Finding Fall in Anza-Borrego

I am not from the desert. I’m originally a flatlander and since I left home I have really missed the seasons I grew up with. Fall there is lovely- you get to break out sweaters and coats and thick wool scarves; you can see your breath in the crisp autumn air; watch as the hills come alive with the reds, oranges, and browns characteristic of the season; and feel the leaves crunch under your feet as you walk.


I’m learning, though, that just as Wisconsin has its autumnal charm, so does the Anza-Borrego Desert. It has finally cooled down enough to head outside for a nice long day hike without the heat draining you of all energy and drive. And let me tell you- I am LOVING IT! Last weekend I spent two whole days outside, finally exploring places I’ve heard so many great things about.

I made it out to Arroyo Tapiado with ABF’s Canyon of 10 Caves geology field class and saw the mudcaves and learned about the geology of the Vallecito Badlands and how our landscapes here are connected to places far, far away. I’m convinced again (as if I needed convincing) that the best classrooms in the world have no walls and let you touch and experience EVERYTHING.

Then I went on a nice solo hike to Maidenhair Falls up Hellhole Canyon. The name “Hellhole Canyon” has intrigued me since I first heard about it and the Maidenhair Fern of the Pacific Northwest is my favorite fern.  It’s a different species of maidenhair here, but beautiful just the same. And the adventure to get to the falls was just what I needed to stretch my hiking legs in preparation for the Desert Season. I’m still amazed at the California Fan Palm and you can bet there will be a blog about it in the future. Past the delightful palms was the boulder section; there are so many well-travelled routes that it was like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books from my childhood! And the scramble and the tiny bit of route finding was a small price to pay for what awaits a visitor this time of year…


I came upon a TREE. A real, deciduous tree. One I’ve not seen before and have not yet identified. But nevertheless, it was a tree! And then there were more! And guess what was happening? The leaves were turning a lovely shade of yellow, withering up, and falling to the ground all dry and crunchy! The air even smelled a bit like fall back home. And peeking from behind the semi-bare branches was a wall of green maidenhair ferns. It was an absolute delight. I just sat there and breathed in the scent of decaying leaves and listened to the buzz of hundreds of beautiful pollinators. It was hard to leave. The much-photographed Maidenhair Falls was more a seep than it was a falls, but that didn’t take away from the splendor of the experience. The adventure back down was just as exciting, since you can choose a different route through the boulders and get a different view than the one that was behind you on the way up.

All I can say to you is this: Get up there and experience fall before it’s gone!