Picnic tables — check. Fire pits — check. Hot showers — check. Flush toilets — check. Wash basins — check. Drinking water — check.
Wait — go back to that last one. Turns out the water flowing out of all the faucets and spigots at the Tamarisk Grove campground in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is undrinkable — a condition almost unheard of among the state's collection of developed campgrounds.
Campers who want potable water at Tamarisk Grove, one of the three developed campsites in the park, can buy it onsite when the information kiosk is staffed. But at least one volunteer staffer apparently didn't know this and recently referred campers to the town of Borrego Springs, 18 miles away.
Water from a well that serves the campground is rich in minerals and exceeds county standards in total dissolved solids. A reverse-osmosis treatment plant at the campground “is outdated and needs a high level of maintenance that we cannot currently provide,” according to an email from Kathy Dice, the park's superintendent.
The lack of water at Tamarisk Grove is not mentioned on the state park's website or reserveamerica.com, the website campers use to make reservations. (However, “NO WATER at Bow Willow Primitive Camp” is noted, and the site does proudly describe Tamarisk Grove’s “Brand-new cabins” available for rent at $60 per night.)
Dice said the water-treatment plant requires $20,000 in upgrades — money the park doesn't have. She didn't say how long the park has been without potable water.
“We are looking for funding to build a system that can once again take care of the water situation there but in the meantime we are not testing the water and therefore advise visitors against drinking it,” Dice said.
Tamarisk Grove, a former prison camp, gets its name from the abundance of unusual trees that were imported from the Middle East. The campground offers a convenient base for several popular sites, such as the Yaqui well, a historic desert water hole; and a seasonal Kumeyaay village.