Exploring the Anza-Borrego Desert

Gateways to the Area: An Introduction to the Western Region
Flowers of the Anza-Borrego Desert
Flowers of the Anza-Borrego Desert

The Anza-Borrego and Western Colorado Desert region is a vast and intriguing land covering much of San Diego County and parts of Riverside and Imperial Counties from the Coachella Valley to the Mexican border. From prehistoric Native Americans through weekend vacationers, people have called this desert home, some for all of their lives, others for some part of their lives. From piney mountain crags to a windy inland sea, a rich variety of desert plants and animals dwell in habitats as different as their inhabitants.

In some 1 million acres, or sixteen hundred square miles, this region appeals to a broad range of visitors. Recreationists include off-highway vehicle explorers, backpackers, hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers, nature seekers, and campers. Researchers and students in the natural and cultural sciences span the gamut from archaeology to zoology. This desert region is within two to three hours' travel time from most major population centers of southern California, especially the 3 million souls of San Diego County.

The name"Anza-Borrego" symbolizes the relationship of people and the natural environment in the deserts of the California borderlands. Juan Bautista de Anza was the Spanish captain of the epic 1775 76 San Francisco colonial expedition that passed through the region. "Borrego" is Spanish for sheep, and the peninsular bighorn sheep is the very symbol of desert mountain wilderness in the Californias. Geologist William Phipps Blake, of the U.S. Pacific Railroad Survey (1853), named the entire area "the desert bordering the Great Colorado of the West,"' referring to the watershed area of the lower Colorado River and Salton Basin. The Colorado Desert portion of the Sonoran Desert occupies part of four states: Alta California, Arizona, Baja California, and Sonora.

West Hwy S-2 and Borrego Valley

There are four major gateways to the Anza-Borrego Desert area. The oldest, and still the most popular, is the historic Southern Emigrant Trail/ Butterfield Overland Mail Route, today's Hwy S-2 and the Hwy S-22 branch through Borrego Valley. Most San Diegans and almost all Orange County and Los Angeles traffic come via this northwestern gateway at Warner Junction (Hwys 79 and S-2). The western gateway, through Julian via Hwy 78, is the next most popular access. The eastern gateway, from Hwy 86 with entry points at Hwy S-22 and Hwy 78, brings visitors from Riverside and Imperial Counties. The southern gateway, Hwy S-2 from Ocotillo, brings visitors from San Diego and Imperial Counties via Interstate 8 (1-8).


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