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Off-season (a.k.a. "summer") camping in the Anza-Borrego Desert isn't as outlandish as it may seem -- particularly if you confine your visit to the darker two-thirds of a 24-hour day. On just about any August or September afternoon, you can pull into the sprawling Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, pick virtually any site you wish for the night, remove most of your clothing, and snuggle up with the earth and sky, while enmeshed in a cocoon of warm, gently circulating, dry air.

Around 5 o'clock, when evening shadows overtake the campground, you can embark on a little expedition to Panorama Overlook -- a flat spot on the ramp-like rocky ridge south of the campground. Find the trail starting at campsite 71, and walk just one-half mile up to the 300-foot-high overlook, where -- from your perspective -- you preside over all of Borrego Springs and the entire north half of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Any map of the Anza-Borrego region will help you identify the major topographical features visible along the horizon from northeast through the south: Coyote Mountain and the more distant Santa Rosa Mountains; Fonts Point and the Borrego Badlands; Pinyon Ridge and a slice of the Vallecito Mountains.

Facing west, you must crane your neck to follow the upward continuation of the rocky ridge you're standing upon. If you have the energy, keep climbing as far as you like up that ridge. The view gets ever better, and the terrain underfoot gets ever rougher, the higher you go. Naturally, any hiker doing this would be well prepared with plenty of water and emergency gear.

Perhaps a few cumulonimbus clouds -- the waning remnants of the summer monsoon season -- will grace the late afternoon sky. If these threaten rain or lightning, go down immediately. The afternoon of September 10, 2004 saw a cataclysmic downpour and flash flood in this area that tore out the majority of the palm trees growing in Borrego Palm Canyon. A similar event could happen again.

Maybe you'll be inspired to return to Panorama Overlook by 6 a.m. next morning so as to watch the sky warm with gossamer pink clouds. Later, as the sun launches over the distant Salton Sea and temperatures soar to oven-like intensity, you can break camp and take your leave, seeking the comfort of higher mountain elevations or balmy ocean breezes.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

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