Remember when you're touring in this area, hydration is of paramount importance. Whether you're walking, cycling, or driving, always have a bottle of water at your side (not to mention a hat and sunscreen). The temperatures in the desert vary like the winds; do yourself a favor and dress in layers to protect yourself from the elements. If you will be out after dusk, or anytime during January and February, warm clothing is also essential.
You can explore the desert's stark terrain on one of its many trails or on a self-guided driving tour; the visitors center can supply maps. For starters, the Borrego Palm Canyon self-guided hike starts at the campground near the visitors center, and is 1.5 miles each way. It's a beautiful, easy-to-moderately difficult hike (depending on what Mother Nature has been up to) winding around boulders and through dry washes to a waterfall and a native grove of massive fan palms. Keep an eye out for the rare bighorn sheep on the canyon walls above. If you've got some time and crave solitude, try Hellhole Canyon trail.
You can also take a guided off-road tour of the desert with California Overland (tel. 866/639-7567 or 760/767-1232; www.californiaoverland.com). Visit spectacular canyons, fossil beds, ancient Native American sites, caves, and more in military-style vehicles; you'll learn about the history and geology of the area along the way. There are 2-, 4-, 5-, 8-, and 10-hour (as well as overnight) excursions; you can also arrange for a private guided jeep tour. Tours include drinks and snacks (or box lunch on longer treks); prices start at $55 for the standard 2-hour adventure, $35 for children age 3 to 12.
Whether you tour with California Overland or on your own, don't miss the sunset view of the Borrego Badlands from Font's Point. Savvy travelers plan ahead and bring champagne and beach chairs for the nightly ritual. Note: The road to Font's Point -- just past mile marker 29 on Palm Canyon Drive -- is often suitable only for four-wheel-drive vehicles; check with the visitors center for current conditions.
You'll find some of Borrego Springs' original inhabitants -- including saber-toothed cats and mammoths -- hanging around the Galleta Meadows Estate (www.galletameadows.com). There are more than 70 life-sized sculptures sprinkled around the area; check the website for a map of their locations. The collection -- the result of a collaboration between a wealthy local landowner and a Mexican metal artist -- also includes raptors, miners, and an homage to migrant farm workers.
If you have only 1 day to spend here, a good day trip from San Diego would include driving over on one route, taking in a few sculptures, then heading to the visitors center, hiking to Palm Canyon, having a picnic, and driving back to San Diego using another route.
Desert Blooms in Anza-Borrego -- The natural beauty of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is enhanced by the almost magical appearance of desert wildflowers in the spring: blazing star, wild heliotrope, prickly poppy, Spanish needles, scarlet bugler, desert lily (the holy grail for aficionados), and more. The full bloom is only for 2 to 6 weeks -- usually from late February through March, depending on winter rainfall. The park provides a 24-hour wildflower hotline (tel. 760/767-4684) as well as a postcard notification program that will alert you about 2 weeks prior to optimum bloom. To be contacted by mail, send a stamped, self-addressed postcard in an envelope to: Wildflowers, 200 Palm Canyon Dr., Borrego Springs, CA 92004. Or check www.parks.ca.gov for the latest information.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.