The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1973, Volume 19, Number 4
Cover: Morning on the Bay by Alfred Mitchell

By Diana Lindsay

More than four decades ago a group of farsighted people realized that accessible scenic land in California was rapidly being appropriated. They had seen threats to the Yosemite Valley and the redwoods, and had witnessed the destruction of Hetch-Hetchy Valley by the building of a dam to provide another source of water for San Francisco. They realized that California’s remaining open areas, mountain, coast, and deserts were being threatened. Founders of the California state park system believed the state had a duty to preserve several desert areas for future generations. The Anza-Borrego Desert was selected as being representative of the typical wild and beautiful California deserts because it was believed that certain natural and historical features made it particularly valuable as a park site. In 1932 several prominent San Diegans donated both land and money to help make the park a reality.

They hoped to extend the proposed park to a million acres, stretching from the Mexican border north to Mount San Jacinto and from the Salton Sea west to the Laguna Mountains. There also were those who had a more utilitarian outlook. Proponents of the park extension met unexpected opposition from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, who were concerned with the future economic development of the county. The Supervisors believed the lands within the proposed park extension could be put to better use than “maintaining it as a desert waste.” A three-year struggle ensued, the result of which was the formation of a smaller park, although it is the largest state park in the nation.1

The present Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the product of the struggle to preserve open space as well as the result of an enlightened view of the needs of the future. Nowhere can such a large and beautiful desert park be found so close to population centers and so easily accessible to the public. In the 1970s, with growing urban problems and concern about greater control and manipulation of the earth’s surface, interest in ecology and environmental preservation has increased. As the founders of the California park system looked to the past for insight into the future needs of the people of California, so today’s conservationists must look to the past to better understand the challenge of the present.

Borrego Palm Canyon In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress ceding Yosemite Valley to the state of California, setting it aside as the first public preserve which was designated as a national park. This marked the beginning of a burgeoning movement for the preservation of unique wilderness and scenic areas in the United States, arising as a reaction to and a consequence of almost two centuries of land exploitation. As scenic areas throughout California and the nation became increasingly threatened with destruction or development, conservation organizations began to be established. In 1892 the Sierra Club was created and in 1918 the Save-the-Redwoods League was formed, both in California. The purpose of these early conservation groups was to protect and preserve scenic resources and to secure some of these areas for the state.

By 1923 almost 6,000 acres of land had been conveyed to the state by such organizations, however no provisions had been made for the administration and care of the land. John C. Merriam. president of the Save-the-Redwoods League, appointed a committee to study and recommend the agency they believed best qualified to receive custody of the land and assume the responsibility of managing the parks. In the fall of 1924 the committee reported that in its opinion the state was the best agency to provide administrative machinery. They further recommended that the California legislature create a state park commission to administer the parks and furnish funds to pay the cost of a comprehensive state-wide survey of scenic and recreational resources that would form the nucleus of a state park system.

In 1926 the Save-the-Redwoods League was enlarged to include representatives of all conservation organizations in the state and was given the title of California’s State Parks Council. The following year the council submitted two recommendations to the State Legislature and called for a state park bond issue of $6,000,000. The funds would be used to obtain additional park lands upon receipt of matching private funds. The three proposals passed almost unanimously, and on May 25, 1927, Governor Clement C. Young signed the bills, establishing the first state park system in the nation.2

Governor Young selected five leading conservationists as members of the initial State Park Commission which met for the first time on December 13, 1927. At that meeting the nationally recognized landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., was selected as director of the state park survey, and instructed to submit recommendations for a park system to the governor and legislature by December 31, 1928. Olmsted was already well known in the San Diego area because he and his brother, John, had drawn some of the preliminary sketches for the 1915 exposition grounds in Balboa Park, although Olmsted’s idea that buildings were an unnatural intrusion upon parks led to his withdrawal from the project.

Also at the first commission meeting, Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, a commission member who would later serve four years as President Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of the Interior, advocated setting aside a desert region in the southern section of the state which would protect some of the rapidly disappearing desert flora and fauna.3

The day the meeting took place Clinton G. Abbott, director of the San Diego Natural History Museum, wrote to W. B. Rider, acting chief of the California Forestry Service, urging him to set aside immediately the Borrego Palm Canyon and Thousand Palms Canyon areas, now known as Salvador Canyon located west of Coyote Canyon, because of their easy accessibility and the possibility that vandals might destroy them.

Abbott and Guy L. Fleming, both Fellows of the San Diego Society of Natural History, had made a reconnaissance of the Borrego Valley and surrounding areas, only two months before, after it had been recommended to the Fellows as a possible park site by Dr. Walter T. Swingle, the date palm expert who supervised the planting of the original date palms on the Ensign Ranch in Borrego Valley. Abbott and Fleming were so enthused with what they saw that they persuaded members of the society to vote unanimous approval of the desert park concept. The San Diego Chamber of Commerce Conservation Committee and the San Diego Community Service and Citizens Committee also announced their endorsement of a Borrego Park.

In March, 1928, Fleming, representing the Society of Natural History and the Chamber of Commerce, went to San Francisco, where he urged the newly formed State Park Commission to include Borrego Desert in their selections. A month later, the commission asked him to assist in the selection by working as a volunteer in the San Diego and Imperial County areas. Fleming accepted the assignment and filed a report on the possibility of a Borrego Park. He suggested a park which would enclose 120,00 acres with a possible 184,000-acre extension east to the Salton Sea and north to the San Jacinto State Park project. The name Borrego Palms Desert Park was officially assigned to the project. From the information submitted, Survey Director Olmsted made his recommendations.4

The real boost to the Borrego project came as a result of Olmsted’s survey, submitted on December 31, 1928. Olmsted fully sanctioned the idea of a desert sanctuary:

Certain desert areas have a distinctive and subtle charm, in part dependent on spaciousness, solitude, and escape from the evidence of human control and manipulation of the earth, a charm of constantly growing value as the rest of the earth becomes more completely dominated by man’s activities. This quality is a very vulnerable one …. Nowhere else are casual thoughtless human changes in the landscape so irreparable, and nowhere else is it so important to control and completely protect wide areas.

Olmsted recommended that the Borrego Palm Canyon, including the palm canyons and desert mountain escarpments descending into Borrego Valley and the desert area of San Felipe Valley, be associated with and preferably connected to the Santa Rosa Mountains and Salton Sea region.5

Despite Olmsted’s recommendation, it took four years, until November 17, 1932, to obtain the first parcel of park land and another sixteen years to attain the basic boundaries of today. Speculative investment, confused land titles, multiple ownership of land, problems in surveying the region, indecision on the part of the park commission, lack of funds, and finally unexpected opposition all combined to cause and magnify the delay. In the ensuing years commercial and investment interests continued to grow, making it even more difficult to acquire suitable park lands.

The Olmsted survey, rather than encouraging preservation of the area until the state could take over its management, served to encourage speculative land investment. In addition, the publication in 1930 of Herbert E. Bolton’s translation of the diaries of Anza’s California expedition, also focused attention on the area.

Advertisements claiming the proposed park site would rival Palm Springs led some people to invest in the area. Speculators who bought land in nearly inaccessible places included F. Hechinger of Los Angeles, who purchased 172 ½ acres at the back of Borrego Palm Canyon in October, 1927. This land was accessible only by strenuously scrambling up the boulder strewn canyon. In June, 1930, Dana Brooks, a Los Angeles and Palm Springs investor, purchased 13,500 acres in Borrego Valley and in the surrounding highlands. During the 1930s many sections of private land were sold and transferred, some plots being as small as two and one-half acres. Township Nine South, Range Five East, enclosing Collins Valley and Coyote Creek, best exemplified part of the problem that existed. There were more than 125 individually owned parcels of land in that one area. Such investments were the cause of great concern among those who were working toward the park’s creation. Tam Deering, Executive Secretary of the State-County Parks and Beaches Association, wrote:

what I fear most is the danger of individuals getting ahold [sic] of strategic areas and then forcing us to buy them out at prohibitive prices as has been done elsewhere.6

Confusion concerning existing land titles presented another complication. Many persons were listed as owners of the same parcels of land. When John Forward of the Union Title Insurance Company volunteered his services in helping to clarify the titles, he discovered that what he thought would be an easy job turned out to be a real puzzle. In addition to the question of legal owners of property, there was the problem of squatters. Part of the fault of overlapping ownership was the result of an inaccurate government survey in 1854. Section corners could not be located, making it difficult to plan park boundaries. Acquisition of the first park unit, the Borrego Mesa, was delayed because the attorney general’s office objected to the “indefiniteness” of the land’s legal description. To help straighten out the confusion, the park commission in 1933 obtained the services of surveyor John L. Warboys to establish section corners and determine ownership.7

Problems in selecting areas desirable for a park were compounded by the difficulties of desert travel. Rough dirt roads, automobiles prone to overheating and breakdown, lack of communication, no overnight accommodations, no service stations and little knowledge of the area all added to the delay in gathering information and acquiring lands. Not until March, 1932, did the park commission have sufficient information to announce an acquisition program. Listed in order of priority were five units: San Felipe or Palm Mesa, Borrego Palm Canyon, Borrego Mesa, Collins Valley, and Montezuma Valley. However, private groups already had taken the initiative and were acquiring parcels of land for a state park when the commission announced its acquisition program. Private interests had obtained lands on faith only, since the commission had not made arrangements for acquisition until its March meeting.8

The State-County Parks and Beaches Association did more than any other private group to help create a desert park. It represented those who owned or purchased lands in Borrego and were interested in either selling or donating land to the state. They spent thousands of dollars which helped to carry the 1928 state park bond issue in San Diego County, aroused public interest and support for a desert park, surveyed and negotiated for the purchase of private land and helped to secure passage of bills withdrawing government land in the Borrego Valley area.

Although it was intended that the association operate with the guidance of commission representatives, the park commission at times found its work exasperating. Land owners often preferred to negotiate with the association rather than directly with the state. The association assessed land at a higher value than government surveys indicated and also made arrangements with land owners without first consulting state authorities. One such promise involved the exchange of valuable valley land for inaccessible mountainous land in equal amounts of acreage.9

Yet it was the association that actively began the acquisition program. In 1931, Harry S. Woods and Charles and Henry Fearney, land owners in the Borrego Valley, offered to deed some of their land to the association. George W. Marston, prominent San Diegan and honorary president of the association, who was asked to act as agent, urged the purchase of land located at the entrance of Borrego Palm Canyon. His purchase of 2,320 acres secured the ultimate acquisition of the entire canyon. Later Marston purchased 5,500 acres, chiefly in the Collins Valley area, and held them in trust for the state.

In August, 1931, Tam Deering, executive secretary of the association, wrote to Ellen Scripps of the Scripps newspaper family and a resident of La Jolla, urging her to purchase land in the Borrego project adjacent to those purchased by Marston. Miss Scripps donated $2,500 which was eventually matched with park bond funds for the acquisition of property along the old Julian-Kane Springs Road.10

In spite of these and other private donations funding continued to be a major problem. The total amount allotted for the acquisition of all private land in the Borrego Palms Desert Park amounted to $18,000 from the bond funds. That sum, matched by private donations of land and money, made $36,000 available for all land purchases. People who were out to make a profit by holding back their lands for a better price made the funding problem critical. Although federal lands were freely transferred to the state, filing fees still had to be paid. The effects of the Depression probably led to the November, 1930, defeat of a San Diego County bond issue to donate funds to assist the state in acquiring park lands located in the county. This added to the sad financial plight.11

Unable to buy all of the proposed park land, the commission stressed procurement of key holdings, including Fearney’s Well at the entrance to Borrego Palm Canyon and the Beaty Ranch at the entrance to Collins Valley. Due to limited funds, the size of the projected park was reduced to 83,840 acres from the 200,000 originally recommended by Fleming and Olmsted. The financial difficulties persisted through the following years, and finally in 1946, Borrego Valley land developer A. A. Burnand, Jr., purchased many of the remaining sections of land previously held by homesteaders.12

On November 17, 1932, the first private land, a 2,732 acre parcel within the Borrego Mesa unit was deeded to the state. The land was a gift from Louis T. and Lorraine Busch. With the procurement of this property, Borrego Palms Desert State Park became a reality. Land within Borrego Palm Canyon was deeded on January 20, 1933. Marston land in Collins Valley became part of the park a year later, and other private land was obtained in the following years, although commercial and investment interests continued to grow, making it even more difficult to acquire suitable land. It took another sixteen years to attain the basic boundaries of the park.13

After the State Park Commission announced the general boundaries of Borrego Palms Desert State Park and organized an acquisition program, it proposed a bill calling for the transfer of government lands not used for public purposes to the state of California for park use. Representative Phil D. Swing introduced the bill to the United States Congress in February, 1933. Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur, a former state park commissioner, gave his full endorsement of the bill, stating that the “State of California has sensed its responsibility in preserving this unique area which cannot be duplicated elsewhere.”14

Guy L. Fleming at Elephant Tree, North Canyon, Mt. Palm Springs The only stipulation placed upon transferring federal land was that the state provide satisfactory proof that the land selected contain characteristic desert growth and scenic or other natural features which would be desirable to preserve as a part of a park system. The Swing bill was amended before passage to provide for the reversion of federal lands to the United States if not used for park purposes within a five-year period. The bill passed on March 3, 1933, making 185,034.36 acres of unappropriated federal land available to the State of California. The land was located north of the old Julian-Kane Springs Road and below the Riverside County line, extending from the Salton Sea west to Montezuma Valley and the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation.15

Palm Canyon After the passage of the Swing bill, the park commission contracted L. Deming Tilton, landscape architect and planning expert for San Diego County, to make a study of the area and the park units in the acquisition program. His report excited even the most pessimistic observers. He believed the program followed by Fleming was too restricted. He called for boundaries to encompass at least 200,000 acres, a plan similar to that originally recommended by Fleming and Olmsted in 1928. He based his evaluation of the area on scenic value, not on land value, and insisted that it was necessary for the park to embrace practically all land of minimal agricultural or commercial value in order to prevent exploitation which could destroy the natural beauty of the area. His ultimate boundary lines would necessitate the procurement of private holdings. Tilton requested quick action in obtaining the land because delay had already foiled plans for an ideal park by allowing some development to occur in Borrego Valley in 1933. He reasserted the worth of the area as a park site:


it is accessible and convenient. It is largely unspoiled, although considerable clearing and destruction of typical desert vegetation have already taken place. It has high scenic and historic value. It contains excellent groves of palms in its rocky canyons, forests of ocotillo and ironwood and masses of other interesting desert plants. It is, moreover, still in large part government or state land and is not yet afflicted with the promotional scale of land values found around Palm Springs and elsewhere.16

The State Park Commission and the State-County Parks and Beaches Association endorsed Tilton’s report. The association urged the commission to complete its selection and patenting of federal lands within the recommended area before complications could arise. Also supporting the Tilton report and urging still further expansion of park plans were Robert Hays, secretary-manager of the El Centro Chamber of Commerce, George S. Krueger, secretary-manager of the Brawley Chamber of Commerce, and R. B. Whitelaw, conservation committee chairman of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Imperial Valley.

The chambers of commerce had their own reasons for supporting a park. Imperial County communities recognized the potential benefit in being a gateway to a great state park. As early as April, 1929, the county had urged that the Olmsted survey include the Carrizo and Vallecito valleys in the proposed park boundaries. Again, in June, 1933, Imperial County renewed its request with better results. In July, 1933, Fleming, now Southern District Superintendent of California State Parks, was instructed by the State Park Commission to make a preliminary study of the area’s possible inclusion. His report was favorable, and in 1934 the State Park Commission, through the efforts of Representative George Burnham, drew up a bill calling for the transfer of government lands in the Carrizo and Vallecito areas to the State of California.17

The Burnham bills, approved on June 29, 1936, made available an additional 365,389.54 acres of federal lands for park purposes. These bills carried the same stipulations as the Swing bill, but in addition, amended the Swing bill to provide for the exchange of federal lands for private lands in order to consolidate state park holdings and to secure strategic, privately owned areas within park boundaries.18

While Congress considered these bills, hopes mounted for a million-acre park. The El Centro Chamber of Commerce advertised the area as a park that would ultimately embrace nearly a million acres. Superintendent Fleming said it would be the largest park in the world. In collaboration with Fleming, P. T. Primm, associate landscape architect for the National Park Service, called for the inclusion of all lands in the Burnham bills in addition to all of the Salton Sea area and many acres of adjacent lands to round out the park boundaries. Both men saw the possibility of national park status:

There are real possibilities here for developing a great National Park. Borrego Desert State Park, Cuyamaca State Park and San Jacinto State Park might all be tied together by further acquisitions of desert and forest lands to make a year round playground of this magnificent area. Over a million acres could well be included herein and portions of three counties would be required to properly complete the picture.19

As park boundaries expanded, the name Borrego Palms Desert State Park seemed inadequate. Robert Hays, of the El Centro Chamber of Commerce, suggested Anza as a more fitting name. Part of Juan Bautista de Anza’s route to California crossed the Imperial Valley area then being considered. On March 15, 1938, the State Park Commission approved the renaming of the area as Anza Desert State Park. The name was more fitting to the total area, and also reflected some of its rich early history. In addition, the Commission divided the park into four distinct units: Borrego Desert, Vallecito Desert, Carrizo Desert, and Salton Sea Desert.20

On July 1, 1938, the State Park Commission made its first selection of 155,947.03 acres in the Carrizo and Vallecito units from government land and paid the filing fees on them. However, what appeared to be the last stage of an arduous acquisition program suddenly came to a tumultuous but temporary halt. Park enthusiasts had become so optimistic in their dreams of a million-acre state park that would be unequalled in its scope and grandeur that they did not recognize the dangers of a growing opposition that had existed to a small degree from the beginning of the project.21

One-fifth of the San Diego County electorate had opposed the park bond issue in the 1928 elections. Stronger opposition in the 1930 election managed to defeat a bond to help finance the creation of parks within the county. In addition, the concept of a park that would encompass the Borrego Valley area appeared menacing for the developing agricultural interests. However, the opposition did not become vocal until it found its voice in San Diego County Supervisor Walter Bellon.

The intensity of the opposition came as a shock to the Park Commission, which had believed that both San Diego and Imperial counties strongly favored the project. Perhaps an even greater surprise was the opposition of Bellon and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Bellon was supervisor for the First District in San Diego County, an area bordering the city of San Diego. Supervisors William T. Hart and T. Leroy Richards represented the Vallecito and Carrizo areas, Hart, a former state park commissioner and past president of the State-County Parks and Beaches Association, had supported the park extension. Richards also had declared his support for park extension before Bellon began his attack. Richards told Superintendent Fleming that the protests of the Board of Supervisors were only “political sop to satisfy certain disgruntled groups.”22

The Board of Supervisors claimed that they first became disturbed when they noticed that the lands selected in the Carrizo and Vallecito units followed the old Butterfield stage route. They suspected that the State Park Commission was being duped by interests seeking a “cannonball” highway between Imperial Valley and Los Angeles, which would bypass San Diego. They appealed to the California Division of State Parks and to the local federal land office. A letter of September 21, 1938, to the California Division of State Parks was explicit: (1) the supervisors protested the “promiscuous selection” of potential agricultural lands while omitting much unreclaimable desert lands; (2) according to the Act of June 29, 1936, the commission needed proof that the lands contained characteristic desert growth but had not furnished the required proof; (3) much of the land selected was amenable to grazing; (4) the commission had failed to notice the location of existing mining claims when it made its selection; (5) the areas selected contained valuable agricultural land if water could be brought to them; and (6) the State Park Commission had defeated the purpose of the Congressional Act of June 1, 1938, authorizing the secretary of the interior to sell five-acre plots of public land for homesites, camp, cabin, recreational, or business purposes.22

Interpreting the actions of the commissioners as a “land grab” for an inflated park plan, opponents charged that the park would be a playground for Los Angeles and Imperial Valley at the expense of San Diego County. In 1938, forty-.eight per cent of the area of San Diego County was already untaxable as national forest, Indian reservation, city and county park, or military land. With six state parks already in the county, it was feared that the creation of more park lands would increase the tax burden of citizens. In the eyes of the Supervisors, the eastern half of the county was being changed into a state park system of aesthetic and recreational value, but the removal of taxable lands threatened the future development of San Diego County itself. Supervisor Bellon best expressed this fear:


To place one-half of our county in a park system means the end of our future competition as a shipping port and our commercial advantage will be removed forever. The question of a great metropolitan city on the shores of our beautiful bay will be limited and our political powers as a political subdivision can no longer expand beyond its present limits…. WE COULD LOSE ALL BECAUSE OF A PARK.24

In May, 1939, Bellon went to Sacramento and personally pleaded his case before Governor Culbert L. Olson and members of the California legislature. A number of organizations in the San Diego area joined the battle and protested the park extension. A report prepared by Bellon listed forty-seven organizations, primarily agricultural and business groups, which filed protests with the State Park Commission. Although eight chambers of commerce in the county filed protests, the San Diego Chamber of Commerce continued to support the park extension.25

This sudden and vehement opposition caused a three year delay of the park extension while the charges were being investigated. Officials waited to see if any of the complaints were valid, and if any land should be excluded because of a higher value brought about by economic use. Bellon suggested that the state delay further issuance of patents for one year, pending study by a group of experts. The Commission agreed and set the period of study from June 2, 1939, to June 2, 1940, to be followed by a hearing.

According to Congressional Acts of June 29, 1936, the state had five years, until June 29, 1941, in which to select lands for park use before the land would again revert to federal control. Opposition and delay coming at this time were critical to the park’s future. However, the Commission did not initiate a campaign to express its objectives in desiring the Vallecito and Carrizo areas or to counter the misunderstanding and general distrust of park objectives fostered by Bellon’s supporters.26

The Department of the Interior was the first governmental agency to counter some of the charges. The San Diego County Bureau of Mines and the Board of Supervisors had filed protests with the General Land Office against all selections made in the Vallecito and Carrizo units by the State Park Commission. The reasons cited were the same the Supervisors sent to the Division of State Parks. Fred W. Johnson, United States Land Commissioner, dismissed all of the charges:


In the opinion of this office, if the predominant characteristic of a legal subdivision in the area described in the act of June 29, 1936, is its desert growth, scenic or other natural features, the legal subdivision is subject to selection by the State and this office cannot refuse approval of the selection solely because the tract might be made susceptible to irrigation, might be sold under the five-acre act or might be put to a so-called higher use than inclusion in a State park …. The State has furnished the required proof as to the character of the lands ….27

Unsatisfied with the opinion, Bellon’s forces claimed the area did not contain characteristic desert growth and could not be selected under the provisions of the Acts of June 29, 1936. In January, 1940, at Bellon’s request, the Board of Supervisors retained Dr. Philip Munz, professor of botany at Pomona College and an authority on desert flora, to make a botanical survey of lands selected in the Vallecito and Carrizo units. The results of Munz’ survey were silenced by the Board of Supervisors. In his report, Munz averred that his most outstanding impression of the Mason-Vallecito-Carrizo area was that “botanically it is one of the richest desert valleys I have ever seen.”27

Borrego in Bloom 1935 The argument that the lands selected would adversely affect the tax structure of San Diego County also was found to be exaggerated. The average assessed valuation of lands in Carrizo and Vallecito valleys in 1939 and 1940 was from forty to eighty-five cents per acre. Most of the private land which was homesteaded in the early 1900s was tax delinquent. The 1940 census lists only three families in the whole area: Robert Crawford, the county custodian of Vallecito Stage Station; Marshall South, an author and conservationist who urged the park to take over the lands; and Everett Campbell, the only man in the area with any land under cultivation. In a letter to the editor of The San Diego Union, Campbell wrote that he found no objection to the selection of land, nor did he see it as potential agricultural land. The park selections, he said, “do not border on any land of agricultural value.” People owning land in the area purchased it as an investment and did not live there. Furthermore, bringing water to the area, as some opponents suggested, was impractical. Since the lands were largely undeveloped and did not contribute significantly to the tax program, it required considerable imagination to argue that the economic future of San Diego County depended on it. The county had paid little attention to the area until park enthusiasts became interested in it.29

It was true that Imperial County hoped for a road into the park. As early as 1933 the Imperial Valley chambers of commerce mentioned the desire for this and even offered manpower for the construction of the roads required for the proper development of the park. From the very beginning of this project they pictured the Imperial Valley as the “gateway” to the park.30

Although they persisted in their claims, the Board of Supervisors failed to prove that any of the lands selected by the state were of agricultural or mineral value. Rich gypsum deposits in the Fish Creek Mountains were already owned by United States Gypsum Company, and according to the Acts of June 29, 1936, the federal government retained mining rights in the land transfer. Any mining done in the park would remain under the jurisdiction of the federal government, not the State Park Commission. This has continued to the present, making Anza-Borrego the only state park in California open to prospecting.31

During the period of opposition the park retained its enthusiastic supporters. There still were hopes that the tide would turn and a great desert park would evolve. The Riverside Chamber of Commerce continued to push for the extension of the San Jacinto State Park boundary southward to connect with Anza Desert State Park. In 1940 the city of Riverside began sponsoring an annual Anza celebration to draw attention to the area. Imperial Valley formed the Anza Memorial Conservation Association which had as its purpose the protection and preservation of naturally scenic and historic areas. It also solicited funds to assist the state in paying filing fees for park land.32

After a year of delay while arguments were presented, the State Park Commission held its hearing on August 16, 1940. The evidence submitted was insufficient to change the original consensus of the commission and as a result the Board of Supervisors employed two additional devices to cause further delays. The board hoped its opposition would put enough pressure on the commission to cause it to fail to file for any more land by the June 29, 1941, deadline. The first attempt to force a delay came in January, 1941, when the board, through State Senator Ed Fletcher introduced a bill to the California legislature to provide that no government land be given to the state for park purposes without the approval of the State Legislature. The bill was defeated in April, 1941. The board then requested hearings before the United States Land Office, which were held June 3 and 4, 1941, and represented the Supervisors’ last attempt to cause a delay. It resulted in a stalemate. Land Commissioner John B. Bennett, presiding at the hearings, suggested that a compromise would be the best solution since neither side was satisfied with the evidence.33

The State Park Commission accepted neither the validity of the Supervisors’ arguments nor the idea of returning the federal lands. However, the commission had planned to pacify the opposition by returning some of the selected land even before the compromise was suggested by the United States Land Office. Prior to the hearing the commission had discussed its compromise plan, in order to assure patent of desired federal land before the June 29 deadline.

According to the compromise worked out by the commission, patent would be taken on land on which filing fees were paid, but 46,000 acres considered valuable for either agriculture or mining would be used for exchange purposes. Application would also be made for an additional 130,000 acres of unappropriated lands.

On September 3, 1941, Fleming and Park Commissioner Matthew M. Gleason met with San Diego County representatives Victor C. Winnek and Lilas B. Osborn to work out the details of a compromise acceptable to both parties. Certain land deemed either agriculturally or minerally important by the county representatives were deleted from patent, and the protest filed with the Federal Land Office by the board was withdrawn. In addition, cattlemen were permitted to use the area for grazing under concessionary agreement.34

The immediate effects of the opposition to park extension and the resulting compromise were some major alterations to the park boundaries and years of delay to the acquisition program. Sections of land cited as agriculturally or minerally important were excluded in park selections, creating an irregular park boundary and allowing pockets of private ownership. The most significant compromise involved the loss of Borrego Valley. Because of the protests, the State Park Commission had encouraged the passage of a bill in 1939 allowing patented lands with agricultural potential in the floor of Borrego Valley to be used for exchange purposes. The act allowed the later development of Borrego Springs, an agricultural-resort community in the heart of the park. At the time of the act, Borrego Valley was almost entirely undeveloped, “containing sand dunes and large expanses where periodically floral displays of unbelievable beauty commanded nationwide interest.” Furthermore, plans for a million-acre park never survived the protests.35

With the placation of opposing interests, the State Park Commission was able to dedicate the park and to continue its acquisition program. In December, 1941, Anza Desert State Park was dedicated to the memory of Anza and to all other explorers and pioneers of the desert region. At the dedication, representatives of the California State Park System pledged to preserve the park in its natural state so future generations might enjoy its intrinsic qualities. Even though the newly dedicated Anza State Park was assured of selected federal lands, the state did not receive full patent to these lands until May, 1948. With the patenting of these lands and with land exchanges made with private landholders in order to consolidate park land holdings, the basic park boundaries which exist today were established. Later years would see the addition of acreage from other private holdings, the introduction of planned management, and the long-range effects of the compromised acquisition program.36




1. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., Report of State Park Survey of California (Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1929), pp. 51 – 52; and San Diego Union, October 12, 1938, p. B1.

2. California, Department of Natural Resources, Division of Beaches and Parks, “Chronology of State Park Movement in California in Relation to the Save-the-Redwoods League (Digest from Minutes of the Save-the-Redwoods League),” University of California, Berkeley, Bancroft Library, Newton B. Drury papers; “The California State Park Program,’ ibid.; and California, Department of Parks and Recreation, Resources Agency, California State Park System (Sacramento, 1967), p. 21.

3. Olmsted, Report, p. 3; and William E. Colby, “Borrego Desert Park,” Sierra Club Bulletin, XVIII (April, 1933), 144. Members of the first State Park Commission included: William E. Colby, Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, Henry W. O’Melveny, Major Frederick R. Burnham, and Senator W. F. Chandler.

4. Randall Henderson, “Where Anza Blazed the First Trail,” Desert, II (April, 1939), 22; H. W. Roche and Roy Kepner, Jr., “The Date Palm Industry in Borego (sic) Valley,” a report prepared for the San Diego Department of Agriculture, 1944, pp. 2 – 3, University of California, San Diego, Special Collections, Guy L. Fleming files; letter, Arnold J. Klaus, assistant manager of San Diego Chamber of Commerce, to Guy L. Fleming, San Diego, March 28, 1928, ibid.; letter, William E. Colby, chairman of the California State Park Commission, to Fleming, San Francisco, April 28, 1928, ibid.; letter, Colby to Fleming, San Francisco, April 24, 1928, ibid.; Guy L. Fleming, Borrego Palms Desert Park Project Map (April 17, 1928), ibid.; and letter, Fleming to Frederick L. Olmsted, La Jolla, June 26, 1928, ibid. As early as 1910 John C. Merriam, president of the Carnegie Institute and Save-the-Redwoods League, had considered the Anza-Borrego Desert as a possible desert preserve. But he did not receive any support at that early date. See P. T. Primm and Guy L. Fleming, “Report on National Park and/or State Park Possibilities of Lands Included in H.R. 1944 and H.R. 1995, Together with Adjacent Areas,” February, 1935, n.p., ibid.

5. Olmsted, Report, pp. 51 – 52, 69.

6. Ramona Sentinel, November 11, 1932, n.p.; Herbert Eugene Bolton, ed. and trans., Anza’s California Expedition (5 vols.; Berkeley University of California Press, 1930). From December, 1927, to November, 1928, Bolton explored Anza’s route from Mexico to the San Carlos Pass, in California. In November, 1928, he examined Borrego Valley and Coyote Canyon. See footnotes, 11, 81, 87. Letter, Fleming to Newton B. Drury, investigating officer for the State Division of Beaches and Parks and later director of the National Park Service, La Jolla, February 1, 1930, Fleming files; letter, Drury to Fleming, San Francisco, July 15, 1938, ibid.; Hazel 1. Reeder, “List of Taxpayers with Legal Descriptions and Number of Delinquent Acres in Township 9 South-Range 5 East” (1933). ibid.; and letter, Tam Deering to Armand Jessop, San Diego, August 20, 1931, ibid.

7. Letter, Fleming to Olmsted, La Jolla, June 26, 1928, Fleming files; letter, Fleming to Laura E. Gregory, secretary of the State Park Commission, La Jolla, July 12, 1932, ibid.; letter, Drury to George W. Marston, San Francisco, January 28, 1933, ibid.; and letter, Fleming to Drury, La Jolla, March 10, 1933, ibid.

8. Memorandum, Drury to the California State Park Commission, March 1, 1932, files of the San Diego Chapter of the Sierra Club; and letter, H. W. O’Melveny to W. L. Crandall, legal representative for Ellen Scripps, San Diego, August 10, 1931, Fleming files.

9. Letter, Marston to Colby, San Diego, August 27, 1935, George W. Marston files, San Diego History Center, Serra Museum, San Diego; letter, Drury to Col. W. W. Crosby, President, State-County Parks and Beaches Association, San Francisco, August 31, 1933, Fleming files; and letter, Fleming to Drury, La Jolla, January 30, 1930, ibid.

10. Letter, Fleming to Drury, La Jolla, June 5, 1931, Fleming files; Mary Gilman Marston, George White Marston, A Family Chronicle (2 vols.; Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1956), 11, 137; letter, Marston to Colby, San Diego, August 27, 1935, Marston files, San Diego History Center, Serra Museum, San Diego; letter, Fleming to Gregory, La Jolla, August 24, 1931, Fleming files; and letter, Drury to Col. Crosby, San Francisco, August 31, 1933, ibid. Money donated by Miss Scripps went to the purchase of Yaqui Well and the Duque and Jasper properties.

11. Letter, Drury to Marston. San Francisco. November 3, 1933. Fleming files: letter, Drury to Robert Hays, secretary-manager of the El Centro Chamber of Commerce, March 21, 1934, ibid.; and letter, Fleming to Drury, La Jolla, November 8, 1930, ibid. Congressman George Burnham petitioned the Department of the Interior, on behalf of the State Park Commission, that filing fees be cancelled, but he received a ruling that they could not be.

12. Fearney’s Well was obtained October 11, 1935. Lack of funds prevented the acquisition of the Beaty Ranch (now called the De Anza Ranch). Guy L. Fleming, Borrego Palms Desert Park, Revised Minimum Taking Plan and Ownership Map, February, 1932, Fleming files.

13. California, Department of Natural Resources, Division of Beaches and Parks, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Acquisition Map (Sacramento, 1965); and California, Department of Natural Resources, Division of Beaches and Parks, “California State Park System Record of Land Acquisitions, Report of Investigating Officer Newton B. Drury, August 16, 1940, Part I,” n.p., Newton B. Drury files, Save-the-Redwoods Office, San Francisco.

14. As quoted in letter from Deering to the State-County Parks and Beaches Association, Cincinnati, Ohio, February 22, 1933, Marston files San Diego Historical Society, Serra Museum.

15. U.S., Congress, House, A Bill to Provide for the Selection of Certain Lands in the State of California for the Use of the California State Park System, H.R. 14534, 72d Cong., 2d Sess., 1933, p. 2; and Guy L. Fleming, “Borego (sic) Desert Project,” a summary of lands in the project, September 1, 1933 (typewritten), Fleming files. Fleming and others use March 3, 1933 as the date for the park’s formation rather than November 17, 1932, when the Borrego Mesa unit was acquired.

16. L. Deming Tilton, “A Report upon Problems of Acquisition and Development of the Borego (sic) Desert Park,” prepared for the California State Park Commission, July 31, 1933, pp. 1, 19 – 20, Fleming files.

17. Letter, Col. Crosby to Drury, San Diego, September, 29, 1933, Fleming files; letter, R. B. Whitelaw, Chairman, Conservation Committee, El Centro Chamber of Commerce, to Colby, El Centro, June 26, 1933, in Frank Fairchild and Merle E. Beckman, “Vallecito-Carrizo Project,” ‘Unit History, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park,” Drury to Fleming, San Francisco, July 10, 1933, ibid.

18. U.S., Congress, House, An Act to Provide for the Selection of Certain Lands in the State of California for the Use of the California State Park System, Pub. 838, 74th Cong., 2d Sess., 1936, H.R.1597; U.S., Congress, House, An Act to Provide for the Selection of Certain Lands in the State of California for the Use e of the California State Park System, Pub. 839, 74th Cong., 2d Sess., 1937, H.R.1597; and U.S., Congress, House, A Bill to Amend Public Law Numbered 425, Seventy-second Congress. Providing for the Selection of Certain Lands in the State of California for the Use of the California State Park System, Approved March 3, 1933, H.R. 1997, 74th Cong., 2d Sess., 1936, p. 1 – 2. San Diego residents sent telegrams to the President urging him to sign the bills. See San Diego Union, June 25, 1936, p. 1.

19. El Centro Chamber of Commerce, “Entering the New California State Desert Park Via ‘El Centro Gateway,’ ” n.d. (pamphlet). Fleming files; interview with Writer’s Project, 1936 – 1938, Anza-Borrego Vertical Files, San Diego Historical Society. Serra Museum; and Primm and Fleming, “Report on National Park.”

20. Eve M. Kiehl, Anza Desert State Park, map drawn for the El Centro Chamber of Commerce (June 9. 1938). Fleming files; letter, Drury, Dan R. Hull, and A. Henning to the California State Park Commission, San Francisco, March 15, 1938, ibid.; and letter, Fleming to Hays, La Jolla, March 19, 1939, ibid. As of this last letter, the only federal lands that were patented to the state were in the Borrego Desert unit, obtained under the Act of March 3, 1933. This included 174,853.96 acres.

21 Memorandum. Frederick Perl, Acting Investigation Officer, California Division of Beaches and Parks, to the State Park Commission, San Francisco, March 13, 1941, ibid.; and letter. Hays to William T. Hart, State Park Commissioner, El Centro, May 23, 1935. ibid.

22. Borrego Sun, July 15, 1961. p. 11; letter, Drury to T. Leroy Richards, Chairman, Board of Supervisors of San Diego County, San Francisco, September 28, 1938, Fleming files; and Richards as quoted in letter, Fleming to Drury, La Jolla, March 10, 1939, ibid. See also letter, Fleming to Ernest Dawson May 3, 1939, ibid.

23. San Diego Union, October 21, 1938, p. B1; and letter, San Diego County Board of Supervisors to the Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks, State of California, San Diego, September 21, 1938, Fleming files.

24. Evening Tribune, May 6, 1939, p. B8; editorial, “Anza State Park Grab.” The Tribune-Sun, April 11, 1940, p. B2; and “Report Compiled from Public and Private Records for the Citizens of San Diego County Concerning Borrego, Vallecito and Carrizo Units,” comp. by Walter Bellon, San Diego, April, 1940 (mimeographed), pp. a – c, San Diego History Center. Serra Museum.

25. Evening Tribune, May 6, 1939. p. B8; “Report Compiled from Public and Private Records.” p. 30; and “Abstract of Remarks by Clinton G. Abbot at Hearing on Anza State Park, Warner Hot Springs, San Diego County, California, April 1, 1939,” in Fairchild and Beckman, “Unit History,” p. 6.

26. Letter, Fleming to Hays. La Jolla, January 17, 1941, Fleming files; letter, Drury to Bellon, San Francisco, May 15, 1939, ibid.; letter, Drury to Bellon, San Francisco, May 22, 1939, ibid.; letter, J. H. Covington, ex-secretary of the State Park Commission, to Fleming, San Francisco. June 10, 1939, ibid.; and letter, Hays to Arthur W. Swift, State Park Commissioner, El Centro. January 23, 2941, ibid.

27. Letter, Johnson to Paul B. Witmer, Register, District Land Office, Washington, D.C., April 3, 1939, ibid.

28. Philip Munz, “Report on Botany of Proposed Anza Desert State Park,” n.d., ibid.

29. Fairchild and Beckman, “Unit History,” pp. 19-20; Guy L. Fleming, “Notes on Anza Desert State Park Extension,” January 22, 1941, Fleming files; letter, Marshall South to Fleming, Santa Ysabel, January 29, 1938, ibid.; and letter, Campbell to the editor of the San Diego Union, Julian, March 19, 1941, p. B9. Robert Crawford was opposed to the park extension because he was worried about the loss of grazing privileges. See newspaper clipping. “Rancher Raps Delay in Anza Park Decision,” San Diego Union, n.d., p. A7 (probably October, 1940), box file, Anza-Borrego Collection, San Diego History Center, Serra Museum. The idea of damming a canyon to retain runoff from the Laguna Mountains was considered as a means of bringing water to the area.

30. Letter, Whitelaw to the California State Park Commission, El Centro, June 26, 1933, in Fairchild and Beckman, “Unit History,” pp. 1-3; and letter, Whitelaw to S. B. Show, District Forester, Division of Forestry, El Centro, May 10, 1933, ibid., pp. 4 – 5.

31. Letter, Henry A. Harris, chairman of the Tourist and Publicity Commission of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Imperial County, to the Board of Supervisors of San Diego County, El Centro, April 3, 1939, Fleming files; Public Law 838 and Public Law 839; and F. Harold Weber, Jr., Geology and Mineral Resources of San Diego County, California, California Division of Mines, County Report 3 (San Francisco: California Division of Mines, 1963), p. 46.

32. Letter, Hays to Col. John H. Pirie, Secretary, Riverside Chamber of Commerce, El Centro, August 21, 1940, Fleming files; Calexico Chronicle, Anza Memorial Conservation Association, to Assemblyman C. Don Field, Chairman, Committee on Government Efficiency, California State Assembly, El Centro, April 28, 1941, Fleming files.

33. Letter from Leo Hetzel, former president of the El Centro Chamber of Commerce, to Rev. Frances J. Caffrey, State Park Commissioner, El Centro, August 21, 1940, Fleming files; The Tribune-Sun, June 5, 1941, p. A6; and San Diego Union, June 4, 1941. p. A4.

34. Letter, Fleming to Darwin Tate, chief of the Division of State Parks, La Jolla, February 19, 1941, Fleming files; letter, Fleming to Perl, La Jolla, March 31, 1941, ibid.; The Tribune-Sun, September 4. 1941, p. A11; San Diego Union, September 9, 1941 p. A5; Minutes of the Meeting, November 14 and 15, 1941, California State Park Commission, San Francisco, Fleming files; and Fairchild and Beckman, “Unit History,” pp. 6-9. Of the 364,389.54 acres available under the Acts of June 29, 1936, 70,000 acres were excluded. The total lands acquired by the park under the Act of March 3, 1933 and the Acts of June 29, 1936, amounted to 410,753.29 acres. These lands, plus all private lands, totaled 416,975.82 acres in the park in 1948. See ABDSP Acquisition Map.

35. Utter, Drury to Bellon, San Francisco May 15, 1939, Fleming files; and California, Department of Natural Resources, Division of Beaches and Parks, Re-establishment of Ultimate Boundary Lines, Anza Desert and Borrego State Park, San Diego County (Sacramento, 1955), pp. 9-10.

36. Guy L. Fleming, “Notes on Anza Desert State Park,” December 20, 1941, Fleming files; and Borrego Sun, July 15, 1961. p. 3. Today there are about 1,700 individual holdings totaling approximately 67,000 acres within the park boundaries.