While driving on a desert road in Borrego Springs, California, if you see a massive undulating serpent whose tail is waving in and out of the sand on one side of the road you’re driving on, with the rest of him, including his fearsome almost two-story head, sticking out of the sand on the other side, you are not having a desert hallucination. The three hundred and fifty foot serpent and other fanciful and realistic metal sculptures, including scorpions, spiders, dinosaurs, wild horses rearing their heads, and an array of human like figures doing human-like activities, dot the landscape near the town of Borrego Springs, and the historic La Casa del Zorro Resort. In fact the artist, Ricardo Breceda, who sculpted these surreal creations, has his studio at one end of the resort’s 42 acre property.
All told there are about 130 life-sized and larger-than-life-sized sculptures in the nearby Galleta Meadows, with easy drivable access to them. The first sculpture, in town, is of the 18th century explorer of the area, Juan Bautista de Anza, for whom the Anza Borrego Desert State Park is named. The others are not far outside the town. These sculptures have become one of Borrego Springs’ attractions.
Borrego Springs, in San Diego County, is, as one old timer put it, “what Palm Springs was like fifty years ago, before it got so touristy.” There are 3429 people in this quaint unincorporated town in the valley of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in the nation with 620,000 acres, and a rare array of flora and fauna. It was also termed by National Geographic the “best state park in California.”
You’ll really feel that you are away from it all in this area. There are no stop lights anywhere. If you’re a McDonald’s fan, this is not the place to go. It’s a place that feels both small, with its tiny town, and big, with the immense desert around you. Borrego Springs lies at the western edge of the great Sonoran Desert. You’ll not get the sense of being crowded here and it’s a great feeling.
Borrego Springs has been given the prestigious Dark Sky Community Designation, the second such in the world, and the only one in California, by the International Dark-Sky Association. Today there are yet only a handful in the world. The town is fifty-five miles from the nearest bright-light area. Year-round astronomical functions are held here. La Casa del Zorro even has an official astronomer on call that gives night-time talks periodically at the resort. The talks are listed by the resort. If you are an aficionado of stargazing, this is great place to visit. Don’t forget to bring your telescope with you.
Sculpture sighting and stargazing aren’t the only things to do here. The airport, three miles out of town, is a great place to fly into. It’s also a hub for aerobatic flying, and its pilots are great to pilot newbies. If you are a pilot, you can get a sky map to fly over the park and check out landmarks and sights.
Mountain biking, hiking, animal sighting (like big horn sheep), and an array of nature activities are wonderful for those who love the outdoors and a wilderness atmosphere. There are five hundred miles of roads for biking, and the terrain offers a wonderful array of valleys, hills, mountains, crystalline springs, canyons and deep sands.
The Borrego Badlands is considered by some to be the best place in North America to see sediments of the Pliocene and Pleistocene eras. The one rule that is emphasized for anyone going into the park is to take enough water for the time you’ll be there, and to also carry snacks that are lightweight. It’s a good idea not to go alone and to let someone know that you will be biking or hiking in the park.
Of course, there are also the ever-present golf courses for those who can’t live without this activity.
The historic La Casa del Zorro, whose origin began in 1937 as the Desert Lodge, is also a wonderful place to stay, and to use as a base for your daily explorations. If you’re a swimmer, you’ll love it here. There are 26 pools on the property, and many of the two-bedroom casitas have their own pools. If you want to be pampered, there’s even a spa on site.
The resort was owned for many years by the Copely family, who published the conservative San Diego Union-Tribune. A number of Hollywood types used the resort as a retreat.
Sold by the Copely family, and then again by that purchaser, it was just recently opened in 2013 with many updates. Several of the rooms, which are spacious and have the feel of the forties, have fireplaces, as do the casitas. In season, marshmallow roasts are held by one of the larger pools. An on-site indoor and outdoor restaurant overlooks a peaceful fountain with two other eateries onsite.
The food is delicious California cuisine.
If you like to play chess, you’ll enjoy moving the four foot high chess pieces on a patio-sized chess board, or you can play shuffleboard nearby.
The only drawback to the area, if it is one, is that the only way to get there is by car, or by small plane. The nearest town with public transportation is sixty miles away.
However, if you’re feeling like “stop the world I want to get off,” or if you really want to see a place that was America before the big franchises, the billboards, the crowds of tourists, and the congestion that has unfortunately become America, and to immerse yourself in nature, Borrego Springs is the getaway for you!
image illustrations via shutterstock / James Mattil