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Anza-Borrego camping: a review

Desert camping apprehension overcome.

Sunset from an Anza-Borrego slot canyon.
Sunset from an Anza-Borrego slot canyon.

Being a little nontraditional when it comes to Thanksgiving (I hate turkey and brown food, and avoid it like the plague), we were thrilled when our friends, who feel the same about Thanksgiving, invited us camping in the Anza-Borrego Desert. They made it clear that there would be no bathrooms. No streetlights or electrical outlets. No paved roads.

For some reason, we agreed anyway. I’m glad we did.

Weathering the desert

As you likely know, it’s cold in the desert this time of year. I was apprehensive about sleeping in 30-40 degree weather, but once I saw a local Craigslist ad selling used camping equipment and got our super-snuggly sleeping bags, I was pumped.

Turns out, it wasn’t that bad. It was about 40–45 degrees at night, and downright pleasant during the day. So of course, I took too many coats, hats and mittens. But a girl can never be overprepared, can she?

Rocky roads ahead

I should have been warned when my friend asked if we had 4-wheel drive.

"Uh… why do you ask?"

The roads aren’t just unpaved, they’re also covered in precarious boulders that threatened to rip out our radiator from beneath our feet (at least in my mind). My husband knew better than to ask me to drive as I grabbed the OS handle with white knuckles. We drove for what seemed eons before settling into an isolated canyon and setting up camp.

Roughing it.

Exploring slot canyons

Before we camped, we took a hike among the slot canyons. They’re unlike anything I’ve experienced. Imagine being at the bottom of a canyon, but you can touch the sides. And in some cases, you’ve got to squeeze through that slot. The kids (ranging from ages 5 to 9) had a blast scurrying up sandstone formations. The dogs, too.

The canyons near our campsite were completely insular. I went for a walk by myself and couldn’t hear the kids just a few rocks over.

But the real highlight...

Breathtaking nature aside, the most fun was cooking award-winning meals (er, supervising said meals with a glass of wine from a distance) of lobster and bacon-wrapped shrimp, and then steak and potatoes. And then drinking. And staying up to what seemed to be late but was really 10 p.m. talking and laughing with good friends. Oh yeah, and a little game called Cards Against Humanity. Look it up. Unless you’re my mother. Because if you are, you will be offended with its off humor.

And the stars. Oh, the stars. You haven’t seen stars until you see them from a canyon in the desert. Velvet black sky with pinholes of light. The occasional shooting star just out of your peripheral vision. The feeling like there is no human civilization anywhere but right here.

Back to life

Coming back to reality after 2.5 days of going off the grid was hard.

The first shock came when we got lost on the dirt roads headed home and ran into hundreds of RVs, ATVs, and motorbikes. I think they call them “desert rats.” They had a much different experience in the desert than we did. For us, it was about solitude (together, as it were) whereas these folks wanted the more, the merrier. No thanks.

Having been on a digital-free diet for that long was refreshing, though I was happy to dive back into my ebooks on my tablet.

I was dehydrated for days, despite having drank plenty of water (I guess the alcohol countered that). And I was so happy to take a hot shower and roll around in my bed.

Would I camp in the desert again? Absolutely. It was a singular experience that I can’t compare to anything else I’ve done in all my travels. It was definitely the roughest I've ever had it (hey, don't knock the Marriott; at least I don't have to bring a shovel behind a bush to relieve myself there), but sometimes getting out of your comfort zone is the best thing you can do to appreciate the comforts of life.

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Sunset from an Anza-Borrego slot canyon.
Sunset from an Anza-Borrego slot canyon.

Being a little nontraditional when it comes to Thanksgiving (I hate turkey and brown food, and avoid it like the plague), we were thrilled when our friends, who feel the same about Thanksgiving, invited us camping in the Anza-Borrego Desert. They made it clear that there would be no bathrooms. No streetlights or electrical outlets. No paved roads.

For some reason, we agreed anyway. I’m glad we did.

Weathering the desert

As you likely know, it’s cold in the desert this time of year. I was apprehensive about sleeping in 30-40 degree weather, but once I saw a local Craigslist ad selling used camping equipment and got our super-snuggly sleeping bags, I was pumped.

Turns out, it wasn’t that bad. It was about 40–45 degrees at night, and downright pleasant during the day. So of course, I took too many coats, hats and mittens. But a girl can never be overprepared, can she?

Rocky roads ahead

I should have been warned when my friend asked if we had 4-wheel drive.

"Uh… why do you ask?"

The roads aren’t just unpaved, they’re also covered in precarious boulders that threatened to rip out our radiator from beneath our feet (at least in my mind). My husband knew better than to ask me to drive as I grabbed the OS handle with white knuckles. We drove for what seemed eons before settling into an isolated canyon and setting up camp.

Roughing it.

Exploring slot canyons

Before we camped, we took a hike among the slot canyons. They’re unlike anything I’ve experienced. Imagine being at the bottom of a canyon, but you can touch the sides. And in some cases, you’ve got to squeeze through that slot. The kids (ranging from ages 5 to 9) had a blast scurrying up sandstone formations. The dogs, too.

The canyons near our campsite were completely insular. I went for a walk by myself and couldn’t hear the kids just a few rocks over.

But the real highlight...

Breathtaking nature aside, the most fun was cooking award-winning meals (er, supervising said meals with a glass of wine from a distance) of lobster and bacon-wrapped shrimp, and then steak and potatoes. And then drinking. And staying up to what seemed to be late but was really 10 p.m. talking and laughing with good friends. Oh yeah, and a little game called Cards Against Humanity. Look it up. Unless you’re my mother. Because if you are, you will be offended with its off humor.

And the stars. Oh, the stars. You haven’t seen stars until you see them from a canyon in the desert. Velvet black sky with pinholes of light. The occasional shooting star just out of your peripheral vision. The feeling like there is no human civilization anywhere but right here.

Back to life

Coming back to reality after 2.5 days of going off the grid was hard.

The first shock came when we got lost on the dirt roads headed home and ran into hundreds of RVs, ATVs, and motorbikes. I think they call them “desert rats.” They had a much different experience in the desert than we did. For us, it was about solitude (together, as it were) whereas these folks wanted the more, the merrier. No thanks.

Having been on a digital-free diet for that long was refreshing, though I was happy to dive back into my ebooks on my tablet.

I was dehydrated for days, despite having drank plenty of water (I guess the alcohol countered that). And I was so happy to take a hot shower and roll around in my bed.

Would I camp in the desert again? Absolutely. It was a singular experience that I can’t compare to anything else I’ve done in all my travels. It was definitely the roughest I've ever had it (hey, don't knock the Marriott; at least I don't have to bring a shovel behind a bush to relieve myself there), but sometimes getting out of your comfort zone is the best thing you can do to appreciate the comforts of life.

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