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Spotlight: Borrego Springs

Take a rugged desert retreat in this capital of calm

Borrego Springs in scenic southeastern California is a gem of immense seclusion, somehow massive in its smallness and remoteness. Home to fewer than 4,000 year-round residents, it sits tucked in the highly accessible western corner of the punishing Sonoran Desert and finds itself almost completely surrounded by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park—California’s largest state park—which sprawls across more than 600,000 acres of sagebrush and desert hardpan.

There’s no question about it: If you’re chasing a chance to escape from the big city and soak in rugged desert landscapes, Borrego Springs is where you want to be.

From the center of town, the nearest traffic light is 50 miles away. On an average summer day, the temperature is best described as blistering, with the town often being listed as the hottest place in the country. And at night visitors are treated to one of the rarest natural treasures of all: mesmerizing darkness. Look no further than the town’s Dark Sky Community status, a classification awarded by the International Dark Sky Association, which is dedicated to minimizing worldwide light pollution. With its massive and undeveloped state park backyard providing a picture-perfect buffer, Borrego Springs is one of only 10 communities in the world to receive the Dark Sky Community honor.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Beating it to Borrego

From a sightseeing perspective, half the fun is found simply in getting here. For most visitors, that will mean making the journey east from either Los Angeles or San Diego. The trip shouldn’t take more than three hours, and watching the terrain transform as you move inland from the smooth and sweeping landscapes of coastal California to the ragged and mesmerizing vistas of the majestic Sonoran Desert, is a hard-to-top experience. Somewhere near the halfway mark of your drive you’ll begin cruising through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and find yourself greeted by sweeping panoramic views of myriad near-and-far mountain ranges: the Bucksnorts, the Santa Rosas, the Jacumbas, the Vallecitos and the Pinyons.

Soon you’ll pass the final lonely traffic light of your inbound journey. From here, the theme of trekking deeper and deeper into remote desert backcountry will climax with your arrival in the surprising, utterly charming and very tiny town of Borrego Springs.

The history of Borrego Springs, California, is long yet charmingly sporadic. The first recorded appearance of Europeans here wasn’t until 1772, when members of the San Diego Presidio were moving up through Coyote Canyon in search of deserters. But it was another hundred years before the area begin to be settled by pioneering cattle ranchers. Even then, growth was slow. The first working water well wasn’t completed until 1926, and it was only then that any significant degree of farming was able to take root. The first paved roads and electricity appeared during World War II. Soon after the war, the Borrego Springs we know today began to emerge, leveraging its location in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

And what a park it is. Recreation hounds and nature buffs will be in their element. Hundreds upon hundreds of miles of well-marked trails wind their way through and around the park, with dozens of trailheads near the town center. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and overnight backpacking trips are among the most popular activities in the park.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Flowers and Fantastic Views

Despite its desert terrain, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is renowned for its diversity of flower and plant life, so be sure to stop at the park’s main visitor center, where you can stroll through an onsite botanical garden that showcases a wide variety of desert fauna species.

One hour away to the northeast, nature buffs will also want to pay a visit to the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. Hugging the eastern shores of the Salton Sea—the final watery remains of prehistoric Lake Cahuilla—the recreation area is home to 1,400 campsites, multiple boat ramps, five distinct beach areas, myriad hiking trails and a park ranger-staffed visitor center that offers a full schedule of programs, presentations and lecture series throughout the summer months.

Finally, for a blend of the great outdoors and a dash of the surreal, be sure to head into the foothills surrounding Borrego Springs while keeping your eyes peeled for massive metallic monsters bursting out of the dusty desert ground. More than 130 large metal sculptures guard the landscapes around Borrego Springs, with many of them in the Galleta Meadows area. Begun as a free public art project, the sculptures were inspired by a mix of prehistoric creatures and dinosaurs that once roamed the same foothills hundreds of millions of years ago.

For More Information

Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau
California Travel and Tourism Commission