Holiday 2008...Third Stop: Anza-Borrego State Park, CA


New Year’s at

Anza-Borrego State Park

While we wouldn’t want to drive Banner Grade on snow, it was not at all bad for towing the Bambi.
We turned north to Borrego Springs and the off-roaders continued east to their “Mecca.”
We knew we were almost there when we reached Christmas Circle.
The RV sites had full hookups and ours was graced by a large California fan palm and faced the open desert and high rugged mountains in the distance.
It wasn’t a “rally” ... more of a “convergence” of Airstreams, some known and some unexpected new acquaintences.

Our next destination was Borrego Springs, CA and Borrego Palm Canyon Campground in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park… only 40-some miles from Julian, but 4000 feet lower and a whole

different climate and terrain. So off we went, down the eastern

side of the Cuyamaca Mountains on Highway 78, which is

known as the Banner Grade (“Banner” because it goes

through the burg of Banner, CA.) Several had told us that

the grade was very windy and steep, but we didn’t have any

trouble with it. The road was dry and in very good

condition … there were lots of curves and it had its steep

areas, but after traversing the Salt River Canyon switchbacks between Globe and Show Low, AZ many times, it didn’t seem that bad at all. That would not have been the case with snow and ice, however. This route was all new for us. When we’d been at Wm Heise before, we left going south from Julian making our way back to I-8 on Highway 79.  This time we were more eastbound on 78 to State Route 3, then north to Borrego Springs.

It was a pretty drive down out of the mountains. Lots of woods lining the road … until we had dropped another 3500 feet to a new climate and vegetation zone. Suddenly we were in desert hills with vegetation … and very arid. We must be getting close. Then we saw a sign that said “Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.” It was official. The surrounding hills were bare compared to the deserts we are used to in Arizona. Traffic seemed to get heavier as we got closer to the turn-off on S3 to Borrego Springs. We could see another line of heavy traffic hugging the edge of a hill to the north with a convergence course with the road we were on a few miles ahead. That was S3 coming in from the north. When we got to that intersection, the two roads combined their traffic to form a bee- line of RVs headed east into the desert for New Year’s. Most of the rigs had dune buggies and/or quads strapped on …

Then we came to the intersection of 78 and S2…left was Borrego Springs and straight ahead was Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreational

                  Area adjacent to the east side of Anza-Borrego State Park.

                         When we turned north, the majority of the RVs with their

                             quads in tow kept going. We knew we were getting

                              close now, but we were still not to Borrego Springs.

                             Then we came over a rise and saw the road we were

                             dropping down into a basin surrounded by high rocky

                                mountains. In the basin it was green, which means two things in the desert: water and civilization. We were very close now. Then as we continued to Borrego Springs, we kept thinking we had side-stepped “town” and were going in the back door, but as we realized later, we were on the main drag all along … there just wasn’t much “town” there! The road into Borrego Springs turns west and then north before getting to town. Along this road, someone has created large metal sculptures in the desert … some elephants, a couple of stallions on their back legs fighting … and even a huge bird of some kind. We didn’t know if this was someone’s contribution to public art or if it was a personal installation … but it was interesting!

We knew we were almost to the Palm Canyon Campground when we came upon Christmas Circle, which is a round-about in what is the

closest thing to the “downtown” area of Borrego Springs as one

is going to find. Palm Canyon Campground is west from

Christmas Circle toward the mountains that jut abruptly up

from the desert floor. The campground is quite near the foot

of the mountains. The geology reminded us of the mountains

and terrain around Palm Springs … arid and dry. When you stop and think about it and refer to a map, Palm Springs is not all that far from Borrego Springs, actually.

At the very edge of the mountains is Palm Canyon Campground, 2 or 3 miles west of Chirstmas Circle … When we reached the ranger station about 2:00 PM there were a couple of RVs ahead of us, so we waited in line to get checked in. This was definitely one park you want to have reservations to get into this time of year. The weather was in the 70s and there was a light, pleasant breeze. And it was very busy.

As we were waiting to get checked in, Larry & Bill from San Diego called. They were still at home but would be leaving soon … it would take them about 2 hours to get there. Check in went well and we found our site without any problems and began to get set up. The weather was very pleasant and such a nice change from the cold of Wm Heise. We couldn’t wait to get the Girls out on their first walk and get the lay of the campground.

The campground has accommodations for all modes of camping … there are areas for tents and strictly for dry camping … and there areas for full hookups, including electric, water and sewer.  Our site was on the north side of the full hookup part of the park and facing open desert and high mountains. The sites are fairly spacious with natural vegetation with fine

                                  sandy soil, and situated so that you have a good bit

                                        of privacy despite the fact that there are lots of

                                            RVs and trailers in the park. Our site sported

                                            a large California fan palm tree, as did all the

                                            sites in the first 2 rows of the electrical

                                            section. The fronds on the palm trees had been

                                            allowed to dry naturally to hang down over the

                                              trunk of the trees (as opposed to being trimmed or “shaved” to expose the trunks as you commonly see in the city). All the trees in the park are in this natural state giving them quite a presence (and no doubt proving a habitat for all sorts of critters)…

We got situated quickly and set off with the Girls to look over the situation. We had already spotted a couple of Airstreams, so we wanted to see if we knew who they were. There was one several spaces down the road from us in the same row we were in … a 25’ from Oregon, who we did not know. We talked to them later but never got their names. It turns out they come down to Anza-Borrego each winter for a month or so. Nice folks. On the opposite side of the park was another 25’ or 27’ Airstream… again, someone we did not know. They were from northern CA. Then we saw our Tucson friends Rich & Eleanor & daughter Emma’s 30’ Airstream on the far side of the park from us. Their truck wasn’t there, so we thought they were gone, but as we walked by, Rich called out from inside to greet us. He was catching up on work (he’s the editor of Airstream Life Magazine) while Eleanor & Emma had taken off into town with their friends David & Ari & son William from southern California for the afternoon. David & Ari’s Airstream was in the next site up from the Rich & Eleanor. When Larry & Bill got there about 4:30 PM, they parked right behind Rich & Eleanor… then another Airstream came in and parked in front of the David & Ari’s Airstream. We never did meet them, unfortunately. So that row of the park, almost completely occupied by Airstreams became known as “Airstream Alley” during our stay.

That evening Bill & Larry’s veterinarian, Bob & his wife Theresa, from San Diego, arrived with their 30’ Airstream with a slide, along with Bob’s brother Mike & his wife Penny, also from San Diego, in a motor home. Their sites were down the road from us. A few days later Bill & Beth form Orange, CA, arrived with their vintage Airstream pulled by

a vintage Lincoln. Their site was on our side of the park,

too, so Airstreams were eventually sprinkled through

the park. Folks kept asking in passing if we (the

Airstreamers) were having a rally and we said, “No …

it’s more of a casual convergence … some of us knew

others who would be here, and some of us are

unexpected new friends.” All told there were 9 different

Airstreams in the park during our stay. Quite a good

gathering for not being a rally!

The first afternoon/evening at Palm Canyon Campground was spent greeting and meeting everyone. Larry & Bill set up camp and Larry immeidately began to get some food going. They invited us to join them for a light dinner of Chinese roast pork and chicken soup. It was jus waht the doctor ordered. Terry had been fighting a sore throat ever since Dos Picos and the damp weather. By that evening, his sore throat had mostly abated, but then Greg started to feel puny, so Greg stayed home and warm inside the Bambi while Terry joined Bill & Larry for soup ... that really hit the spot. Larry knew the soup would do Greg good, too, so he sent a nice pot of soup home with Terry for Greg … It hit the spot. It gave “meals on wheels” a whole new meaning! Larry was right ... his soup hit the spot for Greg, too.

New Year’s Eve day arrived right on time. We got up and Terry took the Girls out for their morning constitutional. Just as he stepped out the door, Rich came along to let us know that they were going to do a day trip to a couple of canyons and some hiking. We opted out as Greg needed to rest and not be climbing around in order to fight off the sore throat. Larry’s soup was taking him in a good direction, but we knew that if he overdid it he would be right back in its grips. So we just stayed in the campground, walked over to Larry & Bill’s trailer with the Girls and took back the empty pot that he’d sent home with Terry. Larry was already preparing for the next meal, which we were to enjoy that evening. He started making pot stickers, but changed his mind at the last minute and made little dumpling “purses” or “siu mai” ( a type of dim sum) filled with pork and shrimp, which would be steamed just before dinner. It sounded great.

We needed to go into town to get a few supplies before we got too far into the stay at Palm Canyon, so we took off to do that. There is only one

                     grocery store in Borrego Springs … and please someone just

                           shoot us if we say that we’re going to stock up in

                             Borrego Springs rather than take it with us from

                              Tucson! The prices were outrageous!  But we had little

                              choice. It hurt to pay the piper when we checked out,

                             but we learned our lesson for the next time we go there

                              … the lesson being: stock up before you get to

                             Borrego Springs! 

We also needed to find the post office, which one wouldn’t think would be too hard in a small town this small, but we never did find it. We did, however, find a mailbox along side a dusty road in the middle of nowhere … it was the strangest thing … there were no buildings or streets nearby … just a long row of palm trees … and a mailbox. You could tell it had seen good use, however, by the tire tracks leading off the pavement to mail drop. So that’s what we did. We wondered how long it would take the mail to get to its destination from this lonely mailbox in the desert. It was so funny that Terry insisted on taking a picture of it out there all by itself. You know it’s bad when the most interesting thing to take a picture of is a mailbox! But then he’s easily amused. (The mail did get to its destination, by the way.)

We drove around a bit, still thinking that there must be “more town” beyond Christmas Circle, but after driving a couple of miles and only seeing that lonely mail box and a few trailer parks and residential areas, we realized that we had already seen the downtown section of Borrego Springs, which is just west of Christmas Circle as you drive toward the campground. We wondered how many people actually lived in Borrego Springs year-round and how many were winter visitors. We doubted that the town’s population was very large in the summer months because temperatures would be very high, and — like the populations of many small towns in Arizona — balloon during the winter. 

That evening, we joined Bill & Larry, Rich & Eleanor & Emma, and David & Ari & William at Larry & Bill’s for an impromptu New Year’s Eve feast. Bill & Larry’s was to become “party central” during the gathering ... they area very good hosts. Everyone brought a dish to share, and there was more than enough food. We contributed shrimp and pork spring rolls that we’d made before the trip and frozen. Larry steamed his fresh “siu mai,” Eleanor made one of her signature salads and a hot lentil soup, and Ari & Dave brought a hearty pasta and shrimp dish. Ari also provided cheese cake for desert. Everything was great, and none of us went home hungry. 

We hung out for a while after dinner, and Bob & Theresa and Mike & Penny dropped by to wish us all a Happy New Year. Someone asked if anybody was going to stay up for the stroke of midnight to ring in the New Year, but everyone said they would probably be long-asleep by then. Such party animals we all were! As we said our good nights and made our way back to the Bambi, we saw several groups of campers staying warm and enjoying their camp fires. Several campsites were decorated with lots of lights and a few banners proclaiming “Happy New Year.” Airstream Alley was all decked out in strings of lights reflecting off the aluminum. It was quite a festive and happy atmosphere all around … a nice way to celebrate the beginning of a brand new year.

Later, while taking the Girls out for their last walk of the

night, Terry heard one group watching the Times Square

New Year’s festivities via satellite TV count down the “first”

New Year’s on the east coast. And so it began … 2009. We

were inside when the clock ticked into the New Year, and we

all slept good that night with the knowledge and hope of a

New Year stretching before us.

New Year’s Day was a quiet one. As is usually the case, everybody put their energy into their New Year’s Eve celebrations and the actual holiday was a day of far more restraint — and for some, we suspected — recuperation. Ari & David & William took off for home late morning … they stopped by the Bambi to say their goodbyes to us before heading out. Bill & Beth arrived to join the “convergence” and replenish our numbers that afternoon. We took advantage of the time to walk the Girls, be lazy, lunch with Larry (more good food) and wait for Bill and Rich & Eleanor & Emma get back from a hike up into Palm Canyon.

In the afternoon Terry baked a fresh pumpkin pie. He’d been wanting to make a pie in the Bambi for a while, and this was the prefect time. We

                      were anticipating yet more feasting at Bill & Larry’s! And

                          we were right … Larry called in the late afternoon and

                            said he was planning to deep fry country style pork

                             spare ribs and smother them in a special sauce. Who

                             could  resist that? We took our pumpkin pie with

                             whipped cream, Eleanor made another wonderful salad

                            and spicy steamed veggies. Bill & Beth joined the

                              festivities and brought a yummy array of home made

                               cookies, popcorn and nut bread. Another feast took

                                 place, and again we were all well satisfied.

Friday was our last full day in Anza-Borrego. And like the days before it was very laid back. We didn’t rush to do anything but relax and enjoy the warmth of the desert. We nabbed Larry and Pau Hoa (their Pug) and Mac (their Corgi) and took a walk to explore the dry camping area and the trail head for the overlook trail. From there we took a leisurely stroll on the paved sidewalk toward the visitor’s center over a mile away. It was pretty warm so we didn’t want to force the Girls to go all that way on the hot sidewalk, so we didn’t go all the way. And Pau Hoa is getting up

there in age, so Larry brought along the stroller so she could

get in that when she got tuckered out. It was quite the sight,

Larry walking Mac and pushing Pau Hoa in the stroller. She

didn’t seem to mind being in the stroller. I’m not so sure that

Annie or Sadie would tolerate that too well … but Pau Hoa

seemed right at home.

At the end of our walk we still had not yet been to the visitor’s center, so we deposited the Girls in the trailer and hopped into the truck to take a drive over to it. It’s an interesting visitor’s center…it’s basically underground … or perhaps better described as being built into the side of a low hill. There was a specimen garden all around the center that extends up over the roof of the center. There’s a paved walking path that takes you up over the roof of the center to an area called the “bridge.” From up on the roof you would never know that there’s a visitor’s center below your feet. The “bridge” has a commanding view of the basin containing Borrego Springs and Palm Canyon Campground. It’s an interesting set-up … the parking lot and rest room building are above ground, and when you first get there, you think, “Well here’s the parking lot and there are the rest rooms, but where is the visitor’s center?”

Back in the truck, we drove back toward the campground, but took a side road that took us to a much older part of the park that sits right at the foot of the rugged mountains and has campsites with shelters built from stacked flat stones. It’s very rustic, but also very appealing. It was occupied by the full range of camping modes (tents, campers, RVs, etc) who had chosen to not have the amenities of electricity, water or sewer hookups. Water spigots were available, but that’s it. You felt a bit closer to the natural setting in these sites, and they would be interesting for a stop of a couple of days or so when the weather was nice.

That night we gathered one more time to enjoy great meals revisited and to enjoy each other’s company for one last time. We, Larry & Bill and Rich & Eleanor & Emma were all planning to leave the nest day, each of us in a different direction. Beth & Bill were staying on for the rest of the weekend, as they had arrived later than the rest of us.

The weather started to change that night. It began to get windy. So Terry packed up the outside and got the truck repacked for the next leg of the trip so that the only thing that was remaining to do in the morning was to disconnect the water, electric and sewer and pull out. We set the alarm (for the first time during this trip) so that we’d be sure to have an early start the next day. It blew pretty good during the night and when we got up we were glad that we were basically ready to go. We just had to feed the Girls, get them out for a walk before the long day in the truck, and do the final disconnect. We got out about 9:00 AM (which was 8:00 AM California time). If you know us, you know that this is early for us to be up and functioning!

We hitched up and pulled around the park to drive by what remained of Airstream Alley to say our goodbyes to all. It had been a great time there with everybody, and a nice introduction to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We only scratched the surface of the park, which is quite large, but we have the feeling we’ll be back there some day to see more of it.

To read and see other’s perspectives of New Year’s at Anza-Borrego, visit Rich’s blog, Man in the Maze, and Bill’s blog, History Safari Express. We all did different things and enjoyed a variety of aspects of the park’s offerning. Variety is the spice of life, they say! Click below to see pictures and proceed to the next leg of  our trip ... Picacho Peak.

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Lesson learned: be sure to stock up with essentials before getting to Borrego Springs.
OK, we admdit it ... we did not party the New Year in. We welcomed it  in quietly in the CA desert.
Terry had been wanting to make a pumpkin pie in the Bambi, so that’s what he did for New Year’s, and it was well-received.
Pau Hoa had special treatment ... a regal ride in her own carriage.
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