As I write this recap, I await this year’s Snowmageddon. Instead of feeling wistful for active summer nights outdoors, I’m going to reminisce about my enamoring trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State…
As I write this recap, I await this year’s Snowmageddon. Instead of feeling wistful for active summer nights outdoors, I’m going to reminisce about my enamoring trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park during our San Diego wedding visit, the second week of January.
My three travel companions for the day, all from Philly, were no strangers to Anza-Borrego, but for me, it was my first visit. And lucky me; there’s no feeling to match that of when you visit an amazing place for the first time.
We left San Diego in our rental car early that morning, armed with sandwiches and snacks galore (Michael and I did a drive through Westminster’s Little Saigon the night before, which blew away my little Vietnamese noggin). Even though we all enjoyed light breakfasts, as we drove through the winding roads, mixed with patches of lush and dried-out land, I learned that it was essential to make a stop at the Julian Pie Company in Julian, which is about an hour outside of Anza-Borrego. For Michael and our friends, they had many memories from living in San Diego years before. I was delighted to join in on the memories, but especially if it involves food.
Julian, as it turns out, is more than a pie stand in the middle of nowhere, which is what I pictured. It turned out to be a thriving little tourist town, though on a Monday morning, business was slow, which meant an expedited pie experience for us. We ordered two slices to share between the four of us — the Orginal, a classic apple pie, and a caramel apple, with a slice of cheddar smothered on top — and some hot coffees. While we were starstruck by the deliciousness and revered the spot greatly, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of locals enjoying their orders. Like I said, it seems to be a great weekend tourist spot, complete with hipster-chic, faux-rustic appeal, but business has got to be booming mostly through online orders. I saved that link mostly for my benefit…
Onward to Anza-Borrego!
At the visitor’s center, which was tucked in a miles of desert bespeckled with cacti and the scattered surreal metal sculptures of Ricardo Breceda, we were met with an enthusiastic ranger who gave us the perfect, personalized schedule of experiences for the short day. We took his list of suggested hikes, cracked some grim jokes about dying in the desert, and went on our way. We did three total hikes, but here are my favorites:
The Slot Trail
Slot canyons! A relatively easy hike with a less-than 100-foot elevation drop, just about anyone can do this without feeling robbed of a challenge. The fact is, slot canyons in general are just too darn fun to pass up. It’s like navigating through a maze, one you can walk or climb through, if you feel so inclined. There were some tight squeezes, but everyone survived. Once we got through the twists and turns of the slot entrance, the trail took us to a clearing, where ridges of soft limestone walls enabled us to scramble up a few feet. We were having too much of a blast til someone pointed out we could easily burn most of our hours climbing the slots. Accepting the truth, we pulled ourselves away, and drove to our next hike.
Yaqui Well Trail
Another moderate hike with no sudden elevation change. I would suggest that outside of cactus pins, you should wear sturdy shoes to also conquer this rocky trail. OK, now that that’s out of the way, wow! I loved this hike. In Utah, I remember all of the deserts being bare, rocky, and interesting of course, but simply void of green life. Apparently we had arrived after a small rainfall in the area, so we were treated with thousands of considerably lush cacti, even very small floral buds. I felt as if I were in a different world, surrounded by exotic and strange (Dr Seuss-like!) plants reaching out towards us and the sky. To make the experience even more surreal, there were no other humans within miles that we could see. Just the four of us Philadelphians on this alien planet, the way the good Lord intended it to be.
We enjoyed about an hour of the trail, turning back early to catch the sunset from the road home. It was our last night together before our companions headed back to Philly before us. Ending the fun-filled vacation, we (OK, maybe I) overdid it with one too many fish (two, one fried) and shrimp (one) tacos back in San Diego. Having only experienced fish tacos on the East Coast, I was looking for the best and freshest, and El Zarape totally delivered!
So there you have it. A perfect, not-so distant memory from a distance place that is not currently an ice cube. I want to be there. But stay tuned, ‘caus I just loaded the travel queue with some pretty awesome winter trips in the next few weekends.
Little Saigon: Bolsa Ave | Westminster, CA 92683
Julian Pie Company: 2225 Main St. | Julian, CA 92036
Ricardo Breceda’s Metal Sculptures: Borrego Springs, CA
Anza-Borrego State Park: 200 Palm Canyon Drive | Borrego Springs, CA 92004
El Zarape: 4642 Park Blvd | San Diego, CA 92116