Anza-Borrego is California’s biggest and perhaps least-visited state park – 600,000 acres of untamed desert east of San Diego. Named for Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and for the bighorn sheep that reputedly roam the landscape (“borrego” is Spanish for sheep), the park is not quite as distinctive as Death Valley or Joshua Tree but that's part of its appeal. It doesn’t draw as many tourists as the other parks do and, because of that, it retains more of its silent splendor. This is what remains of the awe-inspiring Colorado Desert that John van Dyke wrote about in 1901: “How silently, even swiftly, the days glide by out in the desert, in the waste, in the wilderness! How ‘the morning and the evening make up the day’ and the purple shadow slips in between with a midnight all stars! And how day by day the interest grows in the long overlooked commonplace things of nature!”
The biggest influx of visitors happens at this time of year, when people come to see the spring wildflowers. For a few weeks (depending on winter rainfall), life is plainly visible. For restless city-dwellers like me, the wildflowers are just big enough to draw attention and just small enough to seem like hard-won discoveries. There are views that can boast panoramic grandeur – most notably, Font’s Point – but, as Van Dyke said, the real beauty is found when you stop perceiving the desert as a vast wasteland where everything looks the same, and begin to notice these barely-visible signs of life struggling against the void.
Desert Barrel Cactus
Phacelia at Font’s Point