january anza-borrego desert garden

As far as interpretative visitor’s centers go Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has a pretty awesome one. The area has a rich mix of natural and cultural resources and histories, and the center does a good job of introducing you to some of the highlights. It’s also staffed by knowledgeable staff and volunteers happy to get you started with what to see and do.

ABDSP Visitor center stair leading up to green roof

The building itself is pretty cool in that it has a green roof–if you can call desert plants with white sand in between “green.” It’s painfully hot (and cold) much of the year, so it helps moderate the temperatures inside the visitor’s center.

ABDSP Visitor centor green roof with Agave deserti

ABDSP Visitor centor green roof vent

Up top they’ve done a pretty good job of disguising the fact that there’s a working building underfoot. A few vents tip you off that this might not be a normal desert floor…

Immediately outside the center’s doors there’s an impressive desert garden that’ll get you up to speed on the main plants you’ll find in the area. And it’s a chance to see one of the locally rare specimens of torote, the elephant tree. Among the more common and more charismatic species:

Beavertail cactus Opuntia basilaris var basilaris

Beavertail cactus (Is this plant’s name an oxymoron, at least in the sense that you’d never see a beaver anywhere near cactus habitat?)

Barrel cactus at ABDSP Ferrocactus cylindricus

Barrel cactus…

Ocotillo in January at ABDSP

Ocotillo in January at ABDSP closeup


January greasewood Larrea tridentata at ABDSP

Creosote bush.

Psorothamnus schottii leaf textures Indigo bush at ABDSP

Indigo bush, too early for it to be blooming, but a wonderful vaporous texture.

Jnauary bloomers at ABDSP visitor center

Some things were already (or still) blooming. This is a nice little tableaux of brittlebush, Encelia farinosa with desert agave, Agave deserti in foreground.

Vegetation textues at ABDSP

And this busy tangle features red blooms on chuparosa, Justicia californica. When you encounter it later in the season the plant is leafless, but there was water enough that you could find leaves on many of its branches.

Calliandra eriophylla at ABDSP

The last thing I saw blooming with any umph was this fairy duster, Calliandra eriophylla. It’s flowers are smaller, maybe a couple inches across, than those of the Baja fairy duster, C. californica, that is sold more frequently. Yes, California does have a plant that could easily be mistaken for a bottlebrush from down under.

Pup fish habitat

A pond feature provided habitat for the ├╝ber-rare desert pup fish. There were plenty in the water, but I guess the critters consider photographers predators and scurried off. Justin Bieber behaves the same way.

New plants at ABDSP visitor center

A few gallon cans lets you know that this, like any other garden, is a work in progress.

Plant grouping at ABDSP Visitor Center

And a final shot, a nice grouping of some of the plants above, arranged to please the eye, though the plants might consider themselves a little too close for comfort. But given a little extra water and grooming, you can get away with it.

When “in the neighborhood,” be sure to check out the center and the garden.

11 thoughts on “january anza-borrego desert garden”

  1. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited AB, so thank you for the beautiful visuals. I especially like the last photo, which should be used to illustrate how designed landscapes using native plants look great in their setting.
    And p.s., very nice redesign of your blog!

  2. Proof that the desert can be just as entrancing as any bluebell wood. Love that visitor center, what a clever piece of architecture. Thank you, it is a cold evening here and that gave me warm memories of trips to California and Arizona.

  3. I remember that visitors center, sitting on the shady east side after a hike…wow! Great scenes, of the specimen plants in that sere place, and the grade change, which I forgot about.

    Yes – shots of elephant trees!

  4. Maggie, thanks! I’ll probably do a little piece on the redesign.

    Janet, I’m glad to give you some warm memories of your trips out this way!

    Diana, there’s a blurred elephant tree behind the photo above of the blooming brittlebush. There’s a better photo in one of the blog postings at: http://www.soenyun.com/Blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Bursera-microphylla-Copy.jpg

    David, the shade at the center is really a nice feature of the place 10 months of the year. This day, though…a little cool. But always a nice visit.

  5. Love that sweeping stairway and the mountains in the distance. Clever of them to put the building underground…for both ecological and aesthetic reasons.

  6. Great photos, James! The last time we were at Anza Borrego was in 2005. I especially love your shot of the stairway alongside the visitor center with the silhouette of that majestic Palo Verde overhead. Now I’m inspired to revisit this amazing desert park. Hopefully our rains will cooperate and produce a decent wildflower show.

  7. I was cruising the internet and came across your posting about Anza-Borrego. I love your photos and comments, and I want to let you and your followers know that there is a Botany Society made up of volunteers at the state park. We have a pretty cool email newsletter. If anyone wants to receive it (no charge) email to me at don@rideouts.net and I will gladly add you to our distribution list. There is no advertising or spam associated with our newsletter. Just info about our activities and desert plant related stuff. We don’t have a web site yet but we’re working on it. Thanks.

  8. I haven’t been to Anza Borrego in 15 years. I was eyeing it on the map on the way back from Arizona, but I decided to spend the last of my time in Joshua Tree. Some nice shots, looks like a great visitor center, like you say. Anza Borrego is the first place where I started to appreciate desert plants.

    The new blog format looks great.

  9. I’m pretty sure the words”Justin Bieber” and “Desert pup fish” have never appeared in the same paragraph before! I was complaining about how dry it is here but ’tain’t nuthin compared to that desert area you so beautifully photographed and described!

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