A rarity in California deserts, the elephant tree is much admired by visitors to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Its surreal color scheme (was this tree designed by a committee?) of green foliage, red/tan twigs, yellow-green peeling parchment-like bark, white flowers and blue berries is something to behold. The stout trunk vaguely suggests an elephant, but lots of imagination is required.
You can see some elephant trees on this day hike by following the 1 1/2-mile nature trail and/or by trekking along an alluvial fan.
\o7 Birsera microphylla\f7 is more common in Baja California and in the Gila Range of Arizona, but about 500 elephant trees grow at this end of the Anza-Borrego park. (The elephant tree, along with all other park vegetation, is protected by state law.)
Elephant Trees Discovery Trail, besides examining this botanical oddity, also interprets various flora and geological features of this part of the Colorado Desert. An interpretive brochure, keyed to numbered posts along the trail, is available at the trailhead, from park rangers and (if you feel like taking a side trip) from the Visitors Center in Borrego Springs. Directions to trailhead: From Ocotillo Wells (located about 40 miles west of Brawley and 78 miles east of Escondido on California 78), turn south on Split Mountain Road and proceed 6 miles to the signed turnoff for the Elephant Trees Area. Follow a dirt road 1 mile to the trailhead.
The hike: Follow the nature trail to signpost No. 10, where you'll see the first elephant tree on the hike.
Experienced hikers who wish to see more elephant trees will leave the trail here and hike west up the broad alluvial fan. You'll encounter bits of trail, but the route is really cross-country. Keep the mountains on the western horizon in your sight. A mile's walk brings you to more elephant trees.
Return the way you came--back to the nature trail, which follows the numbered posts through a dry stream bed and loops back to the trailhead.
Elephant Trees Discovery Trail
\o7 1 1/2 miles round trip; 100-foot elevation gain\f7