Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Summer Escape From Borrego Heat


Last updated 7/16/2021 at 11:11am

Photos Courtesy of Jimmy Smith, John Peterson

Marsha, Jimmy Smith and Judy Smith (From left) with grand view down into Borrego Springs from Toro Peak

Many Borrego residents leave the heat of the desert in the hottest months, but for those who don't there are still nearby places to enjoy the great outdoors and bask in far more comfortable temperatures.

A group of locals did just that last week, enjoying a mild day at nearly 9,000 feet in the forested beauty of Toro Peak and the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

Toro Peak is that summit dominating the ridgeline of the Santa Rosa Mountain north of Borrego Springs. It's often covered in winter snow, providing a beautiful contrast to the arid sands of the desert.

Last week, John Peterson organized a day trip to the area that included his daughter, Jennifer Peterson, Jimmy and Judy Smith, and Marsha Boring, all Borrego residents.

While the mountain only seems a few miles away when viewed from Borrego, to get there you must drive for about 90 minutes to reach the junction of highways 371 and 74 east of the mountain community of Anza.

From the junction, go right and in about five miles look for a dirt road on your right and a sign that says Santa Rosa Mountains.

Here's a little tip. At the 371 and 74 junction there is a little restaurant called the Paradise Café, offering great breakfast and lunch selections. It's a good place to eat before heading up the mountain.

As you begin climbing the dirt, high clearance road up the mountain, you will notice summer temperatures dropping to more comfortable levels.

At 8,000 feet it was a mild 75 degrees on my last visit, while urbanites below were sweltering in temperatures of well over 100.

You don't find 8,000-foot mountains in San Diego County.

At 6,428 feet, Hot Springs Mountain northeast of Warner Springs is the county's highest peak.

But Toro Peak and the Santa Rosa Mountains, just a few miles north of the county line in Riverside there are a sky island jutting nearly 9,000 feet high. Rising from the desert sands near the Salton Sea and separating Borrego Springs from Palm Springs, the Santa Rosa Mountains offer access to a forested, alpine world surrounded by arid landscape.

Toro Peak, at 8,716 feet is the crown of this mountain chain that includes Santa Rosa Peak to the west along with Rabbit and Villager peaks descending to the desert in the east.

In addition to the mild summer temperatures at this elevation, there were breathtaking vistas south over Anza-Borrego, east over the Salton Sea, and north to San Jacinto and Palm Springs. There were colorful wildflower displays, isolated and quiet campsites, wildlife and birds, and the tranquility of the pine and cedar forest without the crowds of more manicured areas.

One of the most unique areas along the bumpy, 12-mile road up the mountain is Santa Rosa Spring on a short spur road marked with signs. This is one of few water sources on the mountain and a birding paradise, with many bird species that you don't find at lower elevations. These include mountain chickadees, white headed woodpeckers, some migrating Nashville in spring and fall, nuthatch, mountain bluebirds, band-tailed pigeons, and titmouse. You are also likely to see a covey of plump mountain quail skittering by in the brush.

Painted ladies and swallowtail butterflies flit about in the late afternoon sunshine, and a gentle, caressing breeze carries the blended fragrances of pine, cedar, sage and fresh oxygen.

The Borrego group packed picnic lunches and enjoyed their meal in the shade of towering incense cedar trees.

John Peterson called the adventure a great day that included a visit to the remains of a Marine Corps Sea Stallion helicopter that crashed on the mountain in 1968.

Jimmy Smith said the cooler elevations made the trip an enjoyable escape from Borrego.

"We saw two deer. How do all the animals get along with feeders and baths that we provide in our backyards," he asked factiously?

The drive up the mountain begins in an elfin forest of redshank ribbonwood that carpets the lower elevations.

As you gain elevation, visitors pass through an oak woodland and then into pines, cedar, and fir at higher elevations. Small campgrounds providing tables and pit toilets are scattered along the way.

Remember, water is limited here and there are no services of any kind. The road is closed in the winter.

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