The Trail and the Plants
Palm Canyon (or Borrego Palm Canyon) is the place where nearly all hikers begin their journey of Desert Exploration. The trailhead is located in the Borrego Palm Canyon campground just west of the town of Borrego Springs. Take Palm Canyon Dr. due west from the town center and turn right just after the junction with S22 or Montezuma Valley Rd. There is a fee to enter the campground. Drive to the western end of the campground to a parking area. During the spring bloom this parking area can fill up quickly so get there early, and avoid weekends if you can.
This hike is a 5-mile partial loop where the return leaves the main trail to explore a less crowded path back to the parking.
At the start of any Desert hike there are several rules that you must take into consideration. First bring lots of water, I will take 5 pints, and I often drink them all. Second apply sunscreen and wear a hat to shade your head. Boots are important, especially after reaching the first Palm Oasis.
As you start up the well-marked trail take a moment to visit the small pond filled with Desert Pupfish. Many of the canyons that spill down from the mountains into the desert will have water and Palm groves. Palm Canyon is a year round source of water but as it leaves the canyon the water disappears into the sandy desert floor. In years with good rain the stream will reach to the campground and beyond. In dry years it retreats farther up the canyon.
The trail strikes out over sandy and rocky terrain. In spring this will turn into a flower wonderland. Desert flowers have to make their vibrant display quickly, attract the pollinator, set seed and than brace for the searing heat of summer. One of the biggest displays of color comes with bright yellow daisies of Brittlebush. This 3-4 foot evergreen shrub has gray green leaves and can hold a hundred of more flowers at a time.
And all around are annuals of many colors. At the base of larger shrubs there are clouds of blue purple Common Phacelia, bright yellow Desert Dandelion, creamy white Brown-Eyed Primrose, the bright white daisies of Desert Chicory and the airy stems of yellow California Sun-Cups. The larger shrubs include Creosote Bush with yellow flowers and small deep green leaves, the unique tall, upright, snake-like stems of Ocotillo, Cheesebush with it’s narrow linear leaves and either pale yellow, white or reddish flowers and the smaller Wishbone Plant with white flowers in early morning or late afternoon.
After about 150 yards of this stunning beginning to the desert flora we reach a dry wash. In years past (before the 2004 flood) there would be a small channel of water here, but now the wash is dry. Just on the right as you drop into the wash is Desert Lavender with its pale lavender blossoms and the red flowered Chuparosa can be found on the right. Beavertail Cactus with it’s tell tale leaves and bright lavender flowers pop up all around.
Climbing out of the dry wash we continue across the rocky desert path. Soon the sound of water catches our ear. The stream comes in on the right and soon after is the crossing. And this year, the spring of 2017, has filled the stream with more water than I have ever seen before. There are various use trails threading the area, some from before the 2004 flood. The main trail heads to the right away from the stream.
More color infuses the palette with the small bright yellow flowers of Miniature Poppy with leaves that are blue-gray in color.