On the Trail of the Elusive Borrego (Bighorn Sheep): Borrego Palm Canyon Hike, Anza Borrego State Park, CA

Anza Borrego State Park is named after the 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista deAnza and borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep.

The park covers 600,000 acres and is the largest state park in California and, the second largest in the contiguous United States. It contains 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 designated wilderness areas, and 110 miles of hiking trails.

The endangered peninsular bighorn sheep, often called desert bighorn sheep, make their home here. It’s said that visitors and residents seldom get to see them as they avoid human contact.

We arrived at the park about 45 minutes before sunset (golden critter hour) and decided to go for a quick run up the scenic and pleasant Borrego Palm Canyon Trail (3.25 miles) before dark.


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We looked up the steep rock studded canyon walls at precarious boulders, wondering if they ever dislodged…We walked part of the way back hoping to see some wildlife.  I told Ken to keep his eyes open. I have terrible eyesight and the stone and sunset shadows are perfect camouflage for anything that wants to evade notice. Then I heard something that sounded like a boulder crashing down…and Ken saw something in the distance…The head bangers in action! A group of 5, the one sitting on the rock officiating looked frail, perhaps an elder. I felt like I was in a National Geographic show. It was amazing!

The next morning we had breakfast at the local coffee shop. While we were there, we struck up  a conversation with a ranger and local at the next table. We shared our adventure and the video on my phone. There was an elderly couple standing nearby, watching me with annoyed faces and their arms  crossed. (Was I talking too loudly or did I steal their table?) Nope, the woman finally broke her silent glaring and told us in an exasperated voice that they had been hiking the canyon nearly ever day for years and had never had a big horn sheep sighting – not even 1. That’s how lucky we were.

Turns out one of the fellows that we were chatting with was the co-creator of the Desert Bighorn Sheep Book that I was browsing through. How cool is that?

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And yes, this gorgeous book is available at AMAZON  and the Anza Borrego Visitor Center.

And if all that wasn’t magical enough, on our drive out of the park, this healthy coyote couple appeared to see us off.

Coyotes Close up A B

What are your most memorable wildlife sightings?

Cheers to “Alcoholic Pass” Hike, Anza Borrego, CA

Scenery: Desert delight

Distance: You decide – up to 4.8 miles out & back

Difficulty: Moderate

This lovely little hike, was especially magical during the current wildflower super bloom. It entails some switch backs and a moderate climb (approximately 833 feet in .8 mile.) You can sign in at the top and keep going down the other side or turn around.

It was near the top when I captured a video of a bird greeting me with its morning song.

I’ve never experienced the desert quite like this – the morning light waking the shadows on the rocky ridges, the citrus wildflower breeze – oh my! Wish I’d camped at the top, it would have been fantastic to wake up to breathtaking solitude. Instead, I was running around getting wildflower pictures at dawn. (Post to come.)

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Local lore

The Cahuilla Indians originally used this route as a short cut between Coyote Canyon and Clark Valley. Subsequently early settlers also used the trail to cut off the 6 miles it takes to go around Coyote Mountain to get to Clark Valley. Some say it might have gotten it’s name from the drinking habits of the cattlemen and settlers who frequented Borrego Springs’ “watering” holes. Other say it’s just the winding trail that gives it it’s name. All this talk and typing is making me thirsty for a quenching margie and I know just the spot – the Ram’s Head Bar and Grill. (Post to come,)

Getting there: From Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs, drive east on Hwy S-22 and turn left (north) on DiGiorgio Road toward Coyote Canyon. You find the trailhead on the right, 2.4 miles past the paved road on an easily traversed dirt road. Desert Garden is just past Alcoholic’s Pass, you  can take an easy stroll in a concentrated area of cactus and other native plant life if you’re short on time or prefer not to hike up Alcoholic Pass.