Borrego’s Military Echoes
Borrego Springs is renowned for its serene deserts and pristine night skies, but beneath its tranquil surface lies a military past rooted deeply in the sands of time.
The Borrego Hotel, once an Emergency Landing Field and Bombing Range during World War II, stands as a testament to the area’s contribution to the nation’s wartime readiness.
Borrego’s Wartime Role
In 1941, as global conflicts escalated, the U.S. Navy selected the remote desert of Borrego Springs for military preparedness. The Borrego Hotel was transformed into a strategic site where pilots practiced vital skills such as high-altitude bombing and emergency procedures essential for combat.
The facility included a 250-foot by 2600-foot dirt runway and a distinctive bombing target marked by concentric circles, making it a significant training hub for the San Diego Naval Air Station.
Military Legacy and Community Safeguarding
Post-war, the site continued under Navy use until 1955, after which it was returned to private hands. Today, the land is primarily recreational, but the imprints of history remain.
In keeping with the safety of the community, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been involved in the environmental restoration of this Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS), ensuring that the land, once a cradle of wartime activity, is now safe for public enjoyment.
The Corps’ efforts have included detailed investigations to identify and mitigate any residual hazards. Historical investigations conducted in the 1990s and 2010s confirmed the area’s use for military training, with findings of practice bombs and munitions debris.
This diligent work safeguards the community and preserves the integrity of Borrego Springs’ natural splendor.
Ensign Ranch Airfield, Borrego Springs, CA
33.233, -116.357 (East of San Diego, CA)
Echoes of History in Modern Tranquility
The shift from a training ground to tranquil desert is profound. Where pilots once honed their wartime skills, now visitors experience peace and quietude. The Borrego Hotel’s legacy, intertwined with the environmental restoration endeavors, continues to shape the region’s identity, bridging its historical military importance with its present-day role as a sanctuary for nature and relaxation.
California: Eastern San Diego County
Voices from the Past: Borrego Springs’ Military Heritage
Borrego Springs’ military heritage is not just etched in historical documents or the remnants of the Borrego Hotel site; it is also preserved in the memories and accounts of those who lived and served in the area.
Interviews with local residents and military personnel offer a personal glimpse into the past, bringing to life the stories that are not captured in written records alone.
Here are some of the enlightening perspectives shared through interviews:
Sgt. Grayson’s Insights
SGT Grayson of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Arson/Explosives Unit, with 20 years of experience, shared that he had no knowledge of ordnance activity at the Borrego Hotel site. His insights extend to the broader region of Anza Borrego State Park, which includes former military sites known for ordnance finds.
Fire Department’s Perspective
Investigator Steve Sawyer, a member of the Borrego Springs Fire Department Arson/Bomb Unit for 14 years, similarly had no recollection of a range or ordnance presence at the former Borrego Hotel Site, indicating a lack of incidents in the area.
Local Law Enforcement Observations
Deputies Hahn and McKenna, serving the Borrego Springs area for several years, also confirmed no awareness of a target area or ordnance presence at the site, although they acknowledged other range activities within the Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
Lifelong Residents’ Accounts
Nancy Ellis, a lifelong resident, and David Ragsdill, a local engineer, shared their lack of awareness of any military activity at the Borrego Hotel site. However, they had knowledge of other military sites in the area, suggesting a larger military presence in the region during WWII.
Legacy in the Land
Florence Leedy, a landowner and long-time resident, provided a vivid account of a concentric circle bombing target on her property, indicating how remnants of military training exercises are still visible in the landscape.
Park Rangers’ Confirmation
Park Rangers like Fred Jee, Mark Jorgensen, and Jim Meiers acknowledged no knowledge of ordnance at the Borrego Hotel site but were familiar with evidence of past military activity within the area, indicating a rich military history beyond the site itself.
These interviews underscore the layered history of Borrego Springs, where the military past intersects with civilian life,
Check out this military report for more details.
Borrego Hotel: A Timeline of Transformation
- The area where Camp Ensign would be built was originally Ensign Ranch date palm orchards.
- Opening of the Borrego Hotel Target Area for aircraft carrier plane high-altitude bombing, dive-bombing, and strafing.
- Establishment of the Borrego Valley Maneuver Area in March by the US Army as an Anti-Aircraft Training Center, also used by the Marine Corps.
- Construction of bombing stations, strafing stations, rocket targets, and anti-aircraft artillery for training.
- US Marines construct Camp Ensign for military truck driving training at night.
- Ensign Ranch Airfield is built just south of Camp Ensign.
- Closure of the Borrego Valley Maneuver Area in August.
- Closure of the Borrego Hotel Target Area and Naval Outlying Landing Field.
- Sale of the land of the Borrego Hotel Target Area and Naval Outlying Landing Field.
Present: Peace & Preservation
- Late 20th Century: Region known for recreational use and desert serenity.
- 1990s-2010s: Environmental restoration by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
- Today: Celebrated for its natural beauty and quietude, with historical significance commemorated by the community.