For now and for the next several years, the normally slow and painstaking trek ambitious hikers make into the middle and upper reaches of Borrego Palm Canyon will be considerably easier. Much of the impeding vegetation that used to slow hikers' progress has been stripped away. On September 10, 2004, a wall of water at least 20 feet high sloshed through the narrower parts of the canyon. This was the result of an isolated, intense summer-afternoon thunderstorm that dumped buckets of rain over a relatively small area of the San Ysidro Mountains, northwest of Borrego Springs.
In Borrego Palm Canyon, the rushing water uprooted hundreds of native California fan palm trees, floating them out past the mouth of the canyon toward Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. A mudflow hit the campground itself, causing considerable damage that has since been largely repaired. Dubbed a "hundred-year flash flood" by some, the event was indeed a rare occurrence for that particular location in the Anza-Borrego Desert -- but not at all unusual for the geographical region as a whole.
Since that September flood, several more inches of rain have arrived in the greater Borrego Springs area by means of conventional winter storms. The above-normal cumulative rainfall has already produced a first wave of early wildflower blooms at the mouth of Borrego Palm Canyon. Given enough sunshine in the coming days, a spectacular floral display should be unfolding here by late this month or in February.
Navigating the route into Borrego Palm Canyon is simple. Begin at the trailhead parking area at the far (west) end of Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. Either of two routes can be followed toward the "First Grove" of palms: a somewhat circuitous alternate trail toward the left, or the main 1.5-mile-long trail (parts of which are rerouted) that sticks close to the flood-scoured canyon bottom, which is full of freshly tossed boulders and assorted prone palm trunks. Whatever route you take, look for desert bighorn sheep grazing on the vegetation upslope. They've become inured to the presence of humans over the past couple of decades and don't seem to mind the pedestrian traffic.
First Grove is a ghost of its former lush self, its stream-hugging riparian vegetation peeled away along with nearly all lower-lying palms. Fan palms are invasive wherever water is permanently present, as it is here. They will return in force to this site over the next quarter century.
Beyond First Grove, the route is officially trail-less and not for casual tourists. The game is to work your way up the canyon, sometimes on sketchy paths high above the canyon bed, and more often along the flood-scoured bed itself, which is paved unevenly with sand and rounded rocks or granitic or metamorphic bedrock slabs.
At 3.3 miles from the start, the South Fork of Borrego Palm Canyon branches obviously to the left (southwest), its discharge of water less than that of the main fork. A spectacular double-cascade of water lies 0.4 mile ahead up this rough gorge -- a worthy destination for motivated hikers willing to clamber over angular rocks.