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Sand verbena is abundant along Henderson Canyon Road in Anza-Borrego Desert. Low-growing flowers are the first to bloom. Short cactuses like barrels and beavertail are next, followed by taller plants like ocotillo. Photo by Jerry Ondash
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Anza-Borrego blooms in wake of winter rains

Rushing water is not a sound you hear in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Except for this spring.

“I thought it was the wind,” said our friend John after we were halted partway through our hike up Palm Canyon Trail because the creek did rise.

Our party of four was stunned when we came upon what is normally a trickle-of-a-stream about 20 minutes up the trail. The noise was loud enough that we had to raise our voices a bit to discuss the situation.

No passage possible, so we paralleled the creek, hoping to find a manageable crossing, until we couldn’t. I was disappointed that we had to turn back, but excited to have seen this unusual result of Mother Nature’s work.

Like so much of California, the Anza-Borrego Desert has received greater-than-usual rainfall this winter. Not quite the torrents that have drenched many places, but it takes only a handful of inches to turn small streams into turbulent water too high to cross.

Hikers think twice about crossing the rushing water along the Palm Canyon Trail in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Record rainfall in the desert has created creeks where there were none. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

The other result: flowers — and the hordes of looky-loos that come to see them.

Though no one is calling this year’s floral display a super bloom, I give it an eight out of 10; it takes a lot less than that to draw visitors to this desert wonderland.

And though the park is nearly 600,000 acres, flower hunters congregate mostly in and around Borrego Springs, the unincorporated town of about 2,000 that sits within the park’s boundaries. Residents there brace for the onslaught of weekend swarms, so a word of advice: Go during the week.

Borrego Springs residents still talk about the super bloom of 2017 when the area was overrun with thousands from all points nationwide.

Businesses ran out of food, water and toilet paper. The park’s visitor center was mobbed and subsequently closed. Rangers and sheriffs attempted to break up traffic that was jammed to Julian, and paramedics scrambled to care for all the numbskulls that didn’t bring water.

This year’s bloom is notable, too.

Among the low-growing vegetation, the first to bloom and in abundance now along Henderson Canyon Road, are sand verbena, desert primrose, desert lily and desert sunflower. At the state park’s visitor center’s garden, see brittlebush, heliotrope, chuparosa, barrel cactus, beavertail cactus and desert dandelions.

For more listings, visit the Anza-Borrego Foundation’s website. Volunteers at the park’s visitor center are well versed on the best places to see flowers.

The 130 metal sculptures by Perris artist Ricardo Breceda are draws for visitors who come to Borrego Springs and nearby Galleta Meadows. His sculptures depict animals that once lived in the area, historic figures and whimsical subjects like this family of pigs. Photo by Jerry Ondash

Bonus: The giant metal sculptures of Ricardo Breceda. There are at least 130 scattered throughout the valley east of town. Many are giant re-creations of the animals that once lived in this desert. Some, like dinosaurs, never did.

And some, like the 350-foot-long serpent that undulates in and out of the desert floor, are just a figment of the artist’s imagination.

Get a detailed map at the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association or at the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce, 786 Palm Canyon Drive.

For more photos and discussion, visit