In a previous post, I told about the Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. However, you really haven’t seen a large oasis in the middle of the desert in this park unless you’ve climbed above the Palm Bowl in the southern part of the park. Here, more than 100 palm trees have grown over what must be an underground stream, and the views from above are truly worthy of a desert movie flick!
To get to the Palm Bowl, take S-2 16 miles northwest of the town of Ocotillo, or take S-3 out of Borrego Springs, then turn right on CA-78 W for 7 miles, then turn left on S-2 and drive 30 miles. Either way, you need to turn into the Mountain Palm Springs Campground. After you turn into the campground, stay right and drive towards the dirt parking lot. However, I wouldn’t try driving all the way to the parking lot if you don’t have high clearance. There is a large dip to go over to get into the parking lot, and we would have bottomed out in our high clearance van in one place had we tried it. You can park on the road side of dip, and it’s only a few yards more to walk. With a less-than-2-mile RT hike, a few more yards isn’t too bad.
The trail isn’t particularly easy to find. It starts at the end of the parking lot farthest from the campground, and once you find it is pretty distinct and easy to follow. The trail winds its way up Surprise Canyon (I wonder what the story is behind that name!) for a ¼ mile or so until you come to a place where the trail splits. One fork goes up onto a badland-like dune, while the other stays down nearer the creek bed. It really doesn’t matter which one you take, because both will lead you to the Palm Bowl around the next bend. However, on top of the dune is a sign, so you can climb up to read that if you want. Just remember that you will have to climb back down the dune if you decide to take that route!
Another ¼ mile or a little less from the trail split, you will come around the bend and see the Palm Bowl itself. That’s pretty impressive, and very pretty, especially in the early afternoon—too late in the day (or probably too early) and the trees are in shadow. This is a good hike to do in the middle of the day, if you can stand the desert heat of California. From here, the trail goes up into the palm bowl itself. Be careful in the bowl, as a fire has gone through here, and the dirt and tree trunks will stain black anything that comes in contact with them.
Over to the left side of the palm trees, looking like it winds its way up the side of a steep, rocky hill, is a trail. There is a sign pointing up the trail; I believe it says something about another grove of palm trees. We hiked the trail as far as we could, and never found another grove, so don’t ask me what that’s about. However, if you go up this trail a little ways, you can look back down at the palm bowl, and it’s worth the hike just to do this. Somehow, seeing it from above is so much more impressive, and gives a totally new meaning to “streams in the desert”.
If you continue up the rocky trail, it will finally flatten out at the top (up until now, it’s been steep, rocky switchbacks). From the top of the hill you can no longer see the palm bowl, but in its place is a vista of a barren, rocky, deserted, desolate land. I have never seen such a desolate sight except in Death Valley, and this is very different because here it is very rocky. You can see a road, but that’s the only real sign of civilization. The forsakenness of the view makes the palm trees, when you can see them again, seem even more special.
We didn’t find that the views improved much more if you continued following the trail, but you’re welcome to continue on the fairly flat trail along the rocky top of the hillside. This would be very hot and exposed in the middle of the day, although it wasn’t too bad in the evening.
Return by the way you came. We never found the palm bowl to be terribly busy, and almost no one we saw went up to the top of the rocky hill. The palm bowl isn’t a deserted destination, but it’s a lot less visited than Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail!
- 9:31 PM PST on December 13, 2017
- 10:00 AM PST on December 15, 2017
Wednesday Wed Dec 13 0%
Mainly clear. Lows overnight in the upper 40s.
Thursday Thu Dec 14 0%
Mainly sunny. High 77F. Winds N at 10 to 20 mph. Stronger winds in and below canyons and passes.
Friday Fri Dec 15 0%
Mainly sunny. High around 75F. Winds light and variable.
Saturday Sat Dec 16 0%
Partly cloudy skies. High 71F. Winds NNE at 10 to 20 mph.
Sunday Sun Dec 17 0%
A mainly sunny sky. High 69F. Winds NE at 10 to 15 mph.