Excellent article by a journalist visitor to Borrego Springs, California, from Newark, New York.
Late winter visit to Borrego Springs
Imagine an isolated little desert community connected to the outside world by only a few winding two-lane mountain and desert roads. There is a main street but not a single traffic light. Scattered about, there is an elementary school and a high school, a Boys and Girls Club center and skate park, a modern fire department, a state-of-the-art medical center, a post office, a bi-weekly newspaper, a public library, seven churches, a Chamber of Commerce, an American Legion Post, a NAPA store, a Tru-Value Hardware and five golf courses.
Two dozen small gift and service shops, several Realtor/rental agents, a dozen restaurants, two grocery stores, a community theater, resort hotels and RV parks line the main drag. And, the entrance to the largest State Park in the United States lays at the west end of that main street
It isn't a movie set, but a real place known as Borrego Springs, San Diego County, California. I first set foot in the town ten years ago with my best friend in the whole world when we were over-the-road truck drivers. It is also where I spent my winter vacation these last two years, meeting the locals and seeing the sights. I volunteered at the Chamber of Commerce and American Legion, and spoke at a Rotary Club meeting about Wayne County, the Erie Canal and our Finger Lakes. I even took a part-time job in a quaint antique/consignment shop for a few weeks.
Newark and Borrego Springs are different. But in other ways, the two communities separated by 2500 miles are not so different.
Most of the people were friendly, some were reserved, while one or two were downright rude. The March sun was bright and almost oppressive at times; the native flora and fauna were colorful, interesting and bold. I don't believe I've ever heard mourning doves as loud as those in Borrego, and their ravens make our New York crows look like sissies, both in size and attitude!
Like Newark, there are coyotes and rabbits, but unlike Newark, there are also rattlesnakes, scorpions, black widow spiders and Peninsular Mountain Sheep.
In the 2000 census, there were 2861 permanent residents in Borrego Springs, making it about one-third the size of Newark. Demographics indicate Borrego males slightly outnumber females by two percent; the median age is 46 years and the population density is 12.1 per acre as compared with the California state average of 217.2 per acre.
Unlike Newark, Borrego has no industrial base for its economic structure. As a rule, the shops, services, resorts and restaurants serve the thousands of people who stay only during the winter season. During the months of June through September, when the daily high temperatures reach over 100 degrees, most residents work from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., mostly in preparation for the fall tourist season.
The town's history is a tale of two communities - the historic settlement of Borrego and its modern counterpart, the town of Borrego Springs. The first permanent settlers began to move into the Borrego Valley during the Civil War years as part of the second Gold Rush. The toughest of the tough stayed and formed the beginnings of the cattle ranching industry that lasted into the 1920's.
The modern community of Borrego Springs is the brainchild of A. A. Burnand, who had a vision of a 'San Diego county rival of Palm Springs' including resort hotels, golf courses and an airport. In 1947, after more than two years' planning, his vision began to materialize with the first public offering of development lots on what is now known as DeAnza Desert Country Club and Road Runner Country Club. His land, which previously raised cotton, barley and alfalfa, now nurtures golf courses and grows houses.
Burnand's grandson, Raymond, owner of Nuevo Oso Ranch-Certified Organic Citrus Grower, talks freely about his family's ranching operation and involvement in developing the area. As a young man, Ray moved away from Borrego, but returned nearly two decades ago to care for his aging mother and the family ranch. The ranch consists of 160 acres of lemons, 20 acres of Marsh Ruby grapefruit and 50 acres of Valencia oranges on land that was formerly covered with grapes.
Ray explains some of the fine points of organic farming in California as we look out over the ranch and the valley beyond from his second-story office window. Initial certification by the federal Food and Drug Administration and the State of California is a three-year process, and the ranch undergoes annual scrutiny in order to maintain its status. Only natural-based (non-chemical) fertilizers and pest control procedures are allowed on certified acreage.
In keeping with that regulation, Ray pastures his small mixed breed beef herd in the orchards during the winter to control the Bermuda grass that plagues most southern California farms and ranches. 'You can't get more natural than that!' he exclaims. Not only does the practice fall under natural pest control, but it also provides great feed for his sleek cattle. In addition, their droppings augment his total fertilization program, which includes composted materials.
The main tourist attraction in the valley is the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which opened in 1933 as the Borrego Palms Desert State Park on 185,000 acres of federal land surrounding the valley. In 1936, 365,000 more acres of federal land were added and in 1938 its name was changed. Although many in Borrego were not in favor of the park, it did help focus more attention on the valley, especially during the wildflower season, bringing visitors and their money to the area. (Click here to view photos.)
The park now contains 600,000 acres to which millions of people from around the world flock seeking the spectacular transformation during the bloom season from mid-February through April. Last year, I was amazed at the colors the formerly flat brown desert floor developed with the magenta of the sand verbena being most prevalent. The low-growing ground cover has long tendrils bearing small medium-green leaves and literally tens-of-thousands of small bundles of blossoms that fade from magenta to white as they age.
Verbena lasts about a month until the hot sun literally sucks the moisture from the plants after which other shorter-lived wildflowers, ocotillo and finally cacti have their moments of glory. All too soon the brown returns. A year to the day after my first trip, I revisited Henderson Canyon Road where lies the most significant verbena carpet. This year, I found the verbena nearly spent and two-foot tall dune sunflowers in charge of the landscape. My eyes swept over the top of the gold and green desert floor and settled on the mountains beyond.
Last year the dark purple hue of the rugged sun-varnished rocks complimented the verbena below. This year, as a result of unusually abundant rainfall, the rocks are hidden and the mountainsides resemble the hills of Ireland - all green and soft looking.
According to ABDSP officials, a feared pest is invading the valley. Ranger Fred Gee explained the 11 inches of rainfall received since July 1, 2004 encouraged the best blooming season in ten years. However, all is not well; park officials have implemented a plan to eradicate the invading Saharan mustard weed, because if left unchecked, the sand verbena and other camera-friendly wildflowers will succumb to it.
The non-native plant was introduced in the soil of date palm seedlings planted in the nearby Coachella Valley around 1920. Floodwater, wind and birds spread the seeds and the excessive rainfall has encouraged lush growth this spring.
Residents and hikers are urged to destroy the weed in their own yards and while hiking. Officials say residents should be concerned with the mustard because it will affect the wildflowers - the wildflowers that bring people to Borrego - the people that bring money to Borrego - the money that helps support the residents of the otherwise quiet, semi-isolated little town.
More on Borrego Springs: regular unleaded gas is $2.50 a gallon; milk is $5.00 a gallon and a pound of ground round sells for $4.69.
On the other hand ... the view of Indian Head (mountain) at sunrise is worth around $1000 a glance; the quiet is valued at $100,000 a second, and knowing the people and their heritage is priceless.
Reprinted by permission...article dated 3/24/05; permission granted 10/26/05 by Editor Sandra Marcano.
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