Habitat Restoration in Anza-Borrego, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14451A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Camp in the California desert during wildflower season
  • Hike to palm oases and view desert wildlife
  • Participate in a rewarding restoration project with fellow Club members and in amazing surroundings


  • All meals and snacks
  • Group campsite at Borrego Palm Canyon Campground
  • Training and guidance from staff and park personnel


DatesFeb 23–Mar 2, 2014
StaffDidi Toaspern
Photo: Alaina Tonello

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (ABDSP) takes its name from the early Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza (whose 1775-76 overland route from Mexico to San Francisco Bay passed through what is now the park) and from the Spanish word for sheep (specifically the endangered peninsular bighorn whose habitat includes Anza-Borrego Desert State Park).

This spectacular desert park is the largest state park in California and the largest desert state park in the nation. The park is more than 1,000 square miles and includes about 456,000 acres of designated wilderness and 110 miles of trails.

Seen by biologists as one of "the planet’s biodiversity hotspots," the park supports a remarkable array of plant and animal life that is as varied as the physical terrain. We could see coyote, black-tailed jackrabbit, desert iguana, road runner, rock wren, and phainopepla -- and if we are extra lucky, the bighorn sheep. Along with the desert wildflowers and a variety of cacti, there will be towering ocotillo, smoke tree, and the endangered California fan palm. Though the stunning wildflower displays make it into all the publicity about Anza Borrego, they really only happen about every 10 years. Not to worry -- there will be amazing plants and many will be in bloom.

The Project

We will be manually removing an invasive annual plant known as Saharan mustard (Brassica tournefortii). Our goal will be to remove the mustard plants before they have had a chance to produce seeds.

Saharan mustard is native to the arid regions and deserts of North Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Europe. Botanists believe it was introduced to Southern California in the early part of the twentieth century, along with date palms that were imported for cultivation.

We will work with small hand tools designed to remove weeds without disturbing native vegetation. We may also use stirrup hoes (long-handled tool with an oval cutting edge). Detailed instruction in plant recognition and proper removal techniques will be provided by the park staff.


We will assemble at Borrego Palm Canyon Group Campsite in the late afternoon on Sunday, February 23. After orientation and introductions, we'll set up our base camp for the week. We will work four days in all, taking two days off to explore and/or relax. Hiking, birding, botanizing, photography, and stargazing are all free-time possibilities. The trip will conclude the morning of Sunday, March 2nd.



Getting There

The closest major airport to Anza-Borrego is San Diego International, which is just over a two-hour drive away. There are two good routes from San Diego, both on well-traveled interstates and/or state highways. An alternate airport is Palm Springs International, which is also two hours from the campground. Detailed directions to our meeting place will be provided by the trip leader, as well as roster information to facilitate ride sharing.

Accommodations and Food

We will be tent camping in Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, in a site designated for groups. The campground has bathrooms, running water, and showers.

Come with the attitude that food is part of the adventure. Trip menu planning considers that there will be no refrigeration other than coolers with ice and that food must be protected from animals. We provide healthy, nutritious, vegetarian-friendly meals, with occasional meat on the side.

We have a group commissary, with everyone taking turns in food preparation. Before applying for the trip, people with food allergies and/or strong food preferences must contact the cook to see if accommodations are possible.

Our first meal will be dinner on day one and our last meal will be lunch on the final day.

Trip Difficulty

This trip will be moderately strenuous. Though average daytime temperatures are in the mid to high 70s, you will be working out in the sun. This could add to the trip difficulty for those not accustomed to working in warmer weather. One of our worksites is accessed by a rocky, uneven trail that includes a bit of boulder scrambling. Our off-day activities will involve hiking and you will want to be in good shape for maximum enjoyment. You will need boots while we are working on the project -- they are recommended for hiking, as well.

Our work will be removal of the mustard plants using light-duty hand tools. Health and safety is a very high priority, and you are the best judge of your abilities. We'll each work at our own pace.

Equipment and Clothing

The State Park will provide the tools for the work project. In addition to your regular camping gear, come prepared to work with sturdy boots, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and leather work gloves.  Because of the warm weather, you will want lightweight and light-colored clothing. You will need a day pack to carry your lunch, water, raingear, sunscreen, etc.

We will provide food and the necessary equipment for cooking it. You will need personal eating utensils, such as bowl, cup, and spoon. A plastic food container with a tight-fitting lid is necessary for carrying your lunch to the work site each day.

We will also provide a first-aid kit for emergencies, but you should bring any personal medications you require. Please do not forget that all participants must have a current tetanus shot within the past 10 years. This injection is most commonly available from your doctor or at your local public health department for a modest cost.

A full list of needed equipment will be sent to you after you've been accepted onto the trip. If you have questions, please contact the trip leader.


  • Hogue, Lawrence, All the Wild and Lonely Places: Journeys In A Desert Landscape. Island Press.
  • Lindsay, Lowell & Diana, The Anza-Borrego Desert Region: A Guide to the State Park and Adjacent Areas of the Western Colorado Desert. Wilderness Press (includes separate map).
  • Munz, Philip A., Introduction to California Desert Wildflowers. University of California Press.
  • Lindsay, Diana, Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things. Sunbelt Publications.
  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Website: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638


While there is concern that the spread of Saharan mustard will greatly reduce the wildflower displays in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, what is at stake is of much greater significance. As with any extremely invasive plant species, the health and diversity of an entire ecosystem can be threatened. We will be working on this very important restoration project while learning about other conservation issues being addressed in the park.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Didi Toaspern is very excited to once again lead our service trip to Anza-Borrego. She has been leading service trips since 1986. Many have been in her home state of California, but she has also led or cooked on trips in Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Montana, Washington and Wyoming. For her, service trips are a magical combination of challenge, friendship, exertion, and fun.


Charlie Reimann has been leading and cooking Sierra Club Service Trips for more then 20 years. He has also led Sierra Club international trips in Central America. Some of Charlie’s Service Trips have been on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Catalina Island (CA), and Grand Gulch (SE Utah). Charlie lives in Pasadena and is recently retired from housing maintenance at Caltech. He and his partner Wendy travel extensively when she can get away from work. Lately they have been to Paris, New York, Barcelona and the Basque Country, and have just returned from a visit to Key West and the Everglades.

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