Alfred Hitchcock would feel downright cozy in this surreal town of a few thousand people three hours northeast from Los Angeles. Low season during the summer in Borrego Springs, CA, is like a science fiction movie that moments before, an alien invasion kidnapped all the townspeople, leaving an eerie, ghost town feeling. I came to discover the mysteries of California’s Secret Desert aka Borrego Springs despite triple digit temps.
We stopped to buy some water at the only convenience store in Borrego Springs (the town has no stoplights or a single chain restaurant (thank goodness) and a total of dozen street lights).
The cashier looks us up and down in our high-heeled sandals and “Sex and the City” summer hats and says, “What are you up to here?”
Me: We’re journalists doing a travel piece on Borrego Springs.
Cashier (with a look of disbelief): Why? There’s nothing here for your type.
Me: Well, maybe that’s just what my type needs.
Cashier (full of skepticism): Good luck with that.
Alarmed but not dissuaded by that warm welcome to Borrego Springs, we headed out to one of the main attractions of the area – Galleta Meadows Estate. Driving on a forlorn road out of town with nothing but ocotillo cactus and a few isolated houses, I began to question what we were looking for and then suddenly with all the shock and awe possible… a life-size metal sculpture of a lion attacking a zebra materialized on the horizon.
Then another horse off in the distance. A 30-ft wing span bird to the left. A sloth, a camel and on and on.
Dennis Avery, owner of Avery labels, bought up hundreds of acres of the area and hired artist/welder Ricardo Breceda to decorate the landscape of sand and shrubbery with enormous, life-like animal metal sculptures. It’s like Marfa, TX and Burning Man in one.
And Breceda captures the animal kingdom from birth to death, modern to prehistoric – from adorable scenes of a baby camel drinking milk from its mother to viscous frozen moments of a tiger about to devour a zebra to a gigantic eagle in flight.
On both the north and south ends of Borrego Springs Road, Breceda’s 129 pieces of land art decorate the landscape.
Recently, he added a few people to the desert safari as well such as Spanish explorer and Governor of New Mexico of the late 1700’s, Juan Baptista de Anza. The largest state park in the lower 48 states of the area, Anza-Borrego Desert Park, is named after this influential Spaniard.
Yet Breceda’s masterpiece in size and skill to date is the 350 ft angry dragon that spans both sides of the road.
The cashier misjudged us a bit – our city glam crew was absolutely floored by this desert’s secrets revealed.
Between the stargazing at night, as Borrego Springs was awarded the second-ever Dark Sky Community (after Flagstaff, AZ) by the International Dark Sky Association, and the stunning badlands, hikes and old railroad tunnels to discover at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – the cashier pegged us so wrong.
In its solitude and silence, Borrego Springs is the balm for the urbanite’s soul…
Summer in Borrego Springs, CA Survival Guide:
Where to Stay:
The Palms at Indian Head. Once the Palms at Indian Head was a swinging hot spot for Hollywood’s jetsetters like Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, now a clean, modest motel with great mid-century bones and an ornate Olympic size pool and zen garden.
Summer rates start at $119 a night.
Where to Eat:
Carmelita’s Cantina – Delicious homemade Mexican food and ridiculously cheap margaritas ($4).
Carlee’s (their Lemon Drop rivals LA’s finest).
Kendall’s Cafe serves up authentic American diner eats, great for a hearty breakfast.
What to Do:
Galleta Meadows Estate – A city folk’s safari – all thrills with no fear of being eaten.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – California’s Secret Desert is endless for exploration options. Its over half the size of all of California’s Parks put together – 600,000 acres of dramatic desert and mountain scenery. Stop at the Visitor Center before heading out on a hike. The park rangers are very helpful and most hikes have a self-guided pamphlet that educate on geological facts, natural fauna and Native American remnants.
California Overland 4×4 Jeep Tour – Many of the 500 miles of back roads are only accessed by a 4×4. One of the most famous vistas – Fonts Point – is like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.
Summer Survivors’ Guide – Borrego Springs Visitor Bureau Some Like it Hot
For more on Borrego Springs aka California’s Secret Desert, visit: www.borrego-springs.com