Borrego Springs: Desert town makes great weekend getaway

Photo courtesy of San Diego Visitors and Convention Bureau

Photo courtesy of San Diego Visitors and Convention Bureau

By Steve Scauzillo, Staff Writer

If hiking, botany or four-wheeling are not your things, Borrego Springs can be a great weekend getaway for the metropolitan couple or the Southern California family. Though remember, this is not Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack desert. You are far from the car-choked boulevards of Palm Springs or the highway-close Indian casinos.

Borrego Springs (borrego is Spanish for bighorn sheep), is a fancy name for an isolated desert valley east of Temecula and west of the Salton Sea.

The town has two main streets: Palm Canyon Drive and Yaqui Pass Road. You know you are there when you see the traffic circle, known as Christmas Circle. From here, actually a city park, spin a cluster of restaurants and inns.

Some notable places to stay include the Borrego Valley Inn, a 15-room hotel; the Borrego Springs Resort & Spa, a 1970s-like throwback with a karaoke room and a bar that is straight out of “Mad Men,” one of our favorite places to hang out (don’t miss the all-day happy hour); or the low-budget Hacienda del Sol motel. For RVers, there’s the Leapin Lizard RV Ranch in nearby Ocotillo Wells, and the Desert Sands RV Park in town.

We stayed at the newly restored La Casa Del Zorro, a 42-acre resort with five swimming pools, main room and individual casitas. We went in early June and the air conditioning at the place didn’t work. Even the AC in the casitas, where they finally moved us, didn’t bring down the temperatures inside the bedroom to less than 82 degrees.

Learn from our experience: Don’t go in the summer unless you don’t mind heat. In fact, most tourists visit in February and March, but Raffetto advised booking a stay for November or December, when the highs are 77 degrees and 69 degrees, respectively, as opposed to June, July and August, when the mercury tops out above 100 degrees.

From desert wildflowers to dazzling sky displays including a glimpse of the Milky Way, Borrego Springs makes you feel like you’ve left civilization behind.

In a way, you have.

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Borrego Springs: Badlands, mud caves, Ocotillo Wells, gas domes

This is of the off-roading area in Ocotillo Wells, near Borrego Springs. (Photo courtesy of San Diego Convention and Visitors)

This is of the off-roading area in Ocotillo Wells, near Borrego Springs. (Photo courtesy of San Diego Convention and Visitors)

By Steve Scauzillo, Staff Writer

The  80-year-old Anza-Borrego Desert State Park lies in a secluded part of the Southern California desert. Nearby, there’s also:

• Borrego Badlands, a red-clay display of craggy hills and odd rock formations, including something called the Pumpkin Patch. This is a place of rounded rock deposits scattered across the desert floor.

• Mud caves, as many as 22 caves and more canyons to explore.

• Ocotillo Wells, visited by about 2 million people a year. The off-highway vehicle area is popular for three- and four-wheeling and dirt bikes.

• Gas Domes, a place with bubbling mud pots similar to what you’d see in Yellowstone Park on a much smaller scale.

•Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, 634,000 acres (roughly the size of the Angeles National Forest), which in spring features wildflowers and in March and April, blooming flowers of magenta, lime green and lemon yellow bursting from a barrel or beavertail cactus. In summer, the ocotillo plant’s spindly stalks are filled with water, its flower tips like flames of fire.

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Borrego Springs: Feasting on grand canyon at Font’s Point

By Steve Scauzillo, Staff Writer

My cautious side resisted the suggestion.

“Really, it is a tradition here in Borrego Springs,” explained our guide, Joe Raffetto of California Overland Desert Excursions.

My wife, Karen, and I hadn’t noticed that Raffetto had tossed his grimy baseball cap in the yellow Jeep we rode in on and put on a suede cowboy hat. He was ready for what would happen next.

I gave in. “OK,” I answered, lowering my head.

“Stand together. Look down at your feet. Walk 10 big steps, then stop and look up,” he instructed. I could hear my tennis shoes squishing against the coarse sand until I stopped and looked out.

My eyes feasted on a 360-degree panorama of the badlands of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, sprawled in Technicolor reality.

This Grand Canyon-like place appeared out of nowhere. The precipice held steady as hot desert winds tickled my back. I felt like “The Lion King’s” Simba on Pride Rock surveying my kingdom.

We had arrived at Font’s Point, a landmark four miles off County Road S-22 and Route 78, not far from the golf courses and emerging resorts of the small town of Borrego Springs, yet separated from civilization in both space and time.

Font’s Point, named after Father Pedro Font, the chaplain who accompanied Juan Bautista de Anza on the journey to Monterey in 1775, amazed those pioneers then and is still delivering today.

From the edge, I could see striated rock canyons carved by ancient riverbeds. It’s a place of mammoth fossils from the Pliocene Epoch unearthed by paleontologists. It was a place once teeming with giant mammals until the Colorado River veered south and left it dry.

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