Have you ever been somewhere that you don’t really like but you still enjoy being there. Well, for me that’s Borrego Springs.
We drove there specifically to see the outdoor sculptures by Ricardo Breceda and I can unequivocally say it was not the most scenic drive. Brown, barren, dry mountainous landscape …mile after mile of it. Not a tree or plant to be seen, okay… maybe a few half dead cholla cactus.
The Chamber of Commence touts this description on their website “In Borrego Springs we are completely surrounded by nature, set in the midst of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Enjoy our nature on your own terms, hike a desert canyon or just relax by the pool, play some golf or watch the roadrunners, and always amaze yourself with our dark night sky. There is no hustle-bustle here. Borrego Springs is a small town and we’re proud of that, a small town that will seem like home as soon as you get here.”
Well, yeah…there’s no hustle bustle because there isn’t anything there! Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh but it didn’t seem like home when I got there, so whatever. To be fair, there was vegetation once we got to Borrego Springs.
Since we were on a mission to see the sculptures, it seemed prudent to have lunch first and then go exploring. A quick search of restaurants revealed the Red Ocotillo as the top choice in town so off we went to check it out.
Lunch at the Red Ocotillo was fun…we sat outside on the patio with another couple from San Diego. Charming inside too and boy were people pouring in. I was humming the lyrics from the old Jim Croce song “ Don’t mess with Jim” as our feisty waitress ( I think her name was Slim!!!) bombed around the place telling everyone she was helping people in the order that they came in… thankfully we were number two!!!
Well, we surely didn’t mess with Slim…we had our order ready to go when she swung by our table and our credit card ready when we were finished. She was genuinely pleased that we were so easy to serve!! Yep, we aim to please.
You don’t tug on superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old lone ranger
And you don’t mess around with Slim
Okay, back to the sculptures…130 of them to be exact. Scattered over hundreds of acres outside the thriving metropolis of Borrego Springs. Ricardo Breceda, the accidental artist has created many of the sculptures based on prehistoric fossils that have been found in this area.
The creatures pop up alongside Borrego Springs Road: prehistoric elephants, a saber-tooth cat, an ancient camel, a T. rex and a giant bird of prey. Not the flesh-and-blood kind, but remarkable art pieces—sometimes whimsical, sometimes haunting. While some creatures are ambitious fantasies, such as a 350-foot-long serpent arcing across the playa, many of the sculptures represent real-life creatures that once roamed this land.
If you are wondering what the inspiration was behind these amazing sculptures, seems Breceda started this journey just trying to do something for his daughter. When seven-year-old Lianna asked her father to make her a life-size dinosaur like those in Jurassic Park, Ricardo Breceda couldn’t have dreamed how it would change his life. Having experienced a devastating construction accident, the Mexico-born Ricardo had persevered and was now operating a thriving boot business in California. Yet, wanting to please his daughter, he began what would become his artistic awakening.
True, he had been experimenting with scrap metal and a welder he had snatched up in a trade, but with no previous art training, he wasn’t sure how to begin. After a year of cutting, hammering, welding, and numerous scraped knuckles, what emerged from his efforts was a seventeen-foot-tall Tyrannosaurs Rex, much to the delight of Lianna.
In 2008, Breceda was originally commissioned by local philanthropist Dennis Avery to make sculptures for his extensive desert property known as Galleta Meadows, but the creatures seem to have multiplied around town. To find Breceda’s 130 or so rust-red, scrap-metal sculptures, we picked up a detailed map at the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association bookstore in Borrego Springs and started driving.
It was fun to look across the desert and see these giant creatures looming in the distance. Often when we got closer, we would discover smaller creatures like these turtles or ground sloths.
Breceda also makes statues of people, most of which are based on people from the old west such as cowboys and Native American figures. One of Breceda’s most notable sculptures is a 350-foot serpent found in Borrego Springs whose head and body pops out of the sand.
Other notable examples of Breceda’s work includes fighting dinosaur statues and a series of wild horse sculptures which can be seen from Highway 79 South. His daughter Lianna now assists in the sculpting of his statues so the artistic passion has come full circle.
After exploring the sculptures in the desert it was time for some exploration below ground. I have come to love slot canyons so any opportunity to explore one on a clear day with no threat of rain is a GO! Simply named The Slot, this narrow siltstone canyon provides a fun hike in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. This 0.8-mike trek is capped off with a passage beneath a gravity-defying rock span. This short hike has just 100 feet of elevation loss, but the memory will be much more profound especially if the light peeking into the canyon provides its own show.
From the parking area, look for footprints leading down into the ravine below. Left of the trailhead, just to the right of a dirt road continuing east, is a wide path that descends into the canyon.
The trail is steep, but not nearly as steep as it looks from the parking lot above, dropping less than fifty feet. There are no more optical illusions from here, just Mother Nature doing what she does best.
Turn left and hike down to The Slot. The siltstone walls grow taller and closer together. Not far from the start, the canyon narrows. Significantly…. Hmm, maybe we shouldn’t have had those burgers for lunch as it made it harder to squeeze through the coarse walls that are shoulder width apart, and less in some places.
The shaded slot canyon provides cool relief from the desert above. We continued on through the narrows to the highlight of the hike where there is a slanted rock slab bridging a narrow gap in the canyon. This block of rock appears to have broken off one wall and come to a resting place between the two. If that doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable …well, it should! The precarious feature looks like it could fall at any moment, but it thankfully it remains lodged overhead. I zipped quickly underneath with my breath held.
Too soon the fun is over and we exited the Slot into the barren, brown desert and continued the hike along the wide river bed. After finding an exit trail that felt like a 100% uphill climb we followed loose path lot along the edge of the canyon that took us back to the parking. What a hoot, so glad we found The Slot and all in all we had a great day in Borrego Springs.