Over the long president’s day weekend we found ourselves in Anza –a place that captivated our imaginations the first time we visited. We stayed at La Casa del Zoro which was the best decision we could have made. It is centrally located, has plenty of restaurants, and the grounds are just splendid with much to do including a Koi Pond/River for the kids, several pools, and a host of games and activities.
The intent was to complete/cross-off all outstanding Anza historical markers. I’d like to say we got close if not for San Gregorio, which resulted in several maddening but fun hikes through the desert. We even go lost at night. Given the lack of “light” in Anza (deemed one of the darkest skies in the country), William and I got to see a sky so full of stars that caused us to just stop and take it all in. We later trekked out as a family into the desert on a very cold night just to be able to star-gaze.
We explored canyons, dry river beds –with significant evidence of recent flash flood given all the rains– and a desert in full bloom. Equally captivating was the number of RVs and ATVs to be found in the Sand Dunes just outside of the Anza-Borego Park. By the way, yes, you read that correctly: San Dunes! The colors, the sights, the sound was amazing and made all the more so by the number of tikes on motorbikes –adorable!
Bidding goodbye to Anza we kept on towards Imperial Valley –what a contrast– all the way to Yuma. Imperial is also a desert with much of it converted to farmland. Unlike Anza, here you feel the human activity and interaction. Beyond the rural farmlands, Imperial introduced us to The Center of the World. If you are a history buff/nerd/geek just go. Carved into granite are multiple histories (country, state, world, religion, science, discovery, flight, etc.). We could have spent hours reading through it all.
As we approached some of the more southern landmarks we where met with a sharp reality, which seemed to become something of an exclamatory motto at every turn: that is Mexico! El Centro in Imperial provided a sharp contrast –the tall walls/fences, the heavy presence of immigration. As we left we could not help but notice the amount of border crossing through the checkpoint as people came and went to work and home between the US and Mexico, as if crossing the border was like crossing the street and nothing changed.
Closer to the Arizona border, as we wound down our day, we where met by inhospitable dirt roads made worse by the rains –in some cases entirely washed out. We even almost made it all the way up to Picacho Mines.
The end of the trip was spent in Yuma, AZ. The city seems to be undergoing an economic revival yet has preserved much of its history. It’s historic down-town is dotted with fantastic restaurants and the charm of an era gone by. Monday we explored a little more, making our way up to the mission and then the Territorial Prison, which was simply amazing. The “dark cell” or solitary confinement was really, really creepy since you continuously had bats flying around. However, we got a keen sense that if one was a prisoner in the Yuma desert where temps reach well above 100 degrees, that this dark, isolated, and very cold cave was just the sort of thing to take your mind off the heat.