Palm Canyon is one of the most popular trails in Anza-Borrego. With a trailhead located at the Park’s largest campground, this easy 3 mile trail is readily accessible to hikers of all skill levels. It is also regularly visited by Peninsular bighorn sheep, who venture down into the canyon for water and to graze on the various plant life that depend on the oasis’s comparatively abundant supply of water. At one point, the endangered Bighorn sheep were so rare that even long-time residents of Borrego Springs could go decades without seeing one of the elusive creatures, however conservation efforts have paid off and the sheep’s numbers are growing. Knowing that Palm Canyon was a frequent destination for Bighorns, we were optimistic about our chances of seeing one on our hike.
We began at the trailhead located at the back of the Borrego Palm Canyon campground. The trail was a clearly defined path of sand edged by large rocks, ever present creosote bushes, and white clumps of brittlebush. Like the Cactus Loop and Yaqui Well nature trails we had done previously, this hike came with an informative pamphlet and numbered interpretive signs pointing out some of the interesting natural and archaeological sights along the trail.
The trail was flat and easily traversed. We were surrounded on either side by brown and red mountains. The valley floor was littered with colorful rocks, carried by flash floods from the mountain slopes surrounding us.
We kept our eyes peeled, searching the hillsides for any sign of movement, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Bighorn Sheep that inhabit the area. We’d never seen one of these creatures before and were eager for our first sighting.
On the other side of the wash, the trail split in two directions. To the left was an alternate route back to the campground, and to the right was the trail continuing to the oasis. We turned right, but made note of the alternate path back to the campground for our return trip.
This side of the canyon was shaded by the mountain to our left, and the temperature was significantly cooler. The canyon was narrowing noticeably by this point, and we encountered more and more green plants along the trail.
A few more minutes of walking brought us to a muddy patch full of reed-like plants. We carefully stepped across the rocks, trying to keep from getting sucked into mud. The sound of buzzing insects could be heard among the muck.
There were several log benches in the clearing beneath the palms, however being that it was the middle of the afternoon on one of the most popular trails in the park, they were covered in park visitors eating their lunches. So we quickly snapped a few pictures and found a nice quiet rock just outside the ring of palm trees on which to lounge.
Instead of turning left, the way we had come, we continued straight. We quickly found ourselves hiking up the rocky hillside on the west side of the canyon. While this alternate route was a bit hillier than the journey out, it was still an easy hike.
As we wrapped around yet another turn, we found ourselves hiking towards a large, reddish black boulder. Something poking out from behind the boulder caught my eye, but it took my brain a moment to realize what it was.
I paused, and after my neurons had an opportunity to process this most recent input, I realized I was looking at my first Bighorn sheep! A beautiful ruddy brown ram stood along the edge of the trail ahead of me, casually munching on some dried blades of grass. He paused to examine us briefly, and apparently decided we were uninteresting and not threatening, and continued grazing. His brown fur blended in perfectly with the surrounding hillside, the camouflage made even more effective by the shade.
We stood quietly for 5 or 6 minutes, snapping pictures of our ram while he enjoyed his afternoon repast. We probably could have spent the rest of the afternoon just hanging out with our new friend, but a family with several young children eventually came along the trail behind us. The ram apparently decided it was getting too crowded in here, and sauntered up the hillside. We bade him farewell and continued on our way.
From there it was just a short stroll back to the parking lot. Here we discovered a man-made pond created to house a population of endangered Desert pupfish. The pupfish are highly adaptable, able to live in shallow waters of desert springs, small streams, and marshes with higher saline levels, temperatures, and less oxygen than most other fish. Despite these adaptations, the pupfish, like so many other species, is threatened due to habitat destruction.
Having encountered not one, but two endangered species on our short hike, we headed back to our car with an even deeper appreciation of the desert and all of its inhabitants.
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From Borrego Springs, go west on Palm Canyon Drive. Turn right at the entrance to Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. Pay the day use fee at the campground kiosk, then proceed to the far west (back) side of the campground to the trailhead parking area. map
|Total Distance:||3.25 miles|
|Total Ascent:||655 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Dogs not allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes not allowed|
|Facilities:||Bathroom and drinking fountain at trailhead|
|Fees/Permits:||Day use fee – $10 per vehicle|
For more information, visit:
California State parks: Anza-Borrego State Park