Friday, May 26, 2017

After The Flowers!? The Stunning Anza-Borrego Desert Is Actually Best Enjoyed After The Wildflowers Are Gone

Ah, the wildflowers of the Anza-Borrego Desert. They're the eye-popping, sweet-scented stuff of legend out here in Southeastern California. And this year's "super bloom" was the best show these flowers have given us in years, thanks to the near-biblical rains this winter.

Like just about everyone, we enjoy seeing the desert light up with these impossibly colorful flowers each spring. It's a natural and reliable phenomenon that annually and convincingly disproves the tired notion that there's no life in the hot desert.

But as beautiful as the desert flowers are, Borrego - and specifically Borrego Springs, the charming, underrated little town within these desert confines - is best enjoyed after the flowers have gone back into dormancy beneath the baked desert surface.

That may sound counter-intuitive. But it's not. Borrego really comes alive after the droves of well-meaning Lookie Lou's have caught their brief glimpse of the flowers and headed back home. It's a far more enjoyable, satisfying and relaxing trip. 

I'm not grumpy or anti-social. I like people. But I don't like the mind-numbing traffic jams that accompany the flower season. Coming out to Borrego when there are throngs of humans and long lines utterly defeats the purpose of coming out to Borrego.

The joys of breathing in the scent of the flowers are compromised, at best, when they're accompanied by the smell of 10,000 cars, trucks, motor homes and motorcycles.

So here's my obvious recommendation: Get out there now, after the flowers but before it gets oppressively hot. Right now, it's still in the high 90s, which, with the typically low humidity, is just fine. In May and early June, there are no big crowds and there is no hurry, no worry. It's blissful. And fun. And, dare I say it, educational.

Warning: If you want until July to go, well, you'd better be a desert rat. It's hot.

Our favorite retreat in the world - La Casa del Zorro

If you do choose to spend more than a day in Borrego, the one and only place to spend the night(s), if you're not camping, is La Casa del Zorro, the desert diamond I've been happily frequenting now for more than 30 years. It's my favorite getaway in the entire nation, hands down.

La Casa provides the perfect lodging experience. It's the closest thing to home, but better. The service is impeccable, the staff aims to please. It's a great place to come back to after a full day of hiking, exploring.

There is so much more to Borrego than the wildflowers. We come for the impossibly starry nights, the canyons, the hiking trails, the charming local shops (Borrego Outfitters) and eateries (Carlee's), tennis, golf, critter watching (coyotes, bighorn sheep if you're lucky, road runners), the delightfully friendly, art-loving, non-jaded locals, and, above all, the chance to exhale, relax, and be reminded why life is so worth living.

La Casa has has always represented a unique combination of rustic and classy. It is for all kinds of reasons among the finest hotels in America, without being pretentious.

We like to dig our hiking boots deep into the sand and climb every mountain, then come back to one of La Casa's legendary Casitas and hang out by our own private pool and review the day. Or we head over to the full-service spa, or the state-of-the-art tennis facility.

Other than staying at La Casa del Zorro, the other thing we highly recommend you do during your trip is check out the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitors Center. The knowledgable and pleasant staff will show you all the best hiking trails for those who want it easy, moderate or really challenging.

They'll answer any questions you have, and tell all the secrets of the desert. And if you get out there this Saturday, head to the Borrego Palm Canyon Canyon Campfire Center where a talk will be given on Anza-Borrego's miraculous star-gazing night skies, which are among the very best in the world.

You can explore constellations and planets in a way you perhaps never have before. Bring binocs, a flashlight (red lens is preferable). Ask for Sally Theriault, Park Interpreter.

Also be sure to ask the staff at the Visitors Center about how much life there really is in the seemingly lifeless California desert.

There is something so enthralling and inspiring about desert life, especially when you stop to consider just how hot it gets out here in the summer months.

The desert is in fact teeming with life. And it's life of the hardiest, most robust kind. You gotta be tough to live in these parts, be you plant, animal or human. You gotta be a true survivor.

As a three-time survivor of cancer myself, I have an even stronger connection to the critters of the desert than I did before I was diagnosed. They can endure a whole lot. I guess I can, too. The desert in the hottest months is Darwinism on high. It requires a toughness that only the 3,000 or so year-round residents of Borrego Springs possess.

So take a day, or a week, and head out to Borrego, right now, or at least by mid-June before the heat becomes too much. Get the best of all worlds: stay at La Casa, but do some hiking in the desert and the nearby mountains, walk until you are winded. 

There is no greater feeling than to be exhausted amid the majesties and nuances of Mother Nature. As for flowers, well.... We don't need no stinkin' flowers!

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