Elephant tree in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Elephant Tree Discovery Trail (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

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Valecito Mountains, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Dusk in the Valecito Mountains
View from the Elephant Tree Discovery Trail, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Looking northeast from the Elephant Trees Discovery Trail

Elephant Tree Discovery Trail (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

  • Location: South of Ocotillo Wells, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The road to the trail head is not recognized by Google Maps, but it is still easy to locate. From Scissors Crossing (the intersections with county route S2), take Highway 78 east for 22 miles. In Ocotillo Wells, look for Split Mountain Road. Follow it south for 6 miles to a signed turnoff for the Elephant Tree area, right before the Imperial County Line. Turn right and follow the unsigned dirt road (high clearance vehicles recommended but not necessary) for 0.9 miles to its ending. Trail head coordinates are N 33.0682, W116.1168. Using the address 7104 Split Mountain Road will get you close if you are using Google Maps.
  • Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: “Borrego Mountain SE”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 6

The elephant tree (Bursera microphylla) is a regular in the deserts of Baja California but uncommon north of the border. Like cacti, it stores water internally, allowing its survival in the harsh climate. There’s only one survivor on this route, but this short hike is still enjoyable for the other scenery it offers, including unobstructed mountain and desert views and a wide variety of plant life. This hike is particularly good late in the day, when the sun sets over the mountains.

Start of the Elephant Tree Discovery Trail, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, San Diego County, CA
0:00 – Start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From the parking area, follow the trail west into Alma Wash, with the Valecito Mountains looming in the distance. Plants alongside the trail include mesquite, ocotillo, barrel cacti and more. Numbered posts reference an interpretive brochure, although as of this writing, none were available at the trail head. At about half a mile you reach the west end of the loop. On the way back, you pass the large elephant tree (post #9), unmistakable with its convoluted limbs and tiny green leaves. The sap from the tree was considered to have healing powers and was often kept hidden by native shaman; too powerful to be kept in the open.

Elephant tree in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
0:20 – The elephant tree (times are approximate)

Shortly beyond post #10, the trail enters a wash and then exits at an unsigned junction. A makeshift arrow has been made out of stones, pointing to the right and post #11. Follow the trail a short distance back to the car, enjoying wide views to the east.

Elephant Tree Discovery Trail, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
0:25 – Arrow leading out of the wash before post #11

Text and photography copyright 2016 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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