Updated: Mar 5
There's a funny thing that happens when I'm looking for my next hike - the hike usually finds me. All I need to do is stay curious and follow the breadcrumbs leading me to it.
My family had been planning a trip to Oceanside, California (near San Diego) with my mom, brother and two aunts who live out there. Honestly, I wasn't even thinking this was the kind of vacation where I could indulge myself with a hike...this trip was more about spending time with family and my aunts, who have less mobility now. But when I mentioned to my photographer friend, Kerry (https://kerryconstantino.com), that we'd be in Oceanside in February, her face lit up as she told me about the potential super bloom in Southern California...one she'd been keeping a close eye on for photography opportunities. I'd never heard about super blooms, so I did a little research and here is what I learned. These rare wildflower blooms occur when high precipitation levels follow a long drought. Years of drought eliminate the grasses and weeds that would otherwise take nutrients from the wildflowers. If followed by higher than average levels of rainfall, the result is spectacular blooms. These types of blooms usually occur once every 10 to 15 years, but the last one was in 2019...and the word on the streets is that it was magnificent. The best description I read of these blooms from the San Diego Explorer called them, "a rainbow explosion of colorful flowers". Reminded me of the way I'd felt eating Lucky Charms as a kid, I was all in.
Some of the most beautiful blooms occur in desert landscapes and the most common plant species to bloom are brittlebush, poppies, bluebells, lupine, sand verbena, desert sunflowers, evening primrose, popcorn flowers, and desert lily. Like they said, a rainbow explosion. When I searched the best places to see a super bloom, the Anzo-Borrezo Desert State Park was the first place to come up. Luckily, it was only a two hour drive from where we were staying in Oceanside. Bingo. Breadcrumbs found, hike accepted.
It wasn't hard to sell my mom on this day trip to the desert, she's always up for any adventure, anywhere. We call her "Full Send Gram Gram" and as no surprise to us, she grabbed this hike by the horns. The wildest part of this story is that my mom grew up in Southern California and had never visited, nor heard of the Anzo-Borrego Desert - the largest state park in California. This was her first time seeing it, at age 74, while living in Maine. Just goes to show that beauty can live right under your nose and if you don't look for it, you may miss it.
If you plan to visit Anzo-Borrego, there is an endless list of things to explore here: camping, slot canyons, hellhole canyon, stargazing, Borrego badlands, 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 designated wilderness areas, and 110 miles of hiking trails. If you can get your hands on a 4 x 4 vehicle, you can see a whole lot more. We had a mini van, so our plans were less adventurous.
I researched a range of different hikes and landed on the Borrego Palm Canyon trail, since it was close to the visitor's center and seemed doable for the mixed ages in our group. The loop is only 2.9 miles, but as usual, I took us on a 3 mile detour by parking near the visitor's center...not realizing you could drive all the way up to the trailhead. At any rate, the hike took us most of the day, but it was magnificent. Even the drive to the park, over winding roads through the mountains and along cliffs (with few guard rails) was thrilling. We stopped at one of the many overlooks along the drive with views for miles.
During my research, I'd read that we'd have a chance to see bighorn sheep on this hike, from a distance. Shortly after starting out on this hike, we actually did. Only the distance grew shorter and shorter as these curious, large, curled horned beasts continued heading our way. They eventually got so close to us that we started running..and laughing at how ridiculous we must have looked to all the other hikers (who were not running, by the way). Bighorn sheep are not known to be aggressive, but when we saw those large, horned animals heading towards our kids, our natural instinct was to move it on out. They slowly continued past us, climbing the steep, rocky terrain with effortless agility. It was a wonder to witness, albeit a bit close for comfort.
This hike offered plenty of rock climbing for the boys. They'd been spending a good part of the year at Evo Rock & Fitness, but had never really climbed outdoors. I was a bit nervous because I'm pretty sure outdoor climbing requires a whole different set of knowledge and skills, but there was no holding these two back. Sometimes it's best to just close your eyes and trust that they know their limits. 9 times out of 10, they do.
This hike winds through a rocky, v-shaped gorge, which ends at a palm tree oasis. Before arriving, there were plenty of palm trees along the way. Giant fan palms native to California. The OG palm tree.
Looks photoshopped, right?? It's 100 percent real, I wouldn't lie to you.
As the hike progressed, it became more rocky and led us over streams and small waterfalls. Absolutely gorgeous.
The end of this lollipop loop, took us to a cluster of palm trees, tucked right into the mountain. Quite bizarre and fascinating to see in person.
We never did see super blooms on our hike. Maybe it was too early or maybe they won't happen this year after all. Still, I'm thankful for the idea of super blooms, because it was the first breadcrumb leading us to this miraculous place. If you find yourself in Southern California, you won't want to miss this state park. Here's the link to the hike we did:
At the end of our vacation, we all agreed that this desert hike was the highlight of our trip. Still, I'm always happy to come home to Maine. We may not have giant palm trees or big horned animals, but we have snow and mossy forests and rocky coastlines. Plus community..our people are here.
It think the key is to find the place that's home for you. It's different for everyone and it's all about a feeling. When you find it, you just know.