by WYNNE LOVE

When San Diegans aren’t boasting about the beautiful weather, they may be bragging about the joy of living in such close proximity to alternative climates. Travel a mere hour from the coast and you can be in the mountains or the desert. For folks who enjoy escaping to Julian, Palm Springs, or Big Bear, Anza Borrego is one more destination they should add to the list.

Anza Borrego, located about two hours east of San Diego, is the largest state park in California. Mountains and canyons surround palm groves, natural hot springs, and desert floor, making it a popular destination year round, frequented by hikers, campers, ATV riders, and people looking for a quiet retreat in Borrego Springs.

The drive offers breathtaking views and the occasional sighting of quail, roadrunners, coyote, jackrabbits, and even bighorn sheep, or Borrego, for whom the park is named, along with Spanish explorer, Juan Bautista de Anza.

But it is in early spring when parts of the park truly spring to life. While February means snow and slush in other parts of the country, it is wildflower season in Anza Borrego. The scant winter rainfall drains from the high peaks into its low-lying basins, and when the confluence of sun, wind, and rain is just right, a brilliant bloom of wildflowers springs forth.

Predicting just when (and if) this display will occur is not easy. “We all wait and hope for a great flower year to arrive, but it doesn’t always happen,” acknowledged Michael Rodriques, Regional Interpretive Specialist for the park. “Sufficient winter rain and moderate temperatures decide if the bloom is great, good, or non-existent each year.” To help would-be admirers time their visit, park employees offer a Wildflower Hotline at 760-767-4684 and can provide notification by postcard or e-mail as well.

Call the Visitor’s Center at 760-767-4205 or the Anza Borrego Foundation at 760-767-0446 for more information – or just take your chances. Flowers or not, there is plenty to do at the award-winning Visitor’s Center. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the center is host to guided hikes, stargazing events, lectures and classes, and a museum filled with fossils found in the desert rock. Explore your own roots this year in Anza Borrego.