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A Guided Tour: The Anza-Borrego Desert

by Marley Braun, PassPorter Guest Contributor
Last modified 06-06-2011

PassPorter.com > Articles > U.S. Travel > Traveling  

Living on the East Coast, our children had never seen the desert. Their biggest request, besides seeing Disneyland of course, was to visit a desert sometime during our recent Southern California adventure. We chose to visit the Anza-Borrego Desert, which covers 126 square miles and is about a 2 ½ hour drive from Anaheim. We chose to take a day trip there and I must warn you that to enjoy it properly, it will take at least an entire day. The scenic drive is lovely and serene but a little slow winding in and out of all of the mountains. After our Hail-Mary day at Disneyland, it was a welcome pleasure for us to unwind and enjoy the view.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest contiguous state park in the United States, located on the eastern side of San Diego County. It is home to wildflowers, palm groves, Indian ruins, ancient fossil reefs, wind caves and several types of animals. You can find detailed information regarding the park at http://www.anzaborrego.statepark.org.

After researching the web site, I found that the best way to see it would be to find a guided tour. I chose California Overland located in Borrego Springs, CA (866-6-EXPLORE or http://www.californiaoverland.com). It is a brand new tour operation owned by Joe Rafetto. Joe offers easy, moderate, and challenging tours that range anywhere from 2 hours to overnight. Prices begin at $45 per person for a 2-hour tour. Each tour can accommodate up to 17 people. He also offers boxed lunches and is in the process of adding a wine tasting tour of the surrounding area. Trip availability does vary with tourist demand and minimum participation requirements may apply.

I called Joe a few months before our trip and he asked me many questions so that he could create a tour that would be perfect for our family. We agreed a shorter tour (3 hours) would be best for the ages of my children. My five-year-old son really wanted to see dinosaur fossils and a scorpion. My eight-year-old daughter just wanted to see how different the desert really was.

Armed with that information, Joe created the perfect tour! It began as we pulled into the parking area and were greeted by converted military transport vehicles. My husband and son looked like they had died and gone to heaven! The vehicles are fitted with cushy school bus seats, seat belts and a canvas roof overhead to block out the heat of the sun. Joe had packed us plenty of water, snacks and fruit for our tour and encouraged us to have plenty of sunscreen on.

With the wind blowing through our hair, Joe drove us to our first stop. To our delight, he had arranged for a private tour of the Paleontology Lab at the Visitors Center. Park Ranger Frank Jee took us on an informative "behind the scenes" tour of the hundreds of fossils that have been recovered from the surrounding desert. The highlights were an enormous, ten foot complete mammoth tusk, a giant sabertooth tiger skull, a clawed hand bone of a sloth, and a huge tortoise shell reminiscent of the Galapagos turtle we had just seen at the San Diego Zoo. The best part was that we actually got to touch everything and we learned a tremendous amount about how they have collected and preserved all of these wonderful treasures.

Our next stop was Clark Dry Lake. On the way there, we saw a roadrunner (they are much smaller than you would think) and several jackrabbits. As we stepped out onto the cracked earth, we were surrounded by beautiful mountains. We ate the snacks Joe had packed; made sure we drank plenty of water to stay well hydrated and kicked back and enjoyed the view. We even got to witness a type of mirage effect that the kids thought was really cool. It looked like a ripple going across the mountains through the air.

Lastly, we went on the truly rugged part of our adventure to Font's Point. The kids loved all of the bouncing around they got to do, while my husband and I enjoyed the unique rock outcroppings. Font's Point has a beautiful overlook that reminded me of a smaller version of the Grand Canyon. It was very picturesque and Joe provided us with binoculars so that we could fully take in the view.

Our trip culminated with Joe presenting my son with a scorpion, who had unfortunately met his demise the night before when he crossed paths with a cat. The scorpion got a new "home" in an empty film canister and it is proudly displayed anytime a guests visits!

The Anza-Borrego Desert is well worth a day trip if you are visiting the Southern California area. It is calm and peaceful and provided my family with a lifetime of unique memories.

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