Borrego Palm Canyon

Having just returned from nine days in the Sonoran Desert my mind is still awash with the experiences exploring some of the many washes in Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Anza Borrego is huge – over 600,000 acres – and its naked landscape taunts me with ridges and washes to explore. Some have trails, others don’t. But, all are full of surprises of some kind: fascinating plants, geology, and wildlife. Some hikes had all three and one in particular, the trail up Borrego Palm Canyon,  had a little magic mixed in too.

Borrego Palm Canyon was one of the last hikes we did on our recent 9-day trip, and I’m glad I had some context from previous hikes so that I could understand what a remarkable canyon it is. We’d hiked several washes and only a few had palm oases hidden in their depths. The California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) is native to the area and found among the springs seeping from the canyon walls. Some springs barely manifest above ground. A trickle of water, warm and thin, runs down wash from the source. Around these seeps a few palms gather creating shade and a wonderful respite for desert hikers.

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Having seem a handful of these palm oases I wasn’t prepared for the biological richness of the palm grove in Borrego Palm Canyon.  My expectations for the oasis were low as the interpretive information at the trail head tells of the loss of the majority of the grove in a destructive flash flood that wiped through the canyon in 2004.

The geomorphologist in me looked forward to the hike and seeing the debris – boulders and palm logs – from the event. I wasn’t disappointed.  As Mr Mudlips and I proceeded up the wash at the base of the canyon and into the canyon the boulders got larger and larger and larger. Stacks of palm logs became more and more numerous. At one point in the trail we found this legacy: a log pinned between two boulders. To provide you a little scale: that smaller boulder, on which the log rests, is at least 4′ high as it measured-up past my waist when I stood next to it. Just imagine the volume of water that lifted that top rock; I love geology and this just thrills and amazes me but I’m glad no one was in the canyon when the flood swept through.

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The boulders made for a fun hike too as the trail wound around and over and sometimes under large granite rocks.

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Then you hear the sound of water, small cascades are tumbling over and around the boulders too.  Along with the increase in water, there’s an increase in vegetation and wildlife. Small palms, grasses, desert plants like the desert lavendar (Hyptis emoryi) and chuparosa (Justicia californica) are a bit greener and blooms more robust. The Costa’s Hummingbirds battle for territory amid the flowers and the hum of honeybees is barely audible over the gurgling creek.

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After a little more than a mile of trekking you view the remaining palm grove. What a sight; many large palms densely packed into the tight canyon, boulders upon their shoulders, and an overwhelming sense of wonder that the grove survived the flood, AT ALL!

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I’m careful not to espouse some of the wonderful places I’ve discovered in this region and give away the secret special spots I find, not wanting to return and find those places “discovered” and crawling with people. Those hikes are not listed on any map. I’ll tell you about some of them later but I won’t reveal their precise location – sorry. But this place, it’s quite public; one of the main attractions for visitors in Anza Borrego so I’ve not only told you all about it, but I’ll also recommend that you seek it out if you are ever in the area.


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