Located in the Colorado Desert of California, Anza-Borrego State Park is California’s largest state park – 600,000 acres of badlands, mountains, dirt roads, hiking trails and borrego, Spanish for bighorn sheep. The abundant fossil remains surrounding the park’s headquarters in Borrego Springs date back to the Pilo-Pleistocene epoch – 60 million years after the dinosaur age and about hundred million years ago from today, give or take a million years. Curiously, Borrego Springs now hosts a formidable, rusted, inanimate version of the post-Jurassic period. In collaboration with landowner Dennis Avery, artist Ricardo Breceda created an expansive sculpture park on Avery’s Galleta Meadows. He chronicled creatures that once roamed the desert valley and Laguna mountains — giant ground sloths, turtles and camels and the saber-toothed tigers who preyed on them – and added mammoths, raptors, and an extraordinary 350-foot serpent, for a total of 130 sculptures that join fantasy with reality.
For this week’s Listen Up, in honor of this spectacular desert installation, composer John Williams’ sweeping theme for the movie Jurrasic Park (1993) – based on the novel by Michael Crichton — seems like a natural selection.
We pulled into the parking lot of La Casa del Zorro in Borrego Springs California. Glancing at the car’s dashboard, the outdoor temperature read 115 degrees and reluctant to turn off the engine, we sat in the perfect coolness of the car. Looking through the windshield, we could read the heat in the air, in the dry, cracked earth, in the cactus that was dangerously prickly, aggressive in the white afternoon light. Why even go to the desert in the extreme heat of summer? To laze.
Dragging our luggage across koi pond bridges and past “Slow Comma Adults at Play” signs, the dry heat slowed our tempo. Lonely beach balls bobbing in the swimming pool begged us to come in and play. All in good time. Instead we continued to the room and easily surrendered to the call of the ever-elusive afternoon nap — that rare pleasure reserved for dogs and cats and snowy Sundays that never come to sunny Californians.
We welcomed the shank of the day – the light softened, the temperature dipped to a cool 98 degrees – and we made our way to the pool. Warm, wet, we paddled idly, floated face down, then face up, until the sun gave up and left us under a blanket of stars. (Fifty-five miles away from the bright lights of any big city, Borrego Springs California was chosen the state’s first Dark-Sky Community. On any one of its 300 clear nights per year, its velvet black evening dress is studded with stellar clusters, nebulae and distant galaxies.) The desert met the sky and the universe absorbed us.
On day two, time was trumped by temperature. Morning was measured by degrees not light, and before the day climbed past 90 we found artist Ricardo Breceda’s steel woolly mammoths, scorpions, turtles and a giant serpent wandering in the desert. As day broke, their towering presence made the desert more and less desolate. Deserted by the people of Borrego Springs, these gigantic prehistoric proxies in Galleta Meadows were our only companions.
Soon we scurried off the sandy flats, returned to our room for books that fell to the floor as we dozed, to the pool with foam noodles that floated like ramen in a tepid broth, to iced cold drinks pressed against our foreheads as we hid from the sun in canvas cabanas. What’s the real attraction of Borrego Springs California in the summer? When it’s too hot to do anything, you find great pleasure in doing nothing.
Borrego Springs California, a small desert community two hours northwest of San Diego, has increased its population by more than 35% during the past 15 years to a total of 3,429 “desert people.” The expansive desert wilderness has added a few “urban” conveniences to its draw in that time.
You can count Borrego Spring’s restaurants on one hand, and our favorite was Red Ocotillo, a little restaurant with big appeal that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. During the summer, you’ll need to make a bee-line from your car to a seat in its air-conditioned dining room, but when the heat is less brutal, the outside patio is inviting. The menu is simple and diner-casual, but Red Ocotillo makes an eggs-cellent Benedict. Keep in mind that the restaurant closes at 8:30PM — early to bed, early to rise — much like the rest of the town.
La Casa del Zorro is an inviting and comfortable desert resort with excellent summer rates. We viewed a variety of the accommodations and preferred the rooms to the casitas. With three large swimming pools, nicely groomed desert flora gardens, high-quality bed linens and plenty of AC, our stay was devoted to swimming, reading, and napping. If you are feeling more energetic, the $25 resort fee entitles the hotel guest to use of all of the onsite facilities including the pools, 6 outdoor tennis courts, a fitness center and golfing at nearby courses. The only drawback is that the spa is closed on weekdays during the slow summer season.
When you venture into the tiny downtown area, be sure to visit the Borrego Art Institute on Christmas Circle. Founded in 2005, BAI’s mission is to support local artists. In 2011, the organization purchased a run-down building that once housed a food market. Originally built in 1949, the building was designed by mid-century La Jolla architect, William Kesling. After a major fundraising drive and a two-year restoration project, the Borrego Art Institute opened its new home to the public. In its refurbished gallery spaces, you can view exhibitions staged with local artists as well purchase the featured art. Art classes for children and adults, lectures, and demonstrations round out the programming. In April 2016, a new restaurant, Kesling’s Kitchen, opened on site. The menu includes wood-fired pizzas and other items driven by the produce grown in the Borrego Art Institute’s gardens by The ArtFarm, a new concept in sustainable desert farming. We missed them during out visit, but they are now open 11-9 daily.
If you are traveling in an RV or with young children, Palm Canyon Resort and RV Park is a kitschy recreation of a Western frontier town. If you’re not traveling in your own RV, you can stay overnight in one of the resort’s Airstreams, vintage trailers or Wild West-themed rooms.
It’s easy to drive up to all 130 of the Ricardo Breceda sculptures throughout Galleta Meadows in Borrego Springs California. Maps are available at hotels and businesses throughout town, but many of the sculptures are visible from the road.
There’s always something new on Zippertravel’s Pinterest. This week you’ll find 103 images on our board “Desert People.”
And while you’re on our Pinterest page, browse through some of the other 192 terrific boards dedicated to travel, architecture, fashion, politics, and design, along with some original photography by Elizabeth and Steven. You don’t have to be a Pinterest member to view Zippertravel’s boards, but if you enjoy pinning you can do so by clicking on the button in the upper left hand corner of this page or selecting the Pinterest icon below. It’s just that easy.