Backcountry hidden pleasures: Our guide to unique adventures in San Diego’s beautiful backcountry
By Liz Orient
May 16, 2018 (Anza-Borrego) -- Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a unique destination for anyone looking for a fun day trip from San Diego. There are two classes of people: those who love the desert and those who hate the desert. I happen to be one who enjoys the bizarre plants, resourceful animals, and how the mountains change colors at sunset. I hadn't been to Anza-Borrego in several years and it was time to revisit one of my favorite places in California!
I headed out bright and early with my roommate to beat the heat. We stopped in to Soups and Such in Julian for coffee and a bite to eat. Soups and Such is one of my favorite cafes; their farm-to-table soups and salads are noteworthy. Weather permitting, their patio is the perfect spot to socialize with the locals. If time is on your side, spend a few hours strolling around Julian's shops and quirky stores. Don't forget to try a slice of apple pie and indulge in a pint of hard cider.
My roommate and I continued on our journey once we felt adequately recharged. It was interesting to watch the vegetation change from pine trees to Ocotillo shrubs as we descended down the mountain. The red dirt turned into white sand and the air shifted from crisply cool to densely hot.
Finally, we arrived at the Visitor's Center and I snapped back to reality. There it was: a sleek and modern building in the middle of winding succulent gardens. We absentmindedly wandered into a group tour of the center; I learned some useful facts about desert wildlife. I was amazed by the agility of bighorn sheep and how the jackrabbit’s ears aid in temperature regulation. There is a small nature museum for those wanting to delve deeper into ecosystems. Who knew that Anza-Borrego was home to so many different bionetworks?
We rounded out our educational tour with a three-mile walk on the trails that snake their way through the visitor center grounds. Being out in the elements was certainly fun, but challenging.
With time to kill, my roommate and I planned a detour to check out the world-renowned metal sculptures at Galleta Meadows. The 130+ behemoth sculptures are the brainchild of Ricardo Breceda; permanent fixations in the middle of nowhere. Galleta Meadows is hidden in plain sight. Make sure to not rush this experience as the collection is strewn across several acres of property. My favorite pieces were the sea serpent/dragon, the cowboy and his mule, and the quarrelsome horses. Even if you don't visit the park, Breceda's artwork is worth the trip in and of itself.
Within Anza-Borrego State Park, there are numerous trails for hikers to explore. The most well-known route is a moderate 3-mile loop called Palm Canyon Trail. A docent advised that the palm tree oasis and fresh spring water are worth the effort. The trail is also a prime location for bighorn sheep sightings.
Wanting more “zoom zoom” in your vacation? You’re in luck; the desert is an adrenaline junkie’s playground! Many private companies offer 4x4 and off-road excursions. Specifically, touring across the badlands in an outrigger Jeep is a popular activity. Mountain biking, horseback riding, and dune buggy-ing are fun alternative modes of transportation. If you are lucky enough to stay until the evening hours, be sure to watch the sun set from Font’s Point and spend time stargazing.
Anza-Borrego has so much to offer for adventurous souls. A few takeaway points include visiting in the spring or fall to avoid extreme temperatures and to pack a hat, several layers, sunscreen, and plenty of water. Now, get out there and play in the sand for a day!
East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the County of San Diego for providing a Community Enhancement Grant to support our “Backcountry Hidden Pleasures” weekend getaways coverage.