The rain cycle of the first months of 2020 has left us with lit­tle recourse but fond­ly remem­ber last year’s bet­ter boun­ty that was pro­vid­ed by a few well-timed storms. We con­tin­ue to stack up mem­o­ries of some great bloom years in the last decade, per­haps more than we would expect giv­en cli­mate change. Last year’s bloom was­n’t a “great” year, but appro­pri­ate­ly called by some the “Pop­py Apoc­a­lypse” for its sud­den onset and its enjoy­able, albeit brief, span. Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed in mid-March of 2019…

Verbena Photographer
Pho­tograph­ing the ver­be­na, Salton Sea­way, March 2019

What some have called “The Pop­py Apoc­a­lypse” has come to the Anza-Bor­rego, along with oth­er spring wild­flow­ers com­mon­ly seen in wet years.   

Pop­pies don’t arrive in every area in every superbloom, hav­ing their own idio­syn­crasies par­tic­u­lar to their val­leys and hill­sides, as could be seen the week­end of March 16 along the foothills of Wil­son Peak near San Felipe Wash.  The Tamarisk Grove Camp­ground was a busy spot, as the pop­pies seen along Yaqui Pass Road and the nature trail to the west were the bright­est in ten years. 

The prim­rose and ver­be­na car­pets in Bor­rego Val­ley drew the major­i­ty of vis­i­tors, as every superbloom does, cre­at­ing traf­fic issues in the val­ley and long waits at restau­rants.

All pho­tos this page tak­en March 17, 2019. Blog as of March 19, 2019.

Drape of the north­ern hills at Yaqui Well March 17, 2019.

Inva­sive mus­tard has impact­ed a few pop­u­lar areas, like Hen­der­son Canyon Road, but for the time being the mus­tard is a com­ple­ment in green and was cer­tain­ly no prob­lem on St. Patrick­’s Day.  The wild­flow­ers of the next week­end, the 23rd-24th, may be refreshed by the unex­pect­ed gift rains received in this mid-week, per­haps also lend­ing new growth in new places in Bor­rego Val­ley but more like­ly at high­er ele­va­tions in the park where just one more good lit­tle soak­er would be the tick­et. 

Mam­mil­lar­ia in the rocky apron just west of Tamarisk Camp­ground March 17, 2019.

The south area of the park, which reach­es acces­si­ble ele­va­tions of around 3,000 feet,  is only now begin­ning its cac­tus blooms with the bar­rel cac­tus under­way, and the hedge­hog and chol­la just begin­ning (March 17, 2019).  With­in a cou­ple of weeks the beaver­tail cac­tus should shine.  Some areas in the south park are rich in spo­radic,  diverse patch­es of wild­flow­ers like Indi­an Gorge, where lupin, prim­rose, sand blaz­ing star, ghost flower, mon­key flower (mimu­lus), lacy phacelia, desert laven­der and can­ter­bury bells are in abun­dance.  A high-clear­ance vehi­cle will be need­ed for the gen­tle climb up Indi­an Gorge, due to a few pro­ject­ing rocks from the roadbed, to see its splash­es of wild­flow­ers.

Sphinx Caterpillars
Two vora­cious Sphinx moth cater­pil­lars vie for the same stalk in Bis­na­ga Wash.

Some rec­om­mend­ed venues: Try Plum Canyon, about three miles west of Tamarisk Grove Camp­ground and five miles east of Scis­sors Cross­ing.  Indi­an Val­ley is anoth­er less-trav­eled area, but you’ll need a high clear­ance vehi­cle and a bit more patience to nav­i­gate slow­ly through the gorge. 

An intent-look­ing female phain­ope­pla near Yaqui Well.

Plum Canyon’s gen­tly climb­ing roads from the the entrance kiosk on High­way 78 offer plen­ty of turnouts for close encoun­ters with the side hills and vis­tas of Wil­son Peak to the north, where pop­pies adorn miles of south-fac­ing moun­tain­side. 

The desert dan­de­lions have tru­ly tak­en over the Mine Wash baja­da, from the entrance along High­way 78 between Tamarisk Grove Camp­ground to the west and The Nar­rows to the east.  The dis­play may be some­what grander than the pop­pies in some areas.  There is also an enclosed restroom (no run­ning water) about 1/3 mile from the high­way along the south-run­ning, gen­tly climb­ing road toward the Kwaaymii vil­lage.

A paint­ed lady but­ter­fly draws nec­tar from a flow­er­ing span­ish nee­dle.

The Clark Val­ley area, about five miles east of Peg Leg Mon­u­ment along Coun­ty S‑12, aka Salton Sea­way, is rich in swaths of  bright pink sand ver­be­na and the big white flow­ers of dune evening prim­rose which give off an incred­i­ble per­fume-like fra­grance at dusk.  Clark Dry Lake will be vis­i­ble to the north­west, with its gleam­ing salt deposits giv­ing the lake bed a sheen eas­i­ly mis­tak­en for water.  The recent heavy rains in Bor­rego Val­ley did in fact fill the lake  to the extent of sup­port­ing some canoers and kayak­ers for a time.  The lake bed is quite porous and per­co­la­tion begins imme­di­ate­ly after such a rare event.  If you ever see water in Clark Dry Lake, you may count your­self a very uncom­mon observ­er of phe­nom­e­na in Bor­rego Val­ley.

A sun-soak­ing lizard strikes a pose on a sawed-off pow­er pole, Bis­na­ga Wash March 17, 2019.

Also rec­om­mend­ed: The south area of the park is large­ly over­looked, main­ly because of its dis­tance from Bor­rego Val­ley and with­out the pop­u­lar tourist resources; cer­tain­ly, the con­ve­nience of the val­ley can­not be denied: a well-stocked super­mar­ket, mall shops, hotel and RV acco­mo­da­tions, the Palm Canyon Vis­i­tor’s Cen­ter, excel­lent restau­rants, art gal­leries and a per­form­ing arts cen­ter. 

Moonrise from Indian Gorge
Moon­rise from Indi­an Gorge.

On the oth­er hand, the south area can be accessed about as quick­ly as Bor­rego Val­ley from either Julian or Warn­er Springs/Lake Hen­shaw by tak­ing Coun­ty Road S‑2 at Scis­sors Cross­ing and pro­ceed­ing south into Blair Val­ley (includ­ing Upper Blair Val­ley), Mason Val­ley (with But­ter­field Ranch), Val­lecitos (with Val­lecitos coun­ty park) with its near­by explo­sion of desert dan­de­lions, and into the long Car­ri­zo Val­ley where you will find Agua Caliente Hot Springs (a coun­ty park) along with unim­proved roads into Indi­an Gorge and the many native palm groves in the Bow Wil­low camp­ing areas.  The attrac­tion of the very low crowd con­tent in the south area is of course the main trade-off against the pop­u­lat­ed resource-easy Bor­rego Val­ley.

The south area of the Anza-Bor­rego State park is not entire­ly with­out human ameni­ties.  In fact, there are a few lit­tle oases.  Stage­coach Trails RV Resort in Shel­ter Val­ley (named Earth­quake Val­ley on some maps) and But­ter­field Ranch Resort in Mason Val­ley have small con­ve­nience stores, includ­ing a small deli kitchen at Stage­coach, but no gas is avail­able at either, or any­where for that mat­ter along the S‑2, also known as the Great South­ern Over­land Stage Route.  Beyond Car­ri­zo Val­ley, anoth­er 15 miles or so, is the small town of Ocotil­lo at Inter­state 8, where there is a con­ve­nience store and where gas is avail­able.  There is also a very small con­ve­nience store in Ban­ner, some five miles west of Scis­sors Cross­ing on High­way 78 toward Julian. Cell ser­vice is very lim­it­ed along the S2 with some avail­abil­i­ty at Scis­sors Cross­ing and  pos­si­bly at places in Val­lecitos. 

Ghost flow­ers are not com­mon­ly seen. This one was among a bed of them in Indi­an Gorge. 

The dra­mat­ic vis­tas in the sprawl­ing val­leys and bajadas in the south area of the park are enclosed by high moun­tains to the west, the 6000’ Lagu­na Range, and piny­on-cov­ered Whale Peak to the east.  These moun­tains direct the rain­fall that pro­duces the sur­pris­ing diver­si­ty of life in this most west­er­ly periph­ery of the Sono­ran Desert.  Almost any baja­da offers spring­time activ­i­ty, but only Coy­ote Creek in the north­ern reach­es of Bor­rego Val­ley has any flow­ing water.

Fresh buds are ready to add to the crown of blos­soms atop a bar­rel cac­tus in Bis­na­ga Wash.

Sphinx moth cater­pil­lars were seen in abun­dance in Bis­na­ga Wash, one mile north of Agua Caliente Hot Springs, going about their din­ing on what appeared to be fine stems of brown-eyed prim­rose.  So pop­u­lous were they that it was dif­fi­cult to hike any­where in the broad wash with­out step­ping on one, but all were avoid­ed.  The bar­rel cac­tus is in furi­ous bloom in the wash, which is now a ver­i­ta­ble desert gar­den of plants, ani­mals and birds.  To reach the best of the baja­da, hike a half mile or so from the small park­ing area on the east side of the S‑2.  Bis­na­ga Wash is home to finch­es and cac­tus wrens, the for­mer flit­ting quick­ly away in lit­tle flocks upon approach; you will like­ly find the lat­ter sub­tly retreat­ed into clev­er­ly designed nests hid­den in the pro­tec­tive cov­er of chol­la cac­tus.

Desert mis­tel­to, San Felipe Creek.

Back in Bor­rego Val­ley, with some extreme­ly good luck, you may be able to wit­ness the arrival of some many dozens, or pos­si­bly even some thou­sands, of Swain­son’s hawks that vis­it the val­ley around this time of the year to feast large­ly on the sphinx moth cater­pil­lars.  These migrat­ing hawks, whose ulti­mate des­ti­na­tion remains unknown, are usu­al­ly spot­ted in the north­east­ern area of the val­ley.  Paint­ed lady but­ter­flies made the scene this past week in the mil­lions with kalei­do­scop­ic fer­v­er (a kalei­do­scope is the word for a large swarm of but­ter­flies), after they went through a mas­sive­ly suc­cess­ful meta­mor­phoses from an army of cater­pil­lars (an army is the word for an explo­sive pro­duc­tion of cater­pil­lars on the move).