Anza-Borrego Desert Region: Your Complete Guide to the State Park and Adjacent Areas of the Western Colorado Desert

Anza-Borrego Desert Region: Your Complete Guide to the State Park and Adjacent Areas of the Western Colorado Desert

by Lowell Lindsay, Diana Lindsay

Paperback(New edition includes new trails and information about this region that may not be known to the general public)

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The book you need before you go to the Anza-Borrego Desert

The Anza-Borrego and Western Colorado Desert Region is a vast, intriguing landscape that harbors a rich variety of desert plants and animals. Prepare for adventure with this comprehensive guidebook, providing everything from trail logs and natural history to a Desert Directory of agencies, accommodations, and facilities, as well as highway mileage markers and GPS coordinates. It is the perfect companion for hikers, campers, history buffs, and casual visitors.

The popular guidebook by Lowell Lindsay and Diana Lindsay is fully updated and offers complete coverage of over 1 million acres of desert lands and adjoining mountainous areas: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area, parts of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, Bureau of Land Management recreational and wilderness lands, and more. Anza-Borrego Desert Region features 200 trails of varying difficulty and distances that appeal to both the novice and seasoned hiker. Plus, the newly revised back pocket map is also included, showing expanded boundaries for state park and state vehicular recreation areas. This is a must-have for anyone thinking about visiting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780899977799
Publisher: Wilderness Press
Publication date: 12/05/2017
Edition description: New edition includes new trails and information about this region that may not be known to the general public
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 599,114
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

DIANA AND LOWELL LINDSAY have been exploring the Anza-Borrego region for 50 years. They have written and edited several award-winning books, including Our Historic Desert: The Story of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park ; Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things ; Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles ; Fossil Treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert: The Last Seven Million Years ; Geology of Anza-Borrego: Edge of Creation ; Geology and Geothermal Resources of the Imperial and Mexicali Valleys ; Ricardo Breceda: Accidental Artist ; and Coast to Cactus: The Canyoneer Trail Guide to San Diego Outdoors.

Diana received her master’s degree from San Diego State University, specializing in history and geography of the Southwest. She was a board member of the Anza-Borrego Foundation for almost 30 years and served twice as president. In 2013 she was presented with the Medallion Award—the state’s highest honor for “superior achievement” in volunteer service. She is an honorary California State Park Ranger. She was also Grand Marshal of the Borrego Days Desert Festival Parade in 2017 and received a resolution from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors acknowledging her contributions to this desert area.

Lowell is a former US Navy helicopter pilot and wilderness survival instructor. He received his master’s degree from West Texas A&M in public administration, specializing in environmental education. He worked for years as a YMCA executive director and for a period of time managed Camp Marston and Raintree Ranch in Julian, California. He is past president of the San Diego Association of Geologists, served as treasurer of the national Association of Earth Science Editors, and is an active member of the ABDSP Paleontology Society. The Lindsays own Sunbelt Publications, a regional book publishing and distribution company located in San Diego, California.

Read an Excerpt

Central Hwy 78, Hwy S-3

THE HWY 78 “SAN FELIPE CORRIDOR” FORMS THE BROAD MIDRIFF of the Anza-Borrego region, extending east from pine-covered uplands and mile-high peaks to below-sea-level desert plains. Highway 78, from Julian to the Salton Sea, traversing the watershed of San Felipe Wash and its tributaries, has been a major corridor of travel since the late 1800s. As an E-W corridor, it is a notable exception to historic routes of travel in the Anza-Borrego region, which generally follow NW/SE-trending earthquake faults.

Highway 78 slices across the following faults: Elsinore fault at Banner, Earthquake Valley fault at Scissors Crossing, San Felipe fault at the Narrows, Yaqui Ridge detachment fault at Nude Wash, Coyote Creek fault at Ocotillo Wells, and Superstition Hills fault near Trifolium (junction of Hwys 78 and 86). Highway 78 generally follows the path of Banner and San Felipe Creeks, which are antecedent streams, present before tectonic uplift. Subsequent uplift was slow enough to permit the flowing water to cut downward as fast as the rock barriers arose. Consequently, Hwy 78 is never more than a couple of miles from San Felipe Creek except for the creek’s northward loop around Borrego Mountain, which is influenced by the Coyote Creek fault.

As a recreational corridor, Hwy 78 is the central entrance to the Anza-Borrego area. The park’s second-largest campground, Tamarisk Grove, is located on this corridor, as is Ocotillo Wells, in Lower Borrego Valley, which is a popular recreational focal point for off-roaders and desert explorers. Ocotillo Wells features Borrego Mountain to the northwest, the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area (OWSVRA) to the north, and the Split Mountain/Fish Creek area to the south. Farther east the R9/R10 Poleline Road (BLM Road EC191) offers access to the San Felipe Hills and the San Sebastian Marsh. Highway 86 forms the eastern boundary of the region, connecting Hwys S-22 and 78.

Sentenac Cienega (marsh) and canyon, at the western gate to ABDSP, deserve particular attention because of the special effort that the Anza-Borrego Foundation (ABF) spearheaded to preserve this unique riparian area, one of the last undeveloped wetlands in California and an area that park visionaries had hoped to include as a 220-acre “scenic easement” in the original boundaries in 1933. Preserving this area for future generations was a cooperative effort by several major agencies and groups, including the California State Parks, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Caltrans.

The abundance of water in the marsh and canyon supports a lush plant growth, including two rare and threatened plant communities, the Mesquite Bosque and the Sonoran Cottonwood Willow Riparian Forest. The cienega and canyon have long been a favorite haunt for students of botany. As early as 1832, English botanist Thomas Coulter collected screwbean mesquite and noted the variety of plants in and near the cienega. Many animals, including the endangered least Bell’s vireo, the three-spined stickleback warm-water fish, the southwestern willow flycatcher, and the desert bighorn sheep, depend on this permanent water supply. Over 33 sensitive species have been identified in this area. Bird life in Sentenac Cienega and Sentenac Canyon is outstanding in spring. The marsh is also a premiere area for butterflies, including the Eunus skipper, the Sonoran blue, the striated queen, and the migratory monarch. This riparian area was also a focus of attention for early Indians and later homesteaders.

In the early 1990s, preliminary discussions began between the current owners of the property and ABF about the possibility of acquiring this unique wetlands area as an addition to the state park. The actual acquisition became a reality in 1998, realizing the dreams of park visionaries Guy L. Fleming and Newton B. Drury, some 65 years earlier.

Trip 4A: Earthquake (Shelter) Valley to Ocotillo Wells via Hwy 78

FROM: Scissors Crossing in Earthquake (Shelter) Valley

TO: Ocotillo Wells

VIA: Central Hwy 78 (paved road)


1A–Warner Ranch Junction to Earthquake Valley via Hwy S-2

4B–Tamarisk Grove to Ranchita (S-22) via Grapevine Canyon

4C–Tamarisk Grove to Borrego Springs via Hwy S-3

4D–Ocotillo Wells to Borrego Valley via San Felipe Wash

5A–Ocotillo Wells to Trifolium (junction Hwy 86/Hwy 78) via Hwy 78

5B–Ocotillo Wells to Fish Creek via Split Mtn Road

6A–Earthquake Valley to Ocotillo (Imperial Co.) via Hwy S-2

6B–Julian to Earthquake (Shelter) Valley via Hwy 78

POINTS OF INTEREST, SIDE TRIPS, AND TRAILS ( See Appendix 4, “Trails Found in This Book: A Quick Overview” ) PCT/San Felipe Hills, Sentenac Cienega and Canyon, Grapevine Canyon, Plum Canyon, Lizard Canyon, Tamarisk Grove, Stag Cove, Mescal Bajada, Chuckwalla Wash, Mine Wash, Pinyon Wash, Nolina Wash, Bighorn Canyon, Harper Flat, Sunset Mountain, Narrows Earth Trail, Quartz Vein Wash, Old Borrego Valley Road, Nude Wash, Sunset Wash, Kane Spring Road, Borrego Springs Road/Texas Dip, Borrego Mountain, West Butte and The Slot, Hawk Canyon, Buttes Pass/Goat Trail, Harper Canyon/Cactus Garden, Blow Sand Canyon, OWSVRA Ranger Station and Discovery Center, Main Street Camp

SUMMARY State post mile markers on vertical white “paddle boards,” emergency call boxes, and bridges appear approximately every mile. Post mile zero on Hwy 78 is Oceanside, with mileage increasing to the east. The starting point for miles is given and the sequence is retained to match the post mile markers found on the road.




This is the western junction of Hwys 78 and S-2 at the Vallecito-Butterfield Stage Station Monument (California Historical Landmark No. 304A). The Vallecito Stage Station is 19 miles southeast on Hwy S-2.

Historic Hwy S-2 follows the long, narrow fault-controlled swath of Earthquake (Shelter) Valley to the southeast and San Felipe Valley to the northwest. Drainages from both valleys meet here at Sentenac Cienega, turning east into Sentenac Canyon, which contains Hwy 78.


The San Felipe Stage Station site and monument is about 0.3 mile northwest up Hwy S-2. The PCT crosses Hwy 78 just east of Scissors Crossing. It may be seen snaking up Grapevine Mountain, en route to Barrel Spring on Hwy S-22.

PCT/Grapevine Mt/San Felipe Hills segment

You can hike a portion of the PCT northwest along the southern foot of Grapevine Mountain for a couple of miles to get a nice view of a stretch of the Elsinore fault zone in San Felipe Valley and Earthquake Valley to the southeast, which is also the route of the Butterfield Overland Stage and the Southern Emigrant Trail as it heads for Teofulio Summit to the northwest. The San Felipe Butterfield station was located below in the valley on the west side of S-2 by a spring and a large cottonwood tree and was the only wooden station on the western route (see Trip 1A).

To take this hike, park on the road near the PCT crossing. If no parking is available near the crossing, drive 0.3 mile north on S-2 to the large parking area on the east (right) for the San Felipe State Station site and monument referenced above. You can join the PCT from here by following a faint use-trail northeast up a sandy wash for a short distance. This hike has a nice variety of desert plants, especially cacti, as it is in a transition zone between low desert and high desert. The option of hiking to Barrel Spring, however, will take some planning, as it requires an overnight backpack with plenty of water. There is no water on the trail as it winds its way through the San Felipe Hills until Barrel Spring, 23.8 miles northwest. There is also no shade, and temperatures can be extreme some parts of the year. This segment of the PCT was routed down to this dry stretch of the desert because the original preferred route over Volcan Mountain crossed what was private land at the time.

End of Hike

Table of Contents



Outline of Trips by Area

Map and Illustration List


  • CHAPTER 1: Areas, Access, and Outdoor Activities

  • Division of the Region into Seven Areas

  • Classification of Public Lands
  • Classification by Route Condition
  • Mileage System for Road and Trail Narratives
  • Camping in the Region

  • Developed Campgrounds
  • Developed Campgrounds in Borrego Valley
  • Developed Campgrounds along Hwy S-2
  • Developed Campgrounds in the Central and East Hwy 78 Area
  • Other RV Campgrounds in the Region
  • Primitive Campgrounds
  • Outdoor Adventure and Natural History in the Region

  • Nature Walks and Interpretive Services
  • Hiking and Backpacking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Mountain Biking and Recommended Routes
  • CHAPTER 2: What to Do and Not Do for Desert Travel

  • Pre-trip Preparation
  • Vehicle Savvy

  • Desert Driving Techniques
  • Vehicle Equipment Checklist
  • Weather, Water, and Personal Equipment

  • Wind, Water, and You
  • The Water Maxims
  • Desert Hiking and Getting Unlost
  • Personal Equipment Checklist
  • The Ten Essentials
  • Desert Citizenship and Common Sense (Rules and Regulations)
  • Protection of Our Pre- and Historical Heritage

  • Plants, Animals, and Artifacts
  • A Review of Quick Desert Tips

  • Hiking Distances in the Desert
  • Plants Can Hurt You in the Desert
  • If You Run Out of Water
  • Protection Against Heat and Sun
  • For Extra Protection and Better Balance
  • Desert Land Navigation
  • CHAPTER 3: Land Navigation: Map, Compass, and GPS

  • Maps in General and Topographic Maps in Particular
  • GPS and UTM
  • Sections, Ranges, and Townships

  • Area 1: Western: West Hwy S-22 and Borrego Valley
  • Area 2: Northwestern: Coyote Canyon and Collins Valley
  • Area 3: Northeastern: East Hwy S-22, North Hwy 86
  • Area 4: Central: Central Hwy 78, Hwy S-3
  • Area 5: Eastern: East Hwy 78, Central Hwy 86
  • Area 6: Southwestern: West Hwy 78, Hwy S-2
  • Area 7: Southeastern: Interstate 8, Hwys S-80 and 98


  1. Abbreviations Used in This Book
  2. Recommended Reading: Books in Print
  3. Desert Directory: Anza-Borrego and Western Colorado Desert Region
  4. Trails Found in This Book: A Quick Overview
  5. Back Pocket Map Key to Topographic Maps
  6. Common Plants of the Anza-Borrego Area by Family


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