Over the “spring break” I set out on a camping trip to Anza-Borrego Desert SP for two days with my fiancé Melissa and her sister. This was the first time any of us had ever been to the park and we had no idea what to expect other than some blooming wildflowers. I had heard about this park from many friends of mine who had been there previously and they all gave it very positive reviews, stating that it was a spectacular place to go and explore. I had only learned about this state park last year after it had an incredible “super bloom” due to the immense amount of rain the state received over the winter months. It was unfortunate the winter was so dry in the area this year, but despite the dry weather I was still hopeful to see an interesting array of spring flowers at a much smaller scale.
When we arrived, we headed to the visitor center first to get some information about the park and to acquire directions to hiking trails. The visitor center had a wonderful display of desert plants, such as beaver tail cactus, hedgehog cactus, ocotillo, cholla and Palo Verde, almost all of which were in bloom. After partaking in some “touristy” activities, we finally ventured over to the Palm Canyon campground to set up our campsite and get ready for an afternoon hike. Since we had arrived early, our campsite was still occupied and would be until around 2pm, so we decided to go on a hike on the Palm Canyon loop trail to pass the time.
The hike was very mild, with only a few spots where we had to do a bit of scrambling over some rocks and a very slight increase in elevation. Along the trail I saw several flowering plants such as creosote bush, brittlebush, cholla, beaver tail cactus, and a handful of small wildflowers. There were a few small bees and blister beetles on the flowers along the trail but that was it as far as insects went. I didn’t expect much to be flying at since there weren’t too many nectar rich flowers around but of the insects I did see I was quick to get some photographs of them.
At the end of the canyon interior was a very picturesque oasis area, with a pool of water surrounded by very large palm trees. What we learned about this species of palm tree is that it is the only native palm to the Western US and we were standing in its native habitat. This species of palm tree, Washingtonia filifera, is often called the desert fan palm or California fan palm and is primarily found in desert riparian habitats near both spring-fed and stream-fed oases. After taking a quick break under the palm trees, we headed back out of the canyon.
I took this opportunity to take some more photos of the flowering cacti, wildflowers, and insects along the trail as we hiked back to the parking lot. Of those insects was the red-eared blister beetle (Lytta auriculata), which are mostly active in this area during the spring between February-May. This beetle species was the most common among the insects I saw on the trail and seeing brittlebush blooming everywhere made sense as to why. Brittlebush flowers (Encelia sp.) are the favored food source for red-eared blister beetles and seeing all the feeding damage on almost every bush’s flowers confirmed it. Once we got back to my truck we went straight to the campsite and set up camp. We decided to call it a day and planned our adventure for the next day.
The next day ended up being rather short but very enjoyable. We had heard there was a slot canyon in the park so the plan was to hike through that area and then head back home. The directions to get to the slot canyon were very straightforward and the road to get to the trailhead was smooth to drive on despite being mostly sandy. The hike through the slot itself wasn’t very difficult and was also fairly short, although about halfway into the slot it did get very narrow.
Overall, I would say this short hike through the canyon is a very nice introduction to anyone who has never been in a slot canyon before and I recommend it as a must-see place while visiting Anza-Borrego Desert SP. There were other hikes we had thought about doing, but this one was the best for us in terms of how much time we had. There were other hikes we had thought about doing, but this one was the best for us in terms of how much time we had left for the remainder of the day. If I return to this park next spring I will definitely be staying for at least an extra day and hopefully it will rain in the area enough for more wildflowers to bloom, allowing for an even more incredible experience.