Our family of four has been exploring the Anza Borrego desert in awe for decades. When my parents grew tired of marine layer mornings brought on by June gloom we’d pack up our Ford Explorer and drive the 2 hours out to the desert. I’m fairly certain my sister and I never let our parents make the journey in one leg because perfectly nestled between our San Diego home and Borrego was the town of Julian and the world’s best apple pie.
This year we returned for my fathers 62nd birthday. The four of us hadn’t made it out to the desert together in roughly 10 years. And since then our unit had grown with the addition of my sister’s husband.
As we strap mountain bikes to weathered car roofs my mind is flooded with memories.
The drive out feels warm and familiar, like rekindling an old friendship. We curve through the Cuyamaca Mountains and touch down in the hazy Borrego valley as if we’re landing on Mars.
We set up our camp in the Anza Borrego State Park, my parents have graduated from tent camping to a tear-drop trailer. It serves as a perfect kitchen table prep station with a cozy bed to crawl into. My sister and her husband set up digs for themselves at the local hotel, Indian Wells. And myself, the trusty 5th wheel, I get a tent all to myself. There are still paw prints on the tent opening from when my girlfriends and I had a run in with a pack of curious raccoons in Big Sur.
We take an afternoon bike ride, carving our own trails into the desert floor. We weave in and out of elegant Ocotillo branches, noticing we’re just a hair too early to see the festive red flowers bloom.
With our party split between different sleeping accommodation, we enjoy a haphazard glamping fusion experience. A desert path connects the state park and the Indian Wells hotel, allowing us to take full advantage of the hotel perks. We enjoy wine on the rooftop, listening to Al Green and watching amber clouds form as the sun dips behind mountain edges.
My parents and I return to camp in darkness, dodging jumping Ochoa and laughing along the way. The night air is heavy and warm, hugging every inch around us. My Mom tells me of distance rides she and my father used to take in their early 20s, opting to sleep out in the open air on nights like these. When we turn off our flashlights, the sky is illuminated with galaxies. We take in the humbling sight over warm tea, thinking of all the possible worlds that exist above our heads.