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Upon re-confirming the actual address of our destination, which turns out was not Palm Springs, our family learned we were 100 miles farther than where we expected to be at that point. We were, in fact, far from “there”.
After we let the panic of the extra distance to Borrego Springs wash over us, downed some salty, crunchy road snacks, and shushed the children, we evaluated our options. At 85 miles south of Palm Springs it turned out Borrego Springs was not quite as “on the way” to Phoenix as we expected.
We chose Borrego Springs, and more specifically, the quirky old-western-town-themed Palm Canyon Hotel & RV Resort, as a one-night stopover to break up our road trip.
We entertained scrapping the plans and just driving straight through to Phoenix. But alas, with time on our side (as it rarely is), we pressed on with the original plans that ultimately brought us past the San Diego county line — and closer to a grander adventure than we ever imagined.
We drove past the storied Salton Sea and through the rolling & rutted desert landscape of Anza-Borrego State Park, where ATV enthusiasts have that magical way of making perfect circles with their tricked-out RVs in the middle of nowhere. The scene makes getting dirty look quite opulent.
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Arriving at Borrego Springs
There is no civilization for miles, then suddenly there it is! Radiator Springs! Wait no, not Radiator Springs, it’s Borrego Springs, but it feels like it’s straight out of the movie Cars. A very large and charming roundabout welcomed visitors, followed by restaurants, shops, and art galleries that line the main thoroughfare. Then, as you travel along Route 22, a small collection of quaint inns ultimately bring you to Palm Canyon, the heart of the hiking scene in Anza-Borrego State Park.
What could possibly beckon adventure-seeking hiking enthusiasts more than a 5‑mile roundtrip trail named Hellhole Canyon? It turns out the Palm Canyon trail is more the crown jewel of the area, but both trails have the potential to feature a desert “oasis” experience complete with a water trickle – so long as you don’t go in the dead heat of summer.
Best Times To Go
Another interesting feature about Borrego Springs is that it is one of just a handful of towns (29 at press time) that are part of the International Dark-Sky community. You will not find stoplights or streetlights in this town that is home to less than 3,000 full-time residents. So if you appreciate the Milky Way (and not just the snacking kind), plan your visit when it’s darkest, during the new moon, for optimal starry sky viewing. Or if you enjoy the drama of nighttime adventure, perhaps visiting during the full moon is the way to go. As with most desert trips, the spring and fall are the best times to visit.
Galleta Meadows Estate
Then there are the spectacular desert sculptures of Galleta Meadows Estate. This I must say was the highlight. But first a confession: I had seen images and had once-upon-a-time said I’d love to see them, but never took the next steps to find out exactly where they were. So behold!
Because I was so excited to see these sculptures in Galleta Meadows, we first drove by them at night. This is a collection of 130 massive metal sculptures that are dotted across several acres of undeveloped land, where smooth dirt roads sweep in and around. If you’ve ever been on an African safari, it is that thrilling feeling of “there’s one!” each time you see a new creature where you’d least expect it. Especially when it is dark. Even the kids agreed it was F‑U-N!
So naturally, we returned in the morning light. The suspense had dissipated but the awe was still there. These structures, especially the 350-foot serpent sculpture, are dramatic and imaginative, and truly diamonds in the Southern California desert rough.
In this very town that I expected not much more from than to say that “we hiked through hell and back” and then slept at a place with a whole lot of character, I now get to accidentally check something off my “someday” list AND the kids get to actually enjoy seeing art! Mama is feeling victorious.
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When You Go
From Los Angeles, it’s approximately 150 miles southeast. Use the interactive map above to get your exact route.
Where to Eat
All that “culture collecting” had us working up an appetite, and for a town this size there is a surprising number of decent eateries in Borrego Springs. Before making our way back to highway 10 east, we enjoyed a tasty breakfast al fresco at an adorable café called Red Ocotillo. Across the way, vendors were setting up for a farmer’s market in that lovely swath of a roundabout, the pulse of the town. There we sat in the shade of a tree, eating breakfast burritos and crab cake benedict, rehashing the events of the previous day. Which sculptures we liked best. Curiosities about the constellations we saw. And how it was a good thing we got back from our hike before dark — because we may have found ourselves off the path a time or two — and the wilds of the desert certainly seemed to come alive at night.
To that point, in the end, that is what made our trip most memorable: it was not quite the “path” we expected to be on but we were so happy we found it. After all, the more flexible and open to adventure you can be, especially when traveling as a family, the more memories you’ll make and resilience you’ll build along the way.
Whether you are coming from the greater San Diego or Los Angeles areas or beyond, Borrego Springs is an easy and fun getaway for families, couples or friends alike. The modest mix of outdoor activities, poolside relaxation, and that great desert art scene provides something fun for everyone to enjoy.
Were we really only there less than 24 hours?
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