That got us back on track for the 15 to the 76, which skirts around the edge of Mt. Palomar (someday, maybe we'll venture to the Observatory) to the 79 into Julian, where we dropped off our bags at the 1897 Julian Hotel, and then continued onward toward the main visitor center for Anza Borrego on the edge of Borrego Springs. The 78 is also an enjoyable twisty ride and then it drops a lot of elevation and the S3 takes you into Borrego Springs. We got to the visitor center at about 4:30, a half hour before closing. It was still parked up pretty tightly, but we eventually found a spot, made it to the center and got a map and a good rundown from the ranger about where the current flower spots were. We walked a bit around the visitor center, and then drove around some of the spots the ranger had mentioned. There was some nice golden hour light as the sun lowered, making long skinny shadows out of all the plant stalks.
As the light faded, we headed back to Julian for dinner -- oh, and on the way we spotted some deer. We'd be back in the morning, when the flowers should be even better (as many close up in the day due to the heat - it was 90-something when we got there in the afternoon).
Julian rolls up the sidewalk early, so there were not too many options. Traveller's Tip: get reservations at Romano's -- it was an hour wait for what we hear is the best food in town. We briefly flirted with Rongbranch, but their reputation for poor service is well-justified. No greeter, and eventually chasing and flagging down a dispirited teen waitress provided such a grudging desire to serve that we walked out. So we were very happy to find a spot at the Julian Grille. Cute place, and though the staff was dealing with a lot of hungry out of towners, the service was still not quite slow enough to be called slow. The fried jalapeno/cheese ravioli were really good, and though I was suspicious of the need for a creamy sundried-tomato sauce on my NY steak, it was not hiding a nasty piece of meat underneath it. Just an average piece of meat, correctly prepared. We shared a bottle of Julian cider. Currently, the cider is made in Orgeon, and Julian cider has become so successful that there aren't enough Julian apples to make Julian cider. But they have plans for small batches of Julian grown and made cider. This full story we didn't learn until stopping in at their tasting room the next day.
Up earlyish the next day and back to Borrego Springs where we landed at Red Ocotillo for breakfast. We sat down immediately, but a line soon formed, so Traveller's Tip -- get there before 8 when all the local old folks arrive for breakfast. Service started awesome and friendly, but soon everything slowed to a crawl. Food took forever, and the check just wasn't coming (and ours wasn't the only table). Again I had to chase down the staff to get something done. The pancakes were fine, but our general opinion of the place started so high and slid so low.
We passed by many of the same flower fields as the previous day, and they really did appear different in the early morning rather than late afternoon. But our main goal was to get out to Coyote Canyon. Once you get out of Borrego Springs, the road become dirt, but fortunately it had been recently graded, so it was passable for 2 wheel drive vehicles for the first couple miles. It was a neat experience driving until you see some patch of flowers that caught your fancy, and then finding a wider spot in the road to pull over to allow others to pass. Although the sandy shoulder did give me one 'ulp' moment when I spun my tires. But here's my car ad:
Lots of flower variety out there, including some we hadn't seen before, like the desert lily. The 2-wheel drive capable portion of the road ends at Desert Gardens, where there are some of the most desolate looking picnic tables ever.
Then we sadly turned our wheels homeward, but slowly, which is probably good since we had to hit the brakes for some turkeys crossing the road. I can't imagine they're wild turkeys, and they certainly weren't penned in, so they were... feral turkeys? Driving slow allowed us time again to stop here and there as the fancy took us. And yes, our fancy took us to the Cider tasting room, which was in a neat little building with a handful of local businesses and even some coin op arcade machines.
Heading back out on 79, we passed around on the other side of Mt. Palomar, and on this side we started seeing California poppies here and there. They're not really a desert flower, but they are also having a superbloom of sorts. There are some big patches near the 15 attracting lots of attention, and more distant patches would make hillsides distinctly orange in color.
Link to all the pics