‘‘There’s only one environment hostile to man — that's the city. Treat the desert right and it will treat you right.”
That's a word of advice rangers at Anza-Borrego State Park give thousands of campers each year. For despite the traveling restrictions imposed by high gas prices, the number of desert visitors has increased from 382,000 in 1965 to over 645,000 in 1975.
When you visit Borrego the most important thing to remember is to get to know the rangers. It's their job to protect the park and to see that you’re aware of all the facilities available.
Anza-Borrego has two types of campsites. Primitive sites, with pit toilets and trash cans, are SI.50 per night. Developed sites, with trailer hook-ups, shaded ramadas, fireplaces or gas stoves and trailer hook-ups cost $3.00 a day for rents, $4.00 for trailer hook-up. Day-use fees are a dollar, and extra cars (there’s a 8 person, 2 car limit) costs are charged dollar each.
If you choose to go off on your own. and the real beauty of the desert is in its uncharted areas, always notify the rangers before you leave. If they expect your return and don’t hear from you, they’ll know where to look.
Whenever you set-up camp in the desert, whether it’s a developed, primitive or wilderness area, there are a number of good habits experienced campers have to share:
— Always let the park rangers know where you are. They’ll have lots of tips about the area you plan to visit.
— Shake out your sleeping bag and shoes before and after sleeping.
— Carry ample water (a gallon per day in the summer) and drink it when you need it. Your body will do a fine job of rationing it, and people have been found dead with full jugs of water.
— Cover yourself well.
Unless you’re an experienced desert camper, it’s no place to get a sun tan. Long pants are a must. Besides keeping off the sun, they keep in moisture. Long-sleeve shirts are wise, and a wide-brimmed hat is necessary to protect your eyes.
— If you’re lost, stay with your vehicle. By covering a deflated tire with gas, oil or kerosene and lighting it afire you can attract one of the many planes that cover the area night and day. On foot, head down hill. Rangers expect lost campers to follow the least path of resistance; help them out by leaving tracks of rocks or sticks.
A number of books have been written on desert camping and are of great help to the inexperienced. Leander and Rosalie Peik, who helped with this Reader’s guide, have written a number of good ones on Southern California camping including a Campers’ Guide to San Diego County Campgrounds and a Guide to Orange and Riverside County Campgrounds.
Borrego Campsites. While real desert freaks will want to get off to Death Valley or the Mojave, Anza-Borrego is only an hour and a half’s drive from the city, making weekend treks very feasible.
Arroyo Salada. East on Palm Canyon Road 7 miles, north on Peg Leg Road for 3 miles, east on Borrego-Salton Sea Highway for 9 miles. The campground is 1/10th of a mile south of the main road. This is a small campground with trash cans and pit toilets, but no water or other facilities.
Bow Willow. A great place for real campers, this is one of the quieter ones. There’s 10 spots with tables, shaded ramadas and pit toilets. It has a good view of Ocotillo, the Smoke Trees, and is surrounded by beautiful cactus. It’s located off of County Road S-2, 16 miles north of Ocotillo.
Culp Valley. Another primitive site, this one is 9.3 miles west of Christmas Circle at Borrego Springs. At an elevation of 3,500 feet it gets hot here in summer, and there is no water available.
Dos Cabezas. Probably the most desolate of the Borrego sites, Dos Cabezas puts on a beautiful show of spring wildflowers. There are a number of landmarks at this site, located 7.8 miles off of U.S. Highway 80 by Ocotillo. Be sure to see the abandoned station on the San Diego and Arizona Eastern line, the Mortero Palms area and the deserted line shack by the old corral.
Fish Creek. Eight miles south of Pole Line Road this primitive site is noted for its beautiful rock formations. Rangers can be of help in pointing out the Mud Hills, Split Mountain and Elephant Trees.
Palm Canyon. The most luxurious of the Borrego sites, Palm Canyon is equipped with trailer hook-ups, stoves and plumbing. Rangers are based here and give a number of programs and hikes in the surrounding areas. It’s 3.5 miles west of Christmas Circle at Borrego Springs.
Tamarisk Grove. A developed site, the Grove has 25 spots, each with table, stove and locker. The large Tamarisk trees house some beautiful birds and Yaqui Well is only a short hike from the campground, which is near the junction of State Highway 78 and Borrego Springs Road.
Spring wildflowers are a beautiful sight in the desert. The show varies from year-to-year depending on the amount of rainfall. Mr. Peik suggests following County Road S-2 up through the desert to Sissors Crossing (the junction of Hwys. 78 and S-2) A left at the Crossing will take you back through Julian and into San Diego. The rangers are also up on the best places to see the flowers, and will give you a map and directions. You can call them before you leave home and they’ll have the information waiting for you. The headquarter’s number is 767-5311.