Mr. Fizgig and I had been talking about going camping in the desert with Banjo for a while. Rather, Mister was longing to go, and I looked at him like this: o.O
You see, Mister loves the outdoors, and has happily hiked for a week into the wilderness. (Yes, that’s hiking for a week just to reach the perfect camping spot, which, to me, is inconceivable.) Although not a complete princess, I admit I’m reluctant to head any place where I am likely to be surrounded by any number of vile creepy-crawlies that always seem to find ME, followed by a fitful night’s sleep on a cold, hard floor.
I can see the charm of camping, but wilderness-trekking rejector of basic creature comforts I am not.
But then Mister and I spotted a 4-person tent with a screened porch AND mesh ceiling so you can lie in your sleeping bag and gaze at the stars for only $67. And Lil Ms here thought why not? It could be a relatively bug-free overnight trip.
We found a beautiful and secluded spot in the dog-friendly Culp Valley, a primitive (i.e. no running water) camping spot high above the parched valley spread below. After pitching the tent, we set up our folding chairs, placing a towel at our feet to protect Banjo from the evil prickles of the cholla cacti. And so, from the comfort of our chairs, surrounded by boulders and spiky succulents, we guzzled a rather good cava as the sun set. This is actually alright! I grinned and began to relax — but Banjo was on high alert and stayed close as the mournful howls of the coyotes floated past on the thick breeze of the cooling desert night.
To be honest, the moon didn’t seem any larger than usual, but it did seem slightly brighter. No matter, we were moonstruck anyway, marvelling at the light casting a pale blue glow that lit our way.
The next morning, we awoke before 6am to watch the sunrise. The colours were beautiful, a muted palette of soft pinks and corals against a dusky taupe. The valley around and below us used to be a sea bed, and I imagined being a spiny creature swimming amongst the rocks.
We had to leave around 9am: the sun was already beating down and the air was so dry that I could actually feel the skin on my face begin to crack, despite drinking loads of water. I kept dreaming of diving into a cobalt blue swimming pool or plunging into the ocean, feeling cool water splashing my face and engulfing my body… My thoughts were interrupted by a cry from Mister who almost stepped on a rattlesnake! Luckily, Banjo was already saddled up on the backseat of the car, which we’d just about finished loading. We sped away down the mountain towards Borrego Springs to find coffee and breakfast.
Back at sea level, my trusty foodie nose sniffed out the dog-friendly El Borrego Restaurant (whose garden features artworks by sculptor Ricardo A. Breceda — more of which in a min!) Although they don’t serve breakfast after March (“it’s too hot”) the kind owner gladly shared her personal pot of coffee with us at no charge, which we enjoyed over a hearty breakfast of chicken fajitas.
On our way back to San Diego, we stopped to look at the strange and wonderful metal sculptures of prehistoric creatures that are dotted around the outskirts of Borrego Springs. Created by artist Ricardo A. Breceda, these giant sculptures are sort of part Jurassic Park, part Mad Max. What I really like about them is that Breceda really captures the emotion of the moment: we saw a tender scene of a suckling foal and his mother; a horse with whaling eyes, in the split second before it is pounced upon by a sabre-toothed tiger; the majesty of a mammoth rearing up. They are marvellous to look at and you don’t have to get out of the car to admire them — an important factor in the extreme desert conditions.
Except for the moths and the rattlesnake, I really enjoyed being in the wilderness. And I’m always a sucker for desert art. I think next time I’d like to go back for two or more nights — but I’d bring a dog bed and booties for Banjo; citronella spray; and something softer to lie on. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up a serious camper one day… hey, the Mister can dream, right?!
Anza-Borrego is the largest state park in California, and one of the few parks in the whole USA which permits ‘open camping’ — i.e. you can camp wherever you want. Certain rules apply.