Quirky creations in the desert – Borrego Springs, CA

If landscape such as that at Anza-Borrego desert doesn’t grab you and you find it difficult to see beauty in a desert environment, then a visit here may not be appropriate.  But what if the same place had a bunch of huge quirky sculptures located in its midst?

As we drove through the desert during our stay, we caught glimpses of many rust-colored sculptures dotting the landscape.  I was curious about them, so I got a map from the visitor center, grabbed my camera and headed out to inspect the collection up close and personal. It took me a couple of visits to see them all, with so many spread out in the desert outside of town.

Galleta Meadows
An extinct horse seems to be interested in my car

It was in 2008 that the late Dennis Avery, heir to the Avery Dennison label fortune, commissioned metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda to build free-standing metal sculptures for his massive property in Borrego Springs.  Mr Avery purchased many acres in the valley to keep it from ever being developed, calling his land Galleta Meadows Estate.  Since then these quirky sculptures have been installed throughout the property.

The sculptor had a vast palette to work with, and there are more than 130 metal sculptures scattered over three non-contiguous square miles of Borrego Valley.  Much of the theme centers on prehistoric animals that once roamed the valley.  The fossils of these animals have been found nearby in some of the most extensive and well-preserved paleontology sites in North America.  So most of these creatures really did live here at one time.

A close look at the intricacies of this amazing work

The sculptor/artist brings life to his sculptures by capturing each subject in motion:

Over time the theme has evolved and now includes galloping and fighting horses, mythical birds with prey, giant insects and a celebration of the history and culture of the desert environment.

Galleta Meadows

An Indian head overlooking the desert meadows
My friends from California check out the mythical bird
Sky Art in the desert
Check out the detail of the Gold panner’s horse
Galleta Meadows
Fascinating detail of hair
Galleta Meadows
Farm workers tending to vineyards
Galleta Meadows
My favorite – a grasshopper and scorpion face off
Galleta Meadows
On another day we came back so I could referee the fight

But the biggest of them all is the mythological dragon.  It’s huge, rising about 15′ out of the ground and stretching 350′ long with the tail of a rattlesnake.  It appears to undulate through the ground as it passes under an adjacent road:

Galleta Meadows
Seen from the rear, the road actually passes over the dragon’s rattlesnake tail!

Galleta Meadows

The menagerie of quirky life-like sculptures is the pride and joy of Borrego Springs, thanks to its benefactor.  These are just a few of the pictures I took, and there are many more sculptures to check out here.  Viewing and touching them are free, and it’s the only way to appreciate the intricacies, details and the creative imagination of the sculptor.

Spring would be perfect for a visit, so the blooming of the wildflowers could be enjoyed at the same time!



Good times at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

State Park folks have a sense of humor, enlarge the photo to read the sign

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has a special place in Steve’s heart.  This is where his parents used to boondock in their RV every winter for years, and he visited them several times during their stays.  Our last visit here was a decade ago when we flew down to spread his parent’s ashes in the desert that had been their beloved winter home.  Now we were excited to return with an RV of our own.

This state park is the largest in California. Located about 80 miles northeast of San Diego, it encompasses more than 600,000 acres of mostly desert wilderness and is framed by many rugged and beautiful mountain ranges.  It takes its name from 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep.

Anza Borrego Desert Park
The great bowl of the Anza-Borrego desert, viewed looking south with the badlands in the center
Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Mountain ranges enclosing Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Looking north toward the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains

This wondrous and wild place with its sweeping vistas offers lots of surprises that beg to be explored, and because it’s so huge our two week stay wasn’t enough to cover it all.

In search of Maidenhair Waterfall, which we never found while hiking the Hell Hole Canyon Trail
Hell Hole Canyon Trail
Along the Hell Hole Canyon trail we passed huge ocotillos, creosote bush, and other desert brush
Recent rain caused active stream flows on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
A grand oasis of California fan palms at the end of the trail
California Fan Palms
California Fan Palms are native only to this desert
palm Canyon Trail
Returning on the Palm Canyon trail, we followed an alternate route up and over an alluvial fan to get a different view on the way back to the trailhead

The borregos did not disappoint, as they were there watching and waiting for us to pass so they could cross for their drink of the clear water:

We followed this narrow canyon, which seemed like a slot canyon at times
Blazing our own trail getting out of the slot
Anza Borrego Desert Park
Still smiling after our long climb up from the bottom
A deeply-cut dry waterfall at Hawk Canyon
Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Colorful cliffs of salmon and green sandstone at Hawk Canyon
The recent rains brought the usually brown Ocotillos to lush, green beautiful life
One particular Ocotillo already had bright crimson flowers – in January!

To get  off the beaten path and experienced the desert in its most primal state requires a high clearance vehicle.  So weren’t we lucky that our friends (and Jeep owners) Dave and Sue of Belugas Excellent Adventures were also in the area and offered to share with us what they had already seen and experienced.  Our first drive was to the Wind Caves through Split Mountain.  The drive itself was a journey through a geological wonder, and we made several stops to gaze and ponder how time, weather and geology have created so many interesting formations here.

I have a feeling Steve is convinced “we gotta get one of these”

Fish Creek Wash
Viewing the unusual semi-circular, twisted formation called an “anticline.”

At the Wind Caves, the wildly eroded pockets were such a lure to be explored that Steve and I instantly became kids and started scrambling in and out wherever we could.  After lunch we all spent a few more minutes listening to the stillness of the desert and just enjoying the peaceful scenery.

Elephant knees
Elephant Knees formation seen on the trail to the south

One of the best places to get a look at the Badlands’ surreal scenery was from Font’s Point, at the end of a 4-mile sandy primitive wash.  The point has a commanding view of the Borrego Valley and Borrego Badlands below.

“Rocky” our ride looked a little lonely in the parking lot – the whole place to ourselves!
Font's Point
The best time to come here is at sunrise or sunset, but the cloud cover made our visit no less spectacular, and we all spread out to enjoy the views
Fonts Point
This amazing area, with its arid rocky geography, sunken mesas and corrugated hills of dry mud is called the Badlands of Anza-Borrego
Fonts Point
Steve shows fellow pilot Dave the canyon he used to fly through to land here
Coachwhip Canyon
Wandering around Coachwhip Canyon

We should mention that Jeep owners Dave and Sue, John and Pam, Joe and Gay and Bob and Dee Dee are very kind to us CRV folks.  Not only have we enjoyed seeing places we otherwise wouldn’t, but we’ve loved hanging out with all of them as well.  A Jeep might be in our future, but what’s the hurry when we have such great folks to take us to these spectacular places?

Two weeks was just too short to thoroughly explore this amazing place.  We’ve seen quite a bit, but plenty remains for a return visit.  Who knows, we may have a Jeep of our own when we return 🙂

We appreciate our Jeep ride sponsors, Dave and Sue!

Finally,  while driving around we caught glimpses of prehistoric creatures casting a shadow on the desert.  Some, like the one pictured below, will be featured in my next post:

Not something you see every day!