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The desert brims with beauty Richard Peña | Sat, Mar 30 2013 12:00 PM

Editor’s note: Richard Peña is on vacation. This column was first published in 2004.

One of my favorite sisters-in-law, Annette Smith, who lives in Mississippi, has been asking me periodically for the past 50 years why we live in California. Why not move to Mississippi or Texas or some other place?

I, of course, give the usual answers: the weather, the ocean, the mountains, the desert.

She, as well as some of the other folks, can understand most of those reasons. But when we mention the desert, they are apt to grimace and wonder why anyone would want to live near a desert, or worse yet, in one.

Aha! These are the folks who have never been to Borrego Springs. We took a ride to the Anza-Borrego State Park one day last week. We were told that the desert flowers may be in bloom. Since this is a season that lasts only a few days, we thought we would capitalize on it. On top of that, our son, David, was here with one of those big SUV’s that he sometimes rents. And, since it was his idea to drive us there, how could we refuse?

I asked him to take the route through Ramona and then over the mountains into the desert. I always liked that road, the one that winds through the rock strewn mountains as it makes it way from an altitude of 4,000 feet to zero at the desert floor.

After each turn of the winding road, one can see the village of Borrego below, each time appearing a little closer, until finally we enter the town itself.

We sometimes wonder what those early settlers must have thought when they first came upon this site.

Here were these poor, uninformed farmers from the Mid-West, those parts around St. Joe or St. Louis, who had never seen anything but the plains of Missouri or Illinois — land that is as flat as a billiard table — suddenly thrust upon a scene that took the combined effort of nature and a Divine Being. It probably was enough to boggle the mid-western mind.

Borrego, you might know, was named for the long-horned sheep which once roamed the area. Borrego, spelled with one “r,” is Spanish for sheep.

We have been making periodic journeys to this desert area for more than 50 years. In the beginning, when we had kids at home, we camped. The campgrounds around this park can range anywhere from well-equipped sites to those lacking any semblance of amenities.

We stayed in all of them.

In later years, when we were alone, we even splurged once and stayed at Ram’s Hill, one of the better golf resorts in the desert. The idea, however, at each of our visits was to see what it was that nature had in store for us this time.

The other day, our quest was the wildflowers that are so spectacular they sometimes appear in national publications. Unfortunately, we were a bit early. There were some, but not those magnificent scenes we have observed in previous years.

Feeling a bit adventurous, we took one of the off-roads. This one had a name, Henderson, but it was not much of a road.

It is one of those one-lane unmaintained roads that one finds all about the valley floor.
I should not say unmaintained. The maintenance consists of the many cars, trucks and other vehicles that pass over it daily. The road has a number of turn-offs that folks looking for vegetation use for mini hikes.

We found quite a few of what they call lavender verbena and yellow primrose. These, particularly the former, make a pleasant picture especially when they are framed next to the San Ysidro chain of mountains that borders the park to the north.

It seems strange to imagine that, right on the other side of the ridge, is Riverside County, teeming with active population.

From the primitive, we went to the elegant with a lunch at La Casa del Zorro.

This establishment dates back to 1937. Much of the history of the entire park may be found within the walls of this resort since many parts of the present structure are from the original building.

In some of the literature we have read, some San Diego civic leaders at one time had the vision of developing Borrego into another Palm Springs. For whatever reasons, that never happened. It has remained one of the few places in our environs where one can see nature in the raw. The one-hour plus drive is well worth the effort. I wish I could get my sister-in-law there.

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