Disappearing into a beautiful void

I love to tell people I’m going to the Anza Borrego desert. They never know where it is, even Californians, and it’s most of southern Cali, over the mountains east of San Diego. I’m not even sure how I found out about it. So, what with the lilting name and its complete invisibility, there’s a nice mystery to it, like I’m disappearing into a beautiful void. And to some extent that’s true. It’s a place of great desert beauty, with not much to do, not much internet or phone reception, lots of hammock-inspiring heat in the middle of the day.

A black and white spotted beetle in the Anza Borrego Desert, California by Betsey Crawford

There’s a town of Borrego Springs, with the state park headquarters, a library, a few stores, even fewer restaurants, mostly tilting Mexican. The place where we stay is twenty miles out of town, in Ocotillo Wells, though Ocotillo Flats would seem more appropriate. It’s a vast plain between brown, stony mountains that turn blue at the end of the day, bordering on the largest off-highway vehicle park in the country. Much of the time, you hear nothing at all. When I took the picture of this inch-long beetle, it was so quiet I could hear the dry skittering of its minute feet on the sand. But Friday evenings and Saturday mornings are abuzz with people going off into the reserve. I seldom hear them come back, which is interesting. They apparently keep a Sabbath, because on Sundays quiet descends again, except for the shushing breeze, desultory traffic, the cooing of mourning doves, the nighttime yip of coyotes.

One of the mysterious and ancient sleeping circles found in the desert

There is the occasional descent of military helicopters, who use this area for practice. I was once hiking in a canyon at the end of Split Mountain Road, the main Ocotillo Wells road, and a huge — certainly in that context — black helicopter came swooping in, hovered not far above us, turned, flew out.

I was pretty startled, but my companions simply said, ‘Practicing canyon flying,’ and on we went. They were showing me the two million-year-old shell and fish fossils lying casually in the sand that once was the bed of a vast sea.

Two million year old fossil shell in Ocotillo Wells, California by Betsey Crawford

Plus a tarantula nest!

The owners of our RV park have created trails around and through their acreage, and that’s our morning walk, early, before it’s too hot, especially for my black dog. There are other hikes I do alone, quieting pursuing wildflowers. I sometimes join communal hikes. One Saturday I was out with a group of fifteen photographers for eleven hours, in heat that hit 94. It was a magical time, to places I would never find, but required a full hammock day to recover. When family visited, I took them to the trail in the state park that leads to an actual palm oasis. The top photo below is approaching it. The one beneath it is the view from the large flat rock we all collapsed on when we got there. It was cooler on the way back because the desert cools the minute the sun disappears behind the mountains.

Anza Borrego is named after two unrelated entities, though they presumably eyed each other as they passed. Juan Francisco de Anza was an early Spanish explorer, of some note and intrepidity. Borrego is the local wild sheep, with graceful curling horns, native to this area. I don’t approve of naming places after conquistadores, and the combination is slightly ridiculous, like naming a state park in New York the Hudson White-Tailed Deer Preserve.

A borrego in the Anza Borrego State Park in Southern California by Betsey Crawford

However, that’s all left-brain caviling. The right brain loves all those musical syllables, as well as the silence and beauty of the desert, and revels in being here.

Desert lavender (Condea emoryi)

I’d love to have you on the journey! If you add your email address, I’ll send you notices of new adventures.

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Coyote resting under a creosote bush near Death Valley, California. Photo by Betsey Crawford.


It started with a lot of mysterious lines showing up on the desert floor. It became a meditation on walking among the profound mysteries we find everywhere we go, woven together by far more than our interlacing footprints.

2 thoughts on “Disappearing into a beautiful void”

  1. Oh, Bets, this is so beautiful and so you! Full of imagery, reverence, perceptivity, wisdom and humor. Makes me miss you just a little bit less. Can’t wait to read more of your travels and transmissions from the soul of the earth. Sending you my faithful affection.

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