The Wonderful Wintry World of… Anza-Borrego Desert State Park?!?!?

By Ashley Kvitek, ABF Education Coordinator

Just in case you missed it, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park got hit with an absolutely breathtaking snowstorm New Year’s Eve Day 2014. Don’t believe me? Check it out.

Although the snow didn’t hit the valley floor, it graced the surrounding mountaintops with its pristine sparkle, making an already beautiful landscape that much more majestic to take in.

This was my first desert snowfall, and I woke up early to find the sky a muted gray and the mountains a dazzling white. My first thought was, “SANTA FINALLY CAME!!” What to do, what to do?!? First, I had to find some clothing. Hmm. Since moving to SoCal, I have purged myself of most of my winter clothing. Luckily, I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of my hats, mittens, and scarves! I grabbed a bundle of coats and threw on an extra pair of pants, dug out my wool socks and threw it all in my car. Destination #1? Ranchita and Culp Valley.

The drive up the grade was thankfully plowed and well-cared-for, making the short trip easy not just for me, but for the countless vehicles headed up to see the foreign white substance. (Thanks for that, road crews!) The higher I drove, the closer I got to the promise of a snowy adventure! Soon there was a dusting on the side of the road, a clump of white here and there on top of a barrel cactus or rock outcrop, and then, before I was ready, the snow was covering the landscape around me! I blame my slow driving pace on the possibility of slippery roads, but in reality, I was so busy looking at everything all at once I couldn’t handle driving any faster.  This was a side of the desert I had never imagined.

Since Culp Valley Campground was full of vehicles I kept on going, hoping for a better spot to pull off the road. Unfortunately, my sedan doesn’t do well driving over mounds of snow or deep slush, so I was limited in my parking options. I finally found a spot just at the rise as you reach Ranchita heading west. I pulled over and immediately made a snow angel. From there I hoofed it down to the Park’s entrance sign. It was magical, seeing that sign I pass so often and have come to know so well coated in a heavy dusting of snow. I spent a bit of time wandering up there, and then decided to try my luck again in Culp Valley.

It was dicey and the tires spun a few times more than once, but I made it to an empty spot. I immediately got out, walked away from the crowds of people shoveling the beautiful coating of snow off the desert floor and into their pickup trucks, and found a nice open area to make a little snowman. Kind of scary looking and a little too close to the cholla, but I did it! Three of my Holiday Wishes for Santa had been fulfilled- snow, a snow angel, and a snowman. And it was only 9:30am!

I kept walking a little farther away from the throngs of families making snowmen and having snowball fights to get a sense of the solitude of a snowy desert landscape. It was magical. There is absolutely nothing like a snow-covered scene untouched by the erratic trudging of humans. There were desert animal tracks all over, going from one snowy cave-shelter to another, and the spines of the cholla and other cacti were a harsh contrast to the flowing carpet of snow. More than one little creature came up out of a hole, scurried one way and then scurried back to their home just to come out and check, just once more, to make sure they weren’t crazy and that their backyard was definitely covered in a blinding coat of freezing white moisture.

I decided to get my car out of the slushy parking area before it got stuck there indefinitely. It was warming up at an alarmingly fast rate, although the snow was still slowly falling from the sky in the tiniest of little flakes. Where to now? Back down the grade and over to Yaqui Pass. I was a little late for the snow there, but decided to keep on going. Am I ever glad I did!

As I drove west on 78, I saw Grapevine Canyon transitioning from the brown and green we’re all accustomed to all the way up to the blinding white of the snow-capped ridges. Before I knew it, there was snow on the ground here, as well! Making my way through Sentenac Canyon to Scissor’s Crossing was lovely, but what now? There was snow every way I looked. I knew Julian would be a terrible idea, so that was out, and I wasn’t super excited about doing too much more driving when I could be playing in the snow. And then I remembered my old friend, the Pacific Crest Trail. It leaves from Scissor’s Crossing and passes through the Park up into Ranchita. There was snow everywhere my eye could see, so I figured a nice long out-and-back hike on a desert section of the PCT was a perfect idea.

This part of the PCT follows S-2 and you never actually lose sight of the road, but it certainly isn’t a bad section. It’s well-maintained and being the first person to lay tracks on a snow-covered iconic trail is certainly an experience to remember! Each switchback afforded a different view of the snow-covered landscape. Out here, the snow reached all the way down to the floor. The well-established trail allowed me to lose myself in the landscapes, letting my gaze wander wherever something caught my eye with a much-decreased chance of running into a hidden cactus. I could hear the snow melting through the sound of vehicles heading out to their holiday destinations, making me wonder if they were enjoying their journey as much as I was enjoying mine.

After a few meandering hours, I made a snowman at my farthest point, took a snowman selfie (because, come on, of course I did), and headed back down the trail. I returned home a little chilly, thoroughly soaked, and blissfully happy. What a perfect ending to one year, and a freshly sparkling start to the next!