Visitor's View: Pumpkin Patch
Last updated 11/21/2023 at 1:25pm
Halloween may be over for this year, but that's no reason to stop looking for the Great Pumpkin tucked away in the eastern fringes of the Borrego Badlands.
After all, desert season is here and it's time to explore some of the more remote areas of Anza-Borrego and surrounding desert areas.
Today's adventure begins in Borrego Springs, takes you off road through the badlands to a perennial pumpkin patch in a barren corner of Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area...OW for short.
The pumpkins here are not ones you can carve or even make into delicious pies.
This pumpkin patch is a collection of round boulders scattered over the barren desert landscape.
These unique geological formations are known as concretions and were created over millions of years, much in the same way that pearls are formed in oysters.
The process begins when wet sand is attached to a tiny object, such as a rock, shell fragment or even in an insect body. When the moist sand dries out, it turns to cement, thus the name concretions.
Over time as sand is wetted and dried, the concentration grows.
As the environment changed to desert, wind became a major factor in sculpting the landscape.
As winds moved the sands away, exposing the concretions, they were eroded into spheres that visitors can see today.
It's a remarkable site to see the large, round sandstone boulders scattered over the landscape, and even more remarkable to consider that all this area was once underwater.
While concretions are found throughout the world, most are in random shapes because of different forces that formed and eventually eroded them into various shapes.
Fortunately, the Pumpkin Patch is protected with a fence to prevent damage to these irreplaceable geological objects.
Getting here can be an adventure itself.
This is off-road, and a four-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance is recommended.
Getting to Pumpkin Patch is as much of an adventure as seeing it.
Along the way, you will travel through a moon-like landscape, devoid of vegetation, perhaps stop for a break at a remote palm oasis, and meander like a maze through desert washes that seem to lead nowhere.
There are several ways to reach Pumpkin Patch, but we will describe one of the easiest and most scenic paths.
Plan on packing a lunch or snacks, because this will take several hours and there is much to see and enjoy.
As we always do, begin your adventure at Christmas Circle in downtown Borrego Springs.
From there, go east on Palm Canyon Drive, also designated S-22. The road jogs north and again east and you continue for about 16 miles, between mile markers 34 and 35, keeping an eye out on the right for a dirt road and a small sign that says Arroyo Salado Campground. The coordinates of this turnoff are 33.28318, -116.15237.
There is a restroom here, but no other service until you reach Pumpkin Patch where there is a restroom, some picnic tables and shade shelters.
After passing through the campground, you are following Arroyo Salado, a wide desert wash flowing to the southeast.
At about 3.5 miles, look for an unmarked road to the right. This is a spur road that takes you to the dead-end parking at 17-palms oasis.
Take a few minutes to explore the area and enjoy the beauty of this remote grove of native palms, a place where early travelers found shade during the sizzling heat of summer travel.
At the far end of the grove, look for the Desert Post Office, a wooden barrel wedged into the trunks of palms where visitors leave notes.
Legend has it that early travelers would leave mail here and the custom was for those going in the right direction to take it with them for forwarding.
Returning to the road, turn right and in less than a quarter mile, look for a road leaving the wash to the right, marked by a small sign that says, "5 Palms."
This is another less spectacular cluster of native palms growing the barren mudhills. A short hike to palms offers a beautiful badlands overview.
About 3.3 miles beyond 5 Palms you will enter Tule Wash, and this will take you to the Pumpkin Patch, at 33.22323, -116.06872.
After enjoying the unique geology of the Pumpkin Patch, you return the same way, or continue east in Tule Wash to Pole Line Road, then turn right and go south to Highway 78.
One recommended thing to have with you is a copy of "The Anza-Borrego Desert Region," available at the State Park Store in the Borrego Springs Mall or the park Visitor Center.
This is an excellent book with a detailed map to keep in your vehicle if you plan on exploring Anza-Borrego.
Included in the book are mile-by-mile route descriptions, interesting information on areas to visit and the detailed map to assist your travels.
You can reach the author at email@example.com.