Anza Borrego Wildflowers, Super Bloom, Cougar Canyon

The Anza Borrego desert is about as green as it gets, and there is a super bloom of wildflowers, that is going off in places that haven’t seen flowers in over 10 years. This unusual display of color in the desert has made national headlines in the media, so there are some pretty big crowds, especially on the weekends.

If you have a 4wd vehicle, and the patience to drive around the sightseers, you can avoid the crowds by heading out to Sheep Canyon, which is located in the northern part of the Anza Borrego desert. You’ll have to drive over some pretty rough ground, but as your author saw last weekend, someone did it with a brand-new Toyota 4Runner. You will have to drive through the stream at a couple of points, but the water is nowhere near as deep as it used to be a few years ago. See the creek photo from 2011, to get an idea of how deep it was; the water used to be up to the floorboard of the vehicle, with 33″ tires, and you had to drive through that canopy of trees. Much to the dismay of local offroaders, the park service has filled that in with dirt, and they have also smoothed and graded the road way down.

Right before you hit the end of the line, at the primitive campground, the dirt road forks off to the left, to Cougar Canyon. Park in the turnaround, and walk along the path, beside a brook that should be flowing with water well into the spring. The foot path forks off to the right, to Cougar Canyon itself. More info here: Explore the wilds of Cougar Canyon

If you stay in the primitive campground, Sheep Canyon is directly to your left, see the photo of it below. Once you start up the canyon, there isn’t any defined trail, you are scrambling over boulders and following cairns. You can see the palm tree groves directly ahead, but the canyon also forks off to the right, and there are some small tree-lined areas around a stream. This hike is definitely harder than going up to Cougar Canyon. There is a lot of erosion here, as seen in the Sheep Canyon photo, which means that you’ll be driving over a wide wash area on the way in, that has a lot of deep sand in it. It’s a good idea to air down the tires for that section of the trail, to keep from getting stuck.

The photo of Sheep Canyon is from 2015, and you can see how little vegetation there is on the sides of the hills. The 2017 Anza Borrego photos show much more plant growth on the hillsides.

You might be asking yourself how this Anza Borrego super bloom compares to the Death Valley super bloom of 2016? The latter was far more impressive, but this San Diego county super bloom is a standout in it’s own right. Even if flowers aren’t your thing, the drive into Sheep Canyon is worth the trip, it’s the crown jewel of the park.

All photos taken with a Sony a7R; the wide pictures were done with a legacy Pentax-M 35/2.8 prime, and the longer photos were shot with a Sony Fe90 macro lens.

Dan Euritt
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