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Anza Borrego- The Carrizo Gorge

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Queen of the Walkabout

Joined: 15 Jan 2004
Articles: 35
Comments: 1
 Posted: 7/25/2004, 5:43 pm

This is a story about a hike in my past; hopefully it will be one of several. I hope others will join in, too.

I love the Anza Borrego Desert, in Southern California. While a state park it has lots of off trail possiblities and few developed trails. A four wheel drive vehicle is mandatory to really get into it. As someone noted " the rougher the road, the finer the filter" in regards to backcountry access. It's a low desert place with rocky hillocks and peaks; there are very few watered areas so not an easy place to backpack into.

I have hiked this particular hike probably 10+ times. As of now the route-a sort of illegal one anyway -- is closed. It followed an abandoned rail line within the state park but the tracks are privately owned, at that time minimally posted against trespassing. Lots of folks did this hike, mountain biked it, I even saw a dirt bike on a portion of it. And for a while a major illegal immigrant route. Current plans call for a return to running freight and maybe a tourist train or two. Big Bummer. This was an awesome hike.

Located in the southern end of the park near I-8; this trip description covers a hike I did with a small group, an unusual event for me. I took a young co-worker with me and my friend Jerry brought two old highschool buddies. This was a meet sort of in the middle affair. Shane and I would start at one trailhead and Jerry and his friends at another, we would meet for lunch at the Carrizo Gorge/Goat Canyon trestle. My route was an up and over via Mortero Palms; descending from the head of Goat Canyon. Jerrys' route was an "across the sand" via an old Jeep trail to the railroad tracks, following the tracks over trestles and through tunnels to the bridge. Once meeting Shane and I would hike out with Jerry and his crew, their route being an in and out. Their route RT about 12 miles, our through way about 9 miles but 3 of it pretty rugged.

Shane and I leave San Diego early- sunrise happening as we are descending from the top of I-8 past Jacumba on the way to the desert floor at Ocotillo. The view from the drive down on a clear day is stunning. We head up S-2, to an unmarked sandy road, I shift into 4wd and we go to Mortero Palms trailhead parking. Before arriving there, I stop at the abandoned remnants of the rail road station and post a sign --it tells Jerry we are on our route.

Hiking up to Mortero Palms is tricky. The palm grove is hidden in a narrow rocky gorge not visible from the trailhead. As you hike in the wash there is no trail either and not many tell tale footprints to help you. The first time here I climbed a rocky knoll above the palm grove, spotted them, then descended. I locate the correct canyon this time and squeeze through catclaws to the grove. This grove is dense and palms grow out of boulder outcroppings. The cracks between the boulders provide your corridor. You clamber over palm frond litter and watch for snakes. There are reports of a waterfall here but all I have seen is damp sand.

I am thinking about snakes when I hear a yell. Shane had jumped off a boulder and when he landed rolled his ankle, he says he heard a "pop".
He is on his back with his foot in the air when I find him. We assess it, he moves it around, walks on it a little; announces he thinks he can go on. I am against it, I want to go back to the Jeep, ice it down with ice from the cooler; then beat it to the other trailhead so I can catch the others. He is admant he can go on. I counter we have just started, have a very rugged area to cover, and if he can't walk later the only way out is via a helicopter transport that will probably cost $3000.

I finally give him some Advil I brought and one of my trekking poles and we continue. This is topo map country as we ascend some ridges following a hiker made trail to a beautiful swale on top surrounded by peaklets. Rock outcroppings are shot through with rose quartz. Some fools gold is laying around too. The land here gently rolls. Shane is gimping along, trying for the macho man look. I had neglected to bring an ace wrap; now its a standard part of my gear. He had high top hiking boots on but is starting to swell over the top.

We start a slight descent and see a small dip in the terrain at the northwest corner of the bowl. This marks the head of Goat Canyon. As we start down it becomes a deep V shaped luge run. Let the butt scooting begin. No wonder I wear out the seat of so many pants. This is tough on Shane and his ankle. He is young and pretty agile with most of his weight on one leg. Half way down the Goat Canyon trestle pops into view.

Framed by the steep light colored walls--its a marvelous contrast to the dark wood beams and the curves of the rail. This bridge is said to be the highest wooden railroad trestle in the world at 600 feet long and 200 feet high. Another source states the bridge is 750 feet long, not sure why such a discrepancy. This is part of Spreckels' "impossible railroad" built through Carrizo Gorge in 1919; it was the most expensive railroad line built in its day. In eleven miles is crossed 14 trestles and 21 tunnels. Most of the line is intact today, a few tunnels were collapsed but hikers and bikers had made trails around them. The line transported troops, freight and supplies off and on until money and maintenance problems closed the line down in the early 1980's. The tunnels were built and shored up by Chinese labor; the workmanship of the wooden beams in the tunnels is a work of art.

We note some people at the bridge--its Jerry and his friends. We shout and wave and keep on the descent after some picture taking. The lower part of the canyon is filled with large tippy boulders that were shoved up the canyon to clear the way for the trestle footings and to provide protection from debris down canyon. Its disconcerting to step on a 3-5 ton boulder and feel it rock slightly.

Finally we get to the bridge. Poor Shane elevates his leg and loosens his boot, he knows better than to take it off. Its getting numb and that worries us both. We are not near any water to cool it off. We all get in the shade of the old water tanker car left on the track siding and snack a bit and talk. Some of us walk out on the bridge, the planks on the sides creak and the hand rail is several strands of cable. Its exposed and makes me very nervous.
Its incredible to look down the many feet of wooden pilons and seeing how intact it is, like it was made yesterday. Carrizo Gorge is about 2000 feet deep here and the view down the deep canyon is incredible. On another trip two P-51 mustangs, probably from an air show at Yuma, buzzed the gorge. It was great. At times the border patrol runs a helicopter through here. I try to avoid them although I am sure they could tell I wasn't an illegal immigrant.

Shane and I start ahead of the others. We have a 6 mile out on fairly level groung, with ankle twisting sand at the end. The hike out is wonderful, excellent views all around and many small trestle crossings over 30-40 foot gratings with nothing underneath; and the Tunnels. I capitolize it because it is wonderful in the tunnels. The only source of shade around and neat because in several of them old remnants of the rail and telegraph lines remain, some of the rail stamped "OHIO/MISSOURI- 1916". They not only shored up the walls but the roofs leaving a church steeple like effect. An abandoned tunnel near the large trestle suffered when an earthquake hit this seismically active area-- it collapsed but you were able to climb inside and see 1" rebar twisted like spaghetti.

A couple of more recent railroad cars are off the side of the hill with the wheels pointing up. They can be explored if one is willing to slide down/ crawl up the hill. It was rumored they were filled with Coors beer, and that it was removed by many people before being off loaded.

One tunnel is so long it is pitch black in the middle with a little spot of light at the end. I like to walk in the middle of the tracks and feel with my feet. I don't use a headlamp as to rely on my other senses. I also want to avoid mountain bikers who ride down the sides in the tunnels. I sometimes feel creeped out in here; like someone is going to grab me. As I usually see people on this hike I know I am probably not alone.

Shane and I finally reach the site of the abandoned rail road camp during the long construction process. We leave the tracks here and take a very scenic route through bizarre rock formations along an old sandy jeep trail. Soon we are back at the vehicle. We wait for the others but go ahead and take his boot off. Yuk--his ankle is purple and black and obviously restricted by the boot as his foot starts puffing up right away.

Moral of this story-- do not take a co-worker hiking. He missed 4 days of work because he couldn't walk. My boss was furious and blamed me--he posted a drawing of me with a big circle and a cross hatch through it--NO HIKING WITH THIS WOMAN". Ok, another reason why I don't take many people hiking with me.

There is quite a bit of information about the Carrizo Gorge on the web.

Rating: 5.00/5.00 [1]

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