Not too long ago – on good old g-chat – I was reminded of my first trip to Southern California. This is something I was able to experience because my father commutes between the East and West coast for work. Now there are so many things that I love about this area and I’m tempted to rehash the entire trip – however – I won’t. Two things happened on that particular trip that will remain with me for the rest of my life. For that reason, I am sharing them with you.
For the majority of the trek, I was with a modest group of six occasionally picking up or losing a person along the way. One member insisted that we make a specific stop by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Our trip, strategically planned of course, was during the one time of year that the Ocotillo Cactus was supposed to be in full bloom (an apparent rare must-see).
Now being able to make some recommendations to you – if you are ever in this park, one thing you must do is go on a hike. Just trust me. In my opinion, this park is a prime example of why California is one of the world’s great wonders. At the base of the trail, it may be nearly 80 degrees and by the time you reach your summit the earth is crisp beneath your feet because the temperature has dropped to a freezing 30 degrees. Because California is so expansive the terrain is pretty diverse ranging from lush greens to desert – Southern CA being the desert portion. I’m drawn to the desert not only because it’s beautiful but also because it’s so different from where I grew up (in upstate New York) and also from where I live now in New York City.
The night before our hike, we cooked out at a family friends weekend home not too far from the park and discussed a list of must-sees for the next day. The borregos (or rams) of course, the ocotillo cactus and their flowers, the “white angel” marking in the canyon (which I will explain in a moment), and the oasis! After talking all night about the packed day ahead of us – we could hardly sleep.
In the morning we took a short drive to a cute diner for breakfast. On the way, I couldn’t get over how drenched the air was with the most amazing smells, each surpassing the one before it (if that was even possible!). Rosemary lined the restaurant as hedging instead of your average evergreen. Now, this is not common in New York and extremely exciting to a city girl, so I grabbed a few sprigs, wrapped them in a cloth to dry and saved them for later use. We gobbled down our breakfast, hopped in our car and were en-route to the park but the smells kept coming. Even though we were in the desert the scenery was beautiful and not what I had originally expected. We passed fields and fields of citrus trees. As we motored down the streets, the sweet smell of lemons and oranges flooded into the car. This was moment number one for me. I spun around in my seat and grabbed firmly onto the headrest behind me. To this day, I can still remember squinting to see through the dust our car was tossing into the air… look at all those LEMONS!
“STOP!” I actually yelled out loud in the car! I had startled my father who was driving and he slowly pulled over to the side of the road. ”Can we pick those???” Our friends who we were following (and were the locals) also slowed down and stopped their car because they noticed we had pulled over. We all collectively decided that no one would notice if we picked a handful and headed on our way. (Yes, I know this was probably a bad thing we did… but it was oh, so amazing!) I got out of the car, paused, and took the deepest breath I could.
This was the best smell I had ever experienced in my entire life. I looked up and there was not one single cloud in the sky at that moment – it was perfect. My face was catching the sunlight and it felt warm against my skin. I felt so – happy. That was what joy felt like.
I was quick with the lemons, after all I was taking them from the side of the road and this could be a tricky situation. I dove back into the car and back towards the park we went. Now it was time to see the ocotillo. I do admit, they were beautiful. This is also the portion of the trip where we saw the “white angel”, which is also note-worthy. The story goes, the settlers used to use the “white angel” (which is just a marking on the rocks in this part of the canyon) as a guide when they were passing through. I think that’s kind of beautiful. I did see the marking – though I struggled to make the connection between the shape of the marking and an angel – I still like the story. Now finally, we continued on our hike through the park. Borregos – Check. Photo documentation – Check. Final destination - the oasis.
There are several different trails that you can take through the park depending on how far you want to hike and your experience level, we chose an intermediate level trail that was mostly following along small streams. This was great fun for me because there were TONS of opportunities for great pictures! My favorite picture actually took some hunting – because I had to follow “the noise” to find my subjects. I could hear running water and I could hear a faint croaking – but I had no idea where it was coming from. I would move closer to the water but the movement of the stream would drown out the noise I was searching for. Back and forth, I searched and searched for a solid 15 minutes.
Starting to become frustrated, I began to climb over, under, and around boulders looking for the source of this noise – and FINALLY I found it. There were dozens of tiny little frogs! They were so adorable. I know, not a word most people would use to describe frogs, but I loved them. They were tiny and loud and piled on top of each other… wonderful. I felt like I had discovered something magical. I also knew that they were huddling near the water. The stream we had been following was getting bigger, which meant that we were getting close to the oasis. We hiked for probably another 45 minutes before we finally reached it.
Getting to the oasis in the middle of the desert was my second “moment”. The land surrounding you is dry, barren, and uncomfortably hot – but once you’re inside you’re in a totally different world. It’s cooler, there are lush palm trees, pools of water – it’s truly amazing. The endorphin kick from the hike is in full swing and you’re completely isolated to reflect in one of the world’s most beautiful places. It’s like finding your religion.
Life doesn’t get much better than that.