After years of parched arid air, California finally received a bounty of precipitation in the 2016-2017 fall and winter. Most of us Southern Californians reveled in the uncommon rainy days, ventured up to the mountains to enjoy some snow, and breathed in as much humid air as we could. When spring came, the wildflower enthusiasts were waiting with bated breath to see what this would mean for the annual blooms across the state. Low and behold, a “super bloom” ensued—more bountiful and vibrantly colored flowers bloomed on hillsides and in deserts alike than had been witnessed in years. The Super Bloom was even visible from space!
We had to check it out. So, we decided to take a family “babymoon” to see the super bloom in Anza Borrego State Park, east of San Diego. We planned to hike, despite one of us being especially pregnant at the time and one of us being a particularly whiny toddler. You would think this would have meant extensive research in advance about the best trails to use under those conditions, and the best ways to avoid the insanely massive crowds that descended upon the desert on the weekend we went. However, this was a fairly spontaneous adventure (which are harder to come by in these days with young children, and must be encouraged whenever possible despite the inevitable tantrums involved).
So, we grabbed the last hotel room I could find, even brought Grandma along, and headed out of town as early as we could. Quick review of the hotel – the room I found happened to be a basic two-queen room at the Borrego Springs Resort & Spa that was insanely overpriced given the Super Bloom weekend situation. We didn’t feel that folks were particularly excited to have a tired toddler running around, and we did have to wait a few hours for our room to be ready but the pool felt nice on a hot desert day. The accommodations were fine and the view from the hotel’s golf course-fronting restaurant was nice, although the food was mediocre for the price.
Arriving into town was hectic, and we had made it by early-mid morning on a Friday, which was quite the feat. We arrived in time to secure a parking spot at the Visitor Center, which was a challenge during the Super Bloom. Our toddler enjoyed the educational displays there. We were directed to a large field of gorgeous blooms off of Henderson Canyon Road. It was surreal. A sea of yellow for as far as we could see, beckoning us to venture farther and farther toward the foothills on the other side. This was the perfect photo opportunity, and we grabbed some fun shots. These were some of the least objectionable maternity shots of me during the second pregnancy, I must say. I am not big on maternity photo shoots, so the sea of gorgeous wildflowers taking center stage was just fine by me. In addition to the yellow blooms, there were patches of white and purple mixed in, and there were caterpillars everywhere munching on the endless leaves. A friend who went a couple of weeks after we did reported swarms of beautiful moths everywhere – honestly, I’m glad we were there for the caterpillar stage instead though!
The next morning, we were out of the hotel before dawn, and enjoyed a beautiful open-sky desert sunrise on the way to the trailhead. We were headed to Palm Canyon Trail, and were told we had to arrive before the parking lot even opened to get a parking spot. That was good advice. When the did eventually open, the overwhelmed attendant was greeted with a very long line of parked cars waiting to pay and park near the trailhead. When we left, we saw hikers walking in from parking lots miles away to access the trail. The trail was worth it. It was a fairly easy to moderate 3+ mile trail to a desert oasis. There was a loop option, but we just did the out-and-back given the shade patterns that morning.
The palm oasis is one of the largest in California, and it is really quite impressive to see this large grove of palm trees appear from the middle of the desert floor. The shade is a welcome respite. The stream emanating from the oasis during the spring was actually our favorite part of the hike and an unusual feature for a desert hike. We were treated to incredible rainbows of wildflowers in bloom all along the trail. Even in non-Super Bloom conditions though, we would certainly recommend this hike. It is suitable for children due to the moderate length and just a slight elevation change. Our toddler rode in a backpack most of the way but did get out and walk on his own a bit. Going on a less crowded day would have made that a much more viable option for more of the hike.
As an added bonus, on our hike we were lucky enough to see a few Bighorn sheep in the distance. If you go on this hike, be more prepared than we were and take binoculars! We were kicking ourselves for not having them with us.
Anza-Borrego State Park is an excellent weekend trip from anywhere in Southern California, and is well worth the visit anytime. Springtime any year would be my preference given the possibility of wildflowers and the stream at Palm Canyon Trail. Happy hiking!