The beautiful badlands near San Diego

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of March 13-20, 1996
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The beautiful badlands near San Diego
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The beautiful badlands near San Diego
Question: I will be in San Diego for a show during April. I would like to plan something around the show and was hoping for advice. I will be traveling alone, and I like to mountain bike, hike, and camp. I am single and 33 and can plan a three- to five-day trip. Any advice would be most helpful.

Laurence M. Baum
Syracuse, NY
[email protected]

Two hours from San Diego, Borrego Springs is gateway to strangely beautiful badlands
Adventure Adviser: If I were you, I'd head about two hours northeast of San Diego to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, 600,000 acres of strangely beautiful badlands that have been gullied and gouged over the years by floods and erosion. OK, OK, so the prospect of spending your vacation trekking through mud hills and brittle-bush cactus probably doesn't thrill you, but wait. Before you flee to the tame, yet admittedly pretty San Diego-area beaches, picture yourself mountain biking through arroyos dotted with flecks of jade, cobalt, and electric yellow rocks. The park's well-marked dirt roads wind deep into ancient strata where intrepid travelers have found dinosaur tracks and the fossilized remains of winged lizards.

Between Anza-Borrego's badlands and the juniper-and piñon-covered Laguna Range to the west lie the broad, sandy slopes of the Sonoran desert, thick with tenacious plant life. Especially stunning are the octotillo's fuschia spring flowers and neon-green stems, which can grow as tall as 18 feet. An easy day hike from the park's visitor center to Borrego Palm Canyon leads over rocks and sand into a spring-fed oasis of fan palms. That's a good place to spot thirsty wildlife, including rare western yellow bats, hooded orioles, badgers, coyotes, and elusive bighorn sheep.

As for logistics, Borrego Springs, just off Route S-3 in the center of the park, has gas stations, a camping supplies store, a bike-rental shop, a grocery store, a few restaurants, and a handful of motels. Try the Whispering Sands (619-767-3322) for reasonably priced doubles ($25-$35 per night), or call the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce at 619-767-5555 for other suggestions. If you've got your tent, try one of the park's developed campgrounds or head into the backcountry for more solitude--just be sure to avoid sites near the remote water holes that wildlife depend on.

For park topo maps and more information, call or stop by the visitor center one mile west of town (619-767-5311). You may also want to check out "Anza-Borrego: A Desert Retrospective" in the Destinations section of our September 1991 issue.

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