A nice early spring day drive from San Diego is to visit the Anza-Borrego area for the flower displays, then loop back through Julian, Cuyamaca and Descanso to Interstate 8 and home. We took SR 67 to Ramona, SR 78 to San Ysabel, SR 79 north to its junction with County S2, continued east and north on S2 and S22, and west on Palm Canyon Road to the Anza-Borrego Desert Visitor Center. For the return trip, we took County S3 to SR 78 (Banner Grade), turned at the Wynola Cutoff so we could drive through Julian, then continued south on SR 79 through Cuyamaca and Descanso to Interstate 8, then home. From Pacific Beach, the drive totaled about 150 miles.
Our first stop was at a famous institution, Dudley's Bakery, where we picked up a 24-ounce loaf of freshly baked Danish apple pecan bread for about $4.
It had been several years since we had seen the Anza-Borrego Desert Visitor Center. We were impressed in how they have freshened their exhibit areas and included more material on human culture in the Anza-Borrego area. Staff at the visitor center were most helpful in recommending drives to see the best blooms.
By the the time we took in the visitor center and strolled around the grounds (where many of the flowering plants are well identified), it was time for a picnic lunch. Our favorite spot is grassy Christmas Circle, located in town on a large roundabout at the junction of Borrego Springs and Palm Canyon roads.
The best flower displays we saw in Anza-Borrego were at the north end of DiGiorgio Road, where the pavement ends at the Desert Garden area; and the eastern stretch of Henderson Canyon Road between Coyote Creek and Peg Leg Junction. We saw mostly the sand verbena in Desert Garden, and a mixture of verbena and primrose along Henderson Canyon Road. There were also clusters of deep blue Phacelia where Ranchita Road (S22) bottoms out on the desert floor below Lookout Point. The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Web site link is updated weekly during the blooming season, and provides good details on current and forthcoming displays.
We were hoping to see lavender lilac in bloom along Banner Grade, but we suspect we were too early. However, this was daffodil season in Julian and the bright yellow blooms enlivened many front yards as we passed through the historic town.
Brim full Cuyamaca Reservoir was the only bright spot on an otherwise disheartening stretch of SR 79 through Rancho Cuyamaca State Park. A combination of the 2003 Cedar Fire, drought and pine bark beetle infestations have exacted a devastating toll on the forests in this area. Another tragic loss was the 1923 Dyar House, which served as the headquarters and museum for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. (See the 2004 North County Times article). The State has erected a new visitor center and museum nearby (open only on weekends). There was a spectacular display of wildflowers in the burn areas during Spring 2005; perhaps April and May might bring another good bloom this year. Fortunately, the scenery along the remaining stretch of SR 79 was pretty well intact with brush covered slopes underlain by green grasses responding to the recent rains.