This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
I’ve always wanted to go see the desert wildflowers in the desert near San Diego. I’ve lived here 28 years and only just went for the first time. If you’ve been making excuses for years, too, it’s time to make it happen. For me, it took receiving an invitation from good friends. I’m so glad I went!
Why see the wildflowers now?
2017 is a “superbloom” year! Since we’ve had a drought for the last several years, desert wildflowers were at an all-time low. If it’s even possible, the desert looked more like a desert than it ever had. Until this year. With heavy rains in the fall and winter (Anza Borrego received 7 inches of rain), conditions were perfect for wildflower seeds that had lain dormant for years, to finally grow and bloom.
Can you visit in a day?
A trip to Anza Borrego State Park is an easy day trip from San Diego (only 2 hours away). It isn’t much further from Los Angeles (about 3 hours), but that might be a long enough drive that you’d prefer to make an overnight trip.
How do you get there?
Well, there are several routes you can take, and Google will advise you with the best route, depending on traffic when you leave. But this is the route I took.
You can also go on the route that takes you through Ramona. It’s like “six of one/half a dozen of another”. There’s not much difference in the time it takes.
Borrego Springs, CA
Borrego Springs is the town; Anza Borrego Desert State Park is the official name of the desert here. When you come down the final decline (Montezuma-Borrego Hwy or S22), it pretty much lands you at the entrance of Anza Borrego State Park. Except that when we went, the park entrance was closed because there were TOO many visitors (not enough parking). You could still enter the park; you just couldn’t drive in. There were signs indicating we could go to the Borrego Springs Mall for information about seeing the wildflowers, but when we arrived there, the best advice we received was from a local resident who said we should head to the roundabout, and take Borrego Springs Rd, until we arrived at Henderson Canyon Road. As this advice coincided with wildflower reports I had read online, this is where we went first.
(Click on any photo to see caption, or to enlarge)
The property at the intersection of Borrego Springs Rd and Henderson Canyon Rd is called Galleta Meadows. It’s private property, but the owner posts signs allowing the public to come onto the property to enjoy not only the desert flora, but also the metal sculptures on display here! The late owner, Dennis Avery, added 130 sculptures created by Ricardo Breceda, including a 350-ft. undulating serpent that appears to travel under Borrego Springs Rd.
Here’s a video by DesertUSA with an overview of the sculptures. I have no association with them, but thought you might enjoy the aerial view of the serpent.
Many people park their cars along the road here to take photos with the sculptures. But once you’ve parked, why not check out the beautiful blooming wildflowers, too? With the mountains as a backdrop, it is a stunning display. Not only wildflowers, but a large variety of cacti. The most striking is probably the Ocotillo, which can grow as high as 33 feet tall. I didn’t realize just how tall they were until we stood next to one!
There are many online wildflower guides to help you identify the wildflowers here, but you can expect to see Sand Verbena, Lupine and Dune Evening Primrose. Here is the guide I found, dated March 17, 2017. Much of this information will apply every year during wildflower season.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park
After exploring in Galleta Meadows for about 45 minutes, we returned to Anza Borrego Desert State Park. We were able to park on the side of the road near the entrance and walk to the visitor center, which was less than 1/2 mile.
Because we walked in, we also avoided the $5 parking fee. Next to the visitor center is a beautiful garden area, a pupfish pond, palm trees, and a rooftop viewing area. Inside are restrooms, rangers who can answer all of your questions, and many educational displays about the desert and desert life.
We walked for a half hour or so on a trailhead across the street from the visitor center and took many photographs of the varied wildflowers. Colors range from yellow to white to magenta to red to purple and even light green. The sky overhead was a vivid blue with a few white streaks of cloud, like exclamation points.
If you’re thinking the desert wildflowers superbloom will be anything like Butchart Gardens, you will be rather disappointed. In order to fully appreciate the miracle of all these desert blooms, you have to understand just how dry and barren this desert usually is! This is a typical Anza Borrego scene when it is completely barren. Just a little contrast, wouldn’t you say?
What else should you know?
It is very important that you understand this is a desert. While it was only about 80 degrees F when we arrived at 11 am, the temperatures rose quickly, and it was 93 degrees F by the time we left at 2:00 pm. The air is very dry. You will need to have water with you at all times while you are walking outside. Do NOT underestimate the need for water! Even though I was continually drinking water, my hands began to swell from mild dehydration. Sunscreen is also necessary. And be thorough when applying it. I ended up with a sunburned streak on my neck everywhere that wasn’t covered by my camera strap! You might also appreciate having chapstick with you. Wear good protective shoes for walking. It is very possible to come across a rattlesnake or scorpion, although I never saw any.
With all the crowds descending on Borrego Springs to see the superbloom, resources are quickly spent. Many of the gas stations were closed because they had run out of gas. The restaurant we tried to visit for lunch turned us away because they had run out of food from the weekend rush. (We visited on a Monday). We brought snacks with us, so we were fine. When we left, we drove the route that took us to Santa Ysabel where we had a wonderful lunch at the Apple Country Restaurant (only 45 minutes away). Entrees are all about $10, and very tasty. We also picked up a slice of pie to go at Julian Apple Pie. So yummy!
What if it’s not wildflower season when you read this?
First, check the DesertUSA website for up-to-date wildflower reports. If it’s too late for this year, be sure to mark it on your calendars for next March. Typically, the second week of March is the best, but depending on conditions, you may see wildflowers well into April. In the meantime, there are other fun things to do in the desert. Off-roading, camping, and hiking to the Borrego Palm Canyon Oasis are all very popular activities. Here’s information about the oasis hike (only 3 miles RT), as well as several others, including the Maidenhair Falls.
Also, don’t discount the scenery as you drive. We really enjoyed the cascading yellow flowers that clung to the rock walls lining S22, and the pastoral landscapes near Santa Ysabel.
So, when are YOU going to the desert?