As the largest park in California and the second largest in the continental United States, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a stone's throw from the U.S.-Mexican border, has a wide variety of spectacular scenery and options for visitors from the casual car-campers to those wishing to get into some serious backcountry. The 600,000-acre park has 150 miles of trails, which would allow you to walk from Detroit to Cleveland and halfway back again.
It also has 500 miles of roads, about the same as the distance from Denver, Colorado, to El Paso, Texas. It is a big, big, big park. Mostly to protect the wildlife; however, options for dogs are very limited at the park – for cats, too, if you get right down to it. Dogs are only allowed if they are on a leash with the maximum length of six feet and they are not allowed to be left unattended.
Further, dogs must be in the tent or camper at night, so they can't be tied outside of left in an outdoor pen or crate. Beyond all that, dogs are not permitted in cross country areas or hiking trails, so they are limited to the campgrounds and parking lots. While that sounds Draconian, this is an area the state wants to be treated with such care from an environmental point of view that even campfires are not allowed to touch the ground.
Campfires are only permitted if they are built in metal containers, so even the ground below them is not scorched by the heat or stained with soot. Fees for the park use are based on vehicles – $10 per vehicles Friday through Sunday and holidays if visiting the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center and $10 per day, every day, for those using the park's developed campgrounds.
Is it still worth a visit? By all means! This is an arid land of bighorn sheep and cactus, golden eagles, and jackrabbits. Look out for the red diamond rattlesnakes and gasp at the beauty of the majestic prairie falcons. There are greater roadrunners here, too, dashing away from the coyote, one can assume. The landscape ranges from scrubby, desert lands to one-of-a-kind rock formations that stretch as far as the eye can see.
But what you cannot see here is also fascinating. The park is well known for its fossil remains, so underfoot are the transmogrified bones of giant sloths, a North American elephant called the gomphothere and a North American relation to the camel. Also in the sand, the remains of the Aiolornis incredibilis, the largest ever North American bird that could attain flight with a wingspan of up to 16 feet and a beak you would want to avoid at all costs.