This popular SoCal hiking spot is bursting with wildflowers — and bighorn sheep

Don't hold off until summer: March and April are two of the best months for weekend road trips because the wildflowers begin to grow after the winter rain and wildlife can be more active with the abundant greenery and flowing water.

I'm glad I didn't wait. I'm a photographer and longtime nature enthusiast and one of my favorite routes starts on the 15 Freeway past Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore (no California poppy sightings yet), through Temecula (where I can photograph hot air balloons) and all the way into Borrego Springs.

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While in the area, I like to hike the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail at Anza Borrego Desert State Park because of the flowing creek and the possibility of seeing the majestic Peninsular bighorn sheep and birds such as verdin, phainopepla and roadrunners.

After visiting the area in late February and striking out on both wildflowers and bighorn sheep, I decided to make the trip again this past week.

A pair of bighorn sheep in the wild, with tourists stopping to take pictures behind them.
Visitors on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail got a rare sight when Peninsular bighorn sheep walked down from the mountain to eat the growing vegetation and drink water from the fountain near the parking lot. (Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times )
White Dune evening primrose bloom in California.
Wildflowers like the white Dune evening primrose can be seen on Henderson Canyon Road east of Borrego Valley Road. (Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times)

I live in Whittier, and the three-hour trip began before sunrise — I wanted to pass my favorite spots amid the morning glow. Walker Canyon was a bust for wildflowers, so my first stop was Temecula. After photographing some hot-air balloons, I continued my drive along two-lane roads toward Borrego Springs. I stopped to take a short break at Warner Springs and watched the gliders take off and land at the gliderport.

My next stop was the flower fields on Henderson Canyon Road in Borrego Springs. Dozens of people were out among the flowers, enjoying themselves and taking photos. Some were sitting in the shade near their motor homes while others were lounging in camping chairs in the fields. The desert sunflowers, purple sand verbena and white dune evening primrose were spectacular.

From there, I decided against stopping for lunch and headed straight to the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail to take my chances at seeing some bighorn sheep. Some notes about hiking in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Don't pick the flowers, stay on the trails and don't bring your dog on the trails or to wilderness areas. Also, parking is $10 a day.

At the entrance to the park, I asked the attendant if anyone had reported seeing the wild rams and ewes. They told me no one had. I almost turned around but opted to continue on because it was still early in the afternoon. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a California Park officer looking toward the trail. In the distance, I saw hikers looking the same way.

I found this to be odd and wondered what was going on. Then, as I drove into a parking spot, I noticed the holy grail of Anza Borrego wildlife: a large flock of the horned animals were just feet away from the trail. My day was suddenly complete. To find these majestic wild sheep, I didn't even have to make the hike.

I was able to photograph the animals as they munched on the abundant green brush and drank water from a fountain at the start of the trail. They made their way through the area as people kept their distance and the officer looked on.

Once the animals headed back up the mountain, I felt relieved and satisfied that my stars had aligned and I began my journey back home. My day trip was for the ages and well worth it. My next stops: the Antelope Valley poppy fields, the Tehachapi Mountains to search for California condors and Arvin Cross to look for more wildflowers. For my mental health, I welcome all of it.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.