Exploring the Anza-Borrego Desert

The Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail
Main Campground

The main full-facility campground, originally constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the mid-1930s, is located 1.2 miles northwest of the visitor center, at the mouth of Borrego Palm Canyon and at the base of the distinct Indianhead,"old rain-in-the-face," on the San Ysidro Mountain skyline. Visitors will find varied accommodations at the main campground.
There are trailer sites with hook-ups, and tent sites with shade ramadas, tables, and some fireplaces. Showers, laundry, tubs, and flush toilets are near the sites. Day-use picnic areas have shade ramadas, tables, water, gas stoves, and flush toilets. Modest fees are charged according to the extent of services desired, with limits on the number of vehicles and people per site, and on length of stay.

Several group campsites, with large shade ramadas, tables, fire rings, and wood-burning cookstoves, are also available. Each site can accommodate about 25 people or all five may be reserved for a single large group. A campfire center, featuring seasonal programs, is located near the upper parking area near the trailhead for Borrego Palm Canyon.

A one-mile trail leads to the visitor center from the south side of the lower campground, just to the west of campsite #71. A second trail, beginning from the same location, leads one-half mile across the alluvial fan to the rocky hillside, where switchbacks lead some 300 feet up to the top of Panorama Overlook, from which one has a commanding view of the valley, the Santa Rosa Mountains, the Vallecito Mountains, the Borrego, Badlands, and the Salton Sea beyond. The ridge can also be followed about another five miles to the top of the San Ysidros, but it is extremely rugged and not for the inexperienced.


The trail is accessible from the west end of the main campground near the campfire circle. This canyon, known as"Tala" by the Indians, was the first site sought for a desert state park, in the late 1920s. It receives more annual visitors than any other single section of the park. The reasons become obvious as the hiker walks up-canyon along the easy 1.5-mile self-guiding nature trail (3 miles round trip). What at first appears to be a dry, lifeless canyon turns out to have a variety of plant life, palm grottoes, and a seasonal stream. The Borrego Palm Canyon Trail Guide is available at the trailhead or from a ranger.

The following comments supplement the 18 sites described in the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail Guide. Use of these interpretive materials along the Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail is a mini-course in Sonoran desert vegetation and the native American lifestyle throughout the park area. Borrego Palm Canyon is a textbook example of similar stream-laced, palm-filled canyons along the east side of the Peninsular Ranges for 200 miles from Palm Springs into Baja, California.

The descriptions below emphasize the importance of this and similar canyons to the native Americans who called them home. It was more than just a place to live; it was the drugstore, hardware store, and grocery store. Borrego Palm Canyon was an attractive resource area because of the combination of water, palm trees, harvestable plants, good grinding areas, rock shelters, and small and large game. A hike up Borrego Palm Canyon reveals the extent of Indian occupation by the number of slicks, morteros, and kitchen midden areas still visible along this trail.

The Cahuilla Indians who lived here had village sites up-canyon in the Borrego Palm Canyon Middle Fork and above the Borrego Palm Canyon North Fork at Palm Bowl.

The Cahuilla are Shoshonean-speaking Indians who first arrived in southern California 1,000 1,500 years ago, attracted to the area by a large freshwater lake called Lake Cahuilla. This lake occupied the same basin as but was much larger than today's Salton Sea. When Lake Cahuilla dried up about 500 years ago, the various Cahuilla clans retreated into the surrounding mountains and canyons, most of the population settling in the Palm Springs, Banning, and Coachella Valley areas.

Their most southern villages were found in Coyote Canyon and Borrego Palm Canyon. The village site at Palm Bowl in Sheep Canyon was called Panoquk. The site at the head of the Middle Fork of Borrego Palm Canyon was known as Hokzvitca. Pat-cha-wal, at San Ignacio, was the most southerly village exclusively occupied by the Cahuilla. The Wiwaiistam people of Coyote Canyon moved to Pat-cha-wal in the 1870s after a smallpox epidemic ravaged their village at Middle Willows. To the south of this village was Ho-la-kal, today's San Ysidro, a mixed village consisting of Cahuillas, Cupeos, and Kumeyaay.

Like the Yuman-speaking Kumeyaay who lived to the south of the Cahuilla, these desert Indians followed a bipolar village pattern, alternating between higher and lower elevations according to the harvest time of the main desert staples upon which they depended. In fall, the local Cahuilla harvested the acorns found at the higher elevations in the San Ysidros, in the area near today's Los Coyotes Indian Reservation. In winter and early spring they harvested desert agave. Spring was a time to gather all sorts of desert seeds. Mesquite was the main food source in summer, found abundantly in Borrego Palm Canyon.


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