and the fragrance of citrus tickled my nose!  

We stopped at Saltan Sea Beach for some photo ops of the Saltan Sea.  The “town”, which consists of under 500 people and only about a ½ dozen dead-end streets, is a bit scary, with lots of graffiti and burned out abandoned buildings.  Mom and I snapped a few pics, inhaled a few whiffs of the salty air, and high-tailed it back to the truck.

We entered Anza-Borrego Desert Park from County Roads S2 and S22, portions of which are very poorly maintained.  Guess they strive for the roads to fit in with the surrounding badlands.  Fortunately, as we traveled on, the road conditions improved and so did the scenery, now sporting vegetation.  We learn there are tons of boondocking opportunities here, even for big rigs!  As California’s largest State Park, Anza-Borrego encompasses nearly 600,000 acres, of which 400,000 are back country and wild.  Needless to say, we saw only a glimpse of all it has to offer.  We met up with wonderful friends from Amazon, Rick and Janice, at the Visitor Center.  We began our park exploration by hiking three trails in the immediate area of the Visitor Center:  the All-access Nature Trail, the Campground Trail, and the Panoramic Overlook Trail.  The flowers were so gorgeous, hugging the creosotes, cacti, and other bushes like landscaped flower beds!

The real treat was seeing the “Sunflower Fields”.  Now bear in mind, they are not the tall, big-headed sunflowers we had in our backyard garden in NJ with the seeds that the squirrels and birds loved.  However, these smaller yellow wildflowers just made me beam with happiness!    The blooms were just prolific, dotting the desert floor like a yellow carpet!  I felt just like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz when she gazed upon Emerald City for the first time!  Just breathtaking.  A prime example of The Creator's handiwork. The color scheme of the sunflowers, combined with lilies and other flora of white and purple hues, just exuded “Easter”.  How I yearned to pick a basket of flowers to make Mom a bonnet!  But I followed the directive of the Park Service, “leave only footprints, take only memories”.   Borrego is the Spanish translation for “big horn sheep”. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of the 60 who supposedly reside in the Park.

We viewed the sculptures of Ricardo Breceda, whose metal art of insects, camels, elephants, dinosaurs, and even the Loch Ness monster, are so detailed in physical attributes and emotion that they appear likelike!  Big Boomer looked like a Volkswagon Beetle compared to the size of the scorpion/spider sculptures.

These creatures were so lifelike in size and detail, I was hiding behind Big Boomer for fear they would eat me!

The emotional and physical agony this creature is experiencing is felt by all who view it.

We head into Borrego Springs, a quaint, art-centric little hub, with Christmas Circle Park in the center of town—literally.  Located in a traffic roundabout, it is a favorite spot for folks to chill, lounge on blankets, sunbathe, or enjoy an iced tea in the shade.  The town hosts only about ½ dozen restaurants/cafes, and they were all bustling from the inordinate number of weekday visitors.  We decided on Carlee’s, which has something for everyone’s taste.  Unfortunately, the wait time was over an hour.  A Borrego Springs native recommended the Red Ocotillo Café as an alternative.  With just a 20 minute wait time, we said what the heck.  The Café is small, with shabby chic décor and unassuming exterior, not to mention no indoor bathrooms (portables outside).  Needless to say, we didn’t expect much.  But we were all pleasantly surprised with the food and the service.  Dad’s Cobb salad was a “hefty man's portion” packed with chicken, avocado, and blue cheese (good thing Janice chose the ½ size serving).  Mom and I had the French dip sandwich, with medium rare beef (just the way we like it) on a sourdough roll and a side of mixed greens tossed with tomatoes, red onion, cucumber and Kalamata olives.  Rick was was quite satisfied with the taste and size of his Reuben as well.  Our server Sherry did an outstanding job, in spite of how busy she was.

My French Dip platter

Time to part ways with the Binns.  We wished them well on their upcoming trek north to Alaska (I asked if I could stow away in their storage compartment, but they declined politely).

We headed to the California 111 for the Sultan Sea Recreation Area.  The 111 takes you through farmlands with cattle and crops.  The odor of manure hung in the air and stung my nostrils.  Luckily the irrigated farms were a favorite hangout of assorted waterfowl, making the stench a minor annoyance to witnessing such a wonderful sight.     

We opted to stay on the 111 to visit various locations of the Sultan Sea Recreation Area to evaluate boondocking opportunities, foregoing a visit to The Slabs outside Niland (especially after seeing what Sultan Sea Beach looked like.)  For those of you unfamiliar, The Slabs or Slab City refers to the concrete building pads that are the remains of Marine Corp Training Camp Dunlap, built in 1942 and dismantled in 1956.  Slab City is a haven for squatters and nontraditional snowbirds. Inhabitants tend to be unconventional, minimalistic, artsy types (a visit to East Jesus or Salvation Mountain will attest to this), reminiscent of hippies with Scooby Doo vans.   They take “living off the grid” to the extreme, and are even quirkier than my own parents (who qualify as pretty weird for  traveling in their house on wheels with goldfish, a cat, and me, a stuffed rat who writes a blog!)

Views of the Sultan Sea along California 111

We passed the International Banana Museum, which bills itself the “most aPEELing destination on the planet.”  Apparently, it is everything bananas.    From harmonicas, pillows, ceramics—everything resembles a banana.  Most appealing to me is that it has a banana bar:  Splits, shakes, and smoothies.  I was drooling just reading about it.  I convinced Mom and Dad to let me visit, only to find it was closed.  Talk about disappointment.  They promised me we would visit next year.  PLEASE hound them for me so they actually do it.  I’ll just go bananas if I don’t get to the Banana Museum.

We arrived home to one hot and bothered Tabby.  Dad indulged her with running the air conditioner for several hours.

Oh well, time for me to say goodbye for now.  Speak to you again soon!


  1. You guys were in our neighbourhood. We arrived at the Oasis Palms RV Resort in Thermal on the 16th. Decided against anymore boon-docking with the temps in the 90's. Although we've been to Borrego many times we've never seen it in bloom so may have to check it out too.

  2. Great pics of the flowers! You were smart to come on the weekend, it's bumper-to-bumper this weekend, but once away from town we'll explore a few lesser known spots. The sunflowers and daffodils still make for huge carpets of yellow. Now with verbena (blue) and popcorn (white) adding a bit of depth.