Four More Desert Playgrounds

California: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park     Photo: Corbis

The last time I visited Anza-Borrego—a forbidding wilderness extending from the Salton Sea west to the Laguna Mountains and from the Mexican border north to Riverside County—a friend and I mountain-biked up to the Carrizo Badlands Overlook for views of a 100,000-acre expanse of alkali desert and small ranges, where sunsets turn the jagged little mountains flame-red. Another favorite jaunt of mine is hiking two days through Coyote Canyon, with its riparian woodlands of willow, California fan palms, mesquite, and acacia, and spring-fed Coyote Creek.
SLEEP: Borrego Valley Inn has the two essential ingredients of a desert hideaway: seclusion and privacy. The 15-room inn, with two pools, is on ten acres in the town of Borrego Springs. The saltillo-tiled, earth-toned rooms all have private patios and are situated around a large courtyard with a garden and a finch-filled aviary. (Doubles, $120–$220 per night, breakfast included; 800-333-5810, www.borregovalleyinn.com)
PLAY: Get hiking maps at Anza-Borrego's visitor center, a half-mile from the inn. Smoketree Arabian Ranch (760-767-5850, www.smoketreearabianranch.com), across the street from the inn, leads horseback day tours to the park ($200 per person).
EAT: Badlands Café and Market (760-767-4058), in Borrego Springs, makes great picnic lunches. Catch a grizzled desert rat crooning "Summer Wind" on karaoke night at Carlee's Place (760-767-3262).

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