Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is in the extreme south of California on the Mexico border offers many different landscapes in which you can lose yourself for days. As a state park, it's not as pristine as a National Park, but with a bit of effort you can still find the hidden gems that make this place sing. With plenty roads to explore, history to absorb, and natural wonders to see, you don't want to miss this special place.
Note: While Anza-Borrego is surrounded by civilization and there are generally quite a few people around, it is still easy to find yourself in a remote area, plan accordingly. Know where you can get fuel and water, and carry extra. If you are travelling alone, be extremely cautious - if you get stuck on some of the more remote roads, it could be many days before someone else comes along to help.
Our Exploration of Anza-Borrego
So you're interested in exploring Anza-Borrego? Here are a few highlights to check out.
Fonts Point is a popular place, and you're likely to find no fewer than 15 vehicles parked in the lot, but don't let that deter you from visiting. The badlands here are as extensive as I've seen anywhere, and are a only short stroll from the end of the road. As you reach the overlook, the badlands spread out into the distance, the geometric shapes of each crevice inviting our eyes to explore them. Sit down for a moment and do exactly that!
These pumpkins are created from a single small "seed" - a pebble, an actual seed, etc. - that finds itself in a river bed as sediment is laid down. Over time, each layer of sediment builds up on the seed, enlarging it until - hundreds or thousands of years later - it's a pumpkin-sized stone. As you travel through Anza-Borrego, keep an eye out - you'll discover pumpkins that have escaped from the patch and reside elsewhere in the park in a more natural habitat - sometimes still half-buried in the mountain that has eroded way from the ones shown here.
Most of the roads in Anza-Borrego are in reasonably good shape, and passable in a standard AWD vehicle (as long as you're careful to not get stuck in the sand). If you're looking for a little more technical drive and have a capable vehicle, the road to Calcite Mine might be exactly what you are after - it's a fun road, with great views at it's apex. At then end of the road, there isn't much left of Calcite Mine. In fact, if you didn't know it was a mine site, you might not notice the tell-tale signs of the mining activity - a handful of channels carved into the mountains, where veins of calcite have been removed - by the Polaroid Corporation during WWII - in order to manufacture optical-grade crystals for gun sights and rocket launchers for the U.S. government. But once you know what you're looking for, you can explore for hours!
Canyon Sin Nombre
There are numerous canyons to explore in Anza-Borrego, and this just happens to be - in my opinion - one of the most beautiful. Near the south end of the park, I find it best to drive from south-to-north. The colors and geology here are amazing - the bends and folds of tectonic activity present everywhere around you. If you go, plan to spend nearly an entire day if you can - there are several side canyons that you can explore (on foot), which quickly become tall slot canyons, squeezing you from both sides as you make your way up. The feeling and views as you wind between the hundred-foot tall walls is like no other.
This amazing formation was created over millions of years - its sedimentary layers deposited as part of the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) and prehistoric Lake Cahuilla (the precursor to the Salton Sea). And, like any sea-based sedimentary formation, the Elephant Knees are littered with fossils. From corals, clams, crabs, and shrimp to sharks, rays, and baleen whale - numerous fossils can be found in vast quantities in this area. In fact, vast quantities of oyster shells are what make up the slightly harder layers of sediment - slower to erode as the soft mud above and below wash away, these layers have become the "knees" of the formation.
Galleta Meadows Metal Sculptures
Not technically in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, these sculptures can be found around the western outskirts of Borrego Springs and are accessible with any vehicle. There are well over 125 of these amazing sculptures scattered across the desert - ranging from life-size dinosaurs to modern-day Jeeps showing off their rock-climbing abilities. Take a long morning or afternoon to wander from sculpture to sculpture and find your favorite.
If you get a bit off the beaten path, Anza-Borrego has a ton of cultural history embedded within its borders. Indian Hill is just such a place. Amazingly beautiful, this place is worth a visit even if you aren't looking for the Blue Sun Cave and the petroglyphs it holds. But if you do find it, keep it to yourself - this is not a place that will benefit from higher numbers of visitors.