Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Adventures in Anza Borrego: Blooms and Bighorns

Our original winter plan was to leave San Diego in early February and spend a little time in Anza Borrego on our way to Arizona. But when our parents had health issues in January rather than cancel those plans we pushed our Anza Borrego reservations out to March with the hope they'd be better by then.

While my mom continues to undergo treatment, things have stabilized enough that we felt comfortable taking off for a 12 day trip away from San Diego. Our first stop was Agua Caliente County Park. Located about 100 miles east of San Diego, Agua Caliente is nestled up against the Tierra Blanca Mountains in the Anza Borrego desert and features geothermal heated mineral pools.

Though the desert has heated up lately we were looking forward to catching some spring bloom, hitting a few trails, and soaking in those mineral pools.

When the daytime temp is expected to hit 90, we hit the trails early...that's why I was up for the sunrise!

On our way to our first hike we made a brief stop at Indian Gorge because a local said bighorn sheep had been hanging out in the canyon. While we didn't see any sheep, we enjoyed the early morning shade of the canyon and a lot of lovely blooms. This gorge, off highway S2 just a few miles south of Agua Caliente, would be worth further exploration on a return trip.

The hedgehog cactus are just starting to sport their shocking pink blossoms.
I was surprised to see a few lupine.

Silver cholla are abundant in Anza Borrego, their yellow blooms are just starting to open.

Tiny Bigelows monkeyflower.

Leaving the shade of the gorge we continued south on S2 to Mountain Palm Springs. Primitive camping is available here, as well as a few miles of trails to several palm oases. These fan palms are a welcome sight in the dry desert and are evidence of tectonic activity that has allowed water to rise to the surface. The palms are thirsty, they can consume 200 gallons per day, so they are a reliable indication of water in the desert.

The bare trunks of these palms mean fire swept through here at one time.



Hans spotted this little guy, perhaps a kangaroo rat, peeking out at us.



We hiked a loop that took us to several palm groves.
We followed cairns up and over this rugged hill giving us an excellent workout in 80+ degree temps.
Can you find Hans in his St Patrick's Day green?

View to the south from the saddle (where we had good cell reception).

We scrambled down the other side towards this palm grove.

Palm amphitheater.


Hula dancers!


I loved how each of these flowers looked just a little different!

Western Zebra-tailed lizard.

Back at Agua Caliente we were treated to several bighorn sheep sightings. A former park ranger told us that due to recent mountain lion sightings the sheep may be hanging out closer to people, plus this is lambing season and lambs need water to survive so the oases are popular at this time of year.

Spotted high on a hill above us.

Soon we spotted a second sheep.
This ram is pawing at a barrel cactus, then he would eat it.

A third sheep shows up!




Below is the view from our site. I glassed the hillside for sheep and was rewarded by a bachelor group of 8 rams!


Five rams munching and messing around on the hillside.

They can be very difficult to spot among the vegetation.

Boys relaxing.

Blending right in...


Slowly, in ones and twos, they moved on across the desert.

Moonlight Canyon trail is a gorgeous 1.5 mile loop right from the campground.

The beavertail cactus are just beginning to bloom.

Moonlight Canyon trail.

Hooded Oriole in an ocotillo.

That's just the first couple of days of our stay in Anza Borrego, beauty in abundance! More to come...



37 comments:

  1. Yeah! Hip-hip hooray! So happy and glad to read you had a vacation! And what a beautiful spot to be in. Joe and I have not visited this part of your amazing state and I so want to...maybe next year. The cactus there are way ahead of the cactus here. We have seen lots of buds so it won't be long! I spotted Hans in the green shirt right off, but how did you a age to see the hooded oriole in the ocotillo? So pretty! And the bighorn crossing the street...wow! The lighting on the "hula dancers" is perfect! The purple in the hedgehog cactus is so vivid. Glad you are out and about for awhile...a change in scenery and no responsibilities for a few days does the heart, mind and body a world of good. I know, I have been there!

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    1. Anza Borrego is well worth a stop and Agua Caliente is an excellent location...especially since there are full hook up sites! We hit the bonanza this year with the blooms! We were fortunate to have a lush ocotillo blooming near our site and the orioles love those flowers!

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  2. Glad to hear that your mom is doing so much better and that you could get away. Really wonderful flower pictures. Not sure I'd be up for a hike in 80+ temps in the sun but I loved seeing your pictures. What fun to see so many sheep.

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    1. Yeah, the temps were way too high and definitely curbed our explorations.

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  3. Great post Lisa! Really enjoy this 'secret park' and the pools. We have had the bats join us in the outdoor as they swoop in for a drink. But NEVER EVER have we seen the Borrego around here despite the water supply. WOW what a treat! Trust your mom's recovery continues.

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    1. We did see bats in the evening but not swooping in for a drink...what a treat that would be!

      In over 50 years in So Cal I have never seen bighorn in Anza Borrego till this trip!

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  4. Gorgeous photos! You were so lucky to see all the wildflowers at their prime. We're headed to Santa Catalina State Park in Tucson April 18th but I fea the flowers wil be past their prime this year. I look forward to seeing some Bighorn Sheep there.

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    1. My friend Gay in Tucson (comment above) says the flowers are not yet blooming there so you may be in luck!

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    2. Hope so. I think the main problem is that Tucson did not get the early rain California did.

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  5. Glad you could get away even if it's for a short time. Nice pictures as always !

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  6. What great pictures. It is good to get out of the city and see the bighorn. Glad your mom is a bit better.

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  7. So nice to see you were able to get away for awhile. Love all the desert blooms. We've never been to AB at the right time.

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    1. I haven't seen blooms like this in the desert in YEARS! In fact, the cacti are just starting to bloom, there are weeks worth of flowers ahead!

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  8. Glad you're back on the road! Looks like between blooming cacti and bighorn sheep, there's lots to see in the desert.

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  9. It's great that you two could get away for a trip and hiking. I hope things continue to improve.
    Meanwhile, those shots of Bighorn are terrific!!!! Nice going.
    Box Canyon Mark

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    1. We got really lucky with our timing of this trip!

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  10. Wonderful flowers, and the sheep! I needed a bit of desert beauty this morning, so thanks.

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  11. The silver lining to your staying in San Diego so long was that you got to enjoy the desert in spring bloom:) How neat to have timed it with lambing season and be able to enjoy so many of those beautiful Big Horns. Some of them had major curls! Thanks for sharing so many flowering cacti:) We were just a few weeks early at each locations:( Nothing better than hiking among the flowers:) Great eyes, Hans, with that little fellow!

    So nice to see you out on the trail again:)

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    1. We were very fortunate to catch all these blooms! I haven't seen this many flowers in the desert in years!

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  12. So glad that your mom is doing well enough that you were able to get away. What a treat that you saw the bighorn sheep! We were delighted to have them hanging out on the hillside next to our campsite in the State Park last year at the end of February. Your timing is perfect for the cacti blooms, too. Wonderful photos!

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    1. Lucky you to have the sheep so close! We did not see them at all at the state park (where we went next).

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  13. Looks and sounds like a fabulous reprieve from the city. Hope the folks are all doing better. Enjoy those blooms!

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    1. It was indeed a delicious respite from San Diego!

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  14. Awesome! You sure did hit the bonanza with this place!

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  15. It just amazes me the places that Palm trees grow. And very special to see the big horn sheep.

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    1. It is such a hoot to see the palms in the desert!

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  16. Wonderful to see you two back on the trails, and to hear Mom is doing better. Love all the cactus blooms - you really found a huge variety! Amazing sheep photos. We look and look when we're there and have yet to see one - but some day :-)

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    1. Fingers crossed...someday those sheep will appear for you!

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  17. Looks like a hidden jewel.. It sure would have been cool to see those Big Horn sheep.

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    1. It really is a hidden jewel...though the weekend crowds make it seem not so hidden!

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  18. Glad that you are able to relax a bit and take in all the gorgeous desert colors. Anza is on our destination next winter although not sure if we can wait that long to see all the beautiful cacti in bloom. And you had the perfect season to see all those big horn sheep that we also keep looking out here.
    Hope your mom continues to get better.

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    1. Yes, the hiking would be a lot more comfortable earlier in the winter! But I'm still glad we got to see the flowers!

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