Bighorn Sheep Watching
Anza Borrego Desert State Park
By Ranger Jeri Zemon
In 1933, Anza-Borrego was set aside as a state park, in part to preserve the habitat of the Peninsular bighorn sheep. Since then, their numbers have decreased, and spotting a bighorn has become a rare experience in California. We are fortunate that it is still possible to see a bighorn sheep in the wild during a visit to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Spotting bighorn sheep is difficult because they blend in so well with their backgrounds. Sometimes they will sit in one place for hours without moving, making themselves almost invisible. It takes a combination of patience, timing, and luck to find these elusive mammals. Here are some suggestions of places where you might look for bighorn sheep in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Montezuma Valley Road (S-22) and Yaqui Pass Road (S-3) both wind through mountainous habitat on the western edge of the park. Bighorn sheep spend much of their time browsing along these rocky slopes and canyons, often within sight of passing cars. Be sure to look on the uphill side of Highway S-22 between mile markers 11 and 13. During the hot summer season, bighorn sheep stay nearer their watering holes, which are located below the road. Park at the overlook on S-22, and use your binoculars to scan the hills and canyons below the overlook. If a sheep is moving, the first thing you'll notice is a black tail against a white rump.
The summit of Yaqui Pass Road is another good place to look for bighorn sheep. This is a "lambing area." During the winter and spring seasons, groups of ewes, yearling and lambs are occasionally seen here. Park at the Bill Kenyon Trailhead to look for the females and their offspring among the granitic boulders During lambing season, please do not attempt to approach the sheep for a closer look.
Another vantage point for sheep viewing is the entrance to Tamarisk Grove Campground. Using binoculars or a spotting scope, you can scan Pinyon Ridge for sheep. Sometimes you can see their silhouettes against the skyline. From the campground, visitors have leisurely watched sheep browsing on cactus, agave and jojoba shrubs some distance away. If you'd prefer a closeup view, however, there is one more place you'll have to visit.
Perhaps the best place in the park to see bighorn sheep is along the Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail. Sometimes sheep are seen within 15 feet of the trail. Although these sheep seem to be accustomed to people, please do not disturb them. They are wild, and it is important that they are able to reach their water and food sources without interference.
We hope you will get a glimpse of the Peninsular bighorn sheep when you visit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. You will be enthralled to watch them roam in a such a forbidding habitat. And yet, this rare mammal lives within a two-hour drive from San Diego. Indeed it is fortunate that preservationists set aside this remote desert area as a California state park over 65 years ago.
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