In truth, the answer was a little bit of both. First off, I knew I wanted to see wildflowers.
I also knew that I wanted to at least try to avoid the traffic jams and gridlock I'd been hearing about in Borrego Springs...
...and that the best way for me to do that would be to get off the main roads and onto the dirt and sand.
So, since I have a tendency to get my car stuck in the desert, this time I left the driving to the professionals and made a reservation with California Overland.
And it was a good opportunity to reconnect with my pal Joe, who'd taken me on my first-ever (albeit bee-infested) camping trip in 2011, and who's remained one of my desert rat kindred spirits.
It didn't matter that it had been five years since I'd visited this area of eastern San Diego county.
It still felt like home there, with Joe, and with the desert dandelions...
...just as I'd seen them during the wildflower seasons of years past.
I don't know why I stayed away so long.
I hadn't forgotten about the spring cactus flowers...
...that bloom early when the heat of summer arrives in spring.
I hadn't yet seen everything there was to see...
...and especially not every flower...
...though the sprouting red ocotillo was as familiar to me here as it is in my other desert home of Joshua Tree.
Upon my long-awaited return, every outcropping of Bigelow's monkeyflower delighted me...
...until my eyes alighted on the desert lavender...
...and lo, there were the bees again.
"I swear, there weren't any bees... until you got here!" Joe laughed, not knowing my legitimately (yet irrational) phobia of the winged beasts.
I started to tell Joe about how I'd considered taking a beekeeping class as a form of exposure therapy, but before I could go on, he said, "Well, you pretty much already did face your fears on our trip!"
"Yeah," I said, "But I didn't conquer them."
Bees or no bees, I was meant to return to Anza-Borrego and Borrego Springs. It was kismet.
Of course, it had been on my mind since I last visited in 2012, but between job losses and car accidents and whiplash and head trauma and romance gone devastatingly wrong, I lost about two years of my life.
And then while I was in New York City in January, I met a woman during lunch at the Waldorf-Astoria who said she split her time between Orange County and a little desert town called "Borrego Springs."
"You're living the dream!" I told her.
"Well, I think so..." she said. "You know it?"
"Do I?!" And then I proceeded to tell her about my stay at the Palms at Indian Head in 2008 and my camping trip with Joe in 2011.
And then she proceeded to send a text message to Joe to tell him that we'd met.
And it turned out that not only were both she and I in New York City from California, but so was he.
As soon as I got back to LA, I emailed Joe with a million apologies for disappearing and a brief rundown of my sob story, and I waited for Susan to contact me.
She finally did in early March—with a report on the wildflowers—just days before I was scheduled to be in town.
And so the trip that reunited me with an old friend also reunited me with a new friend. We've all got New York in our blood, and we've all got California in our dreams.
Maybe one day I'll be able to live the dream, too, and retire to the desert.
As Joe once told me, it might be a good balm for all of these bumps in the road.
A Beginner's Report on (Deathly Hot) Desert Camping: The Arrival
A Beginner's Report on (Decidedly Sweltering) Desert Camping: Darkness Falls
Photo Essay: The Wildflowers of Anza-Borrego
Photo Essay: Hellhole Canyon, Anza-Borrego
Photo Essay: Wilson Peak Via Pinyon Ridge