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Mortero Palms to Goat Canyon Trestle
12 Photosets

mini location map2012-02-04
27 by photographer avatarRandal_Schulhauser
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Mortero Palms to Goat Canyon TrestleSan Diego, CA
San Diego, CA
Hiking avatar Feb 04 2012
Hiking10.62 Miles 1,735 AEG
Hiking10.62 Miles   9 Hrs      1.18 mph
1,735 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
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Anza Borrego Feb2012 - Goat Canyon Trestle & Indian Hill

Prelude - From my "boyhood affinity with trains", I've always had an awareness of the Goat Canyon Trestle (just Google "GOAT CANYON TRESTLE" and see what you get). With a recent HAZ Forum thread targeting the nearby Carrizo Gorge (check out => viewtopic.php?f=4&t=6639&start=0&hilit=carrizo ), and a non-HAZ posted hike description (check out => ), my interest was piqued to go explore the "Impossible Railway" in the Anza Borrego. The Goat Canyon trestle was built in 1932 after an earthquake collapsed one of the tunnels of the Carrizo Gorge section of the San Diego and Arizona Railway. At 200 feet tall and 750 feet long, it remains to this day the longest, tallest curved wooden trestle ever built in the United States.

Friday Feb 3rd - "Establishing Base Camp at Mortero Palms Trail Head" - With our weekend itinerary set (check out => viewtopic.php?f=4&t=6639&hilit=carrizo&start=20#p78510 ), Clark Norgaard and I checked out from work noon-ish. I make the side trek to Casa Grande to pick up Rob Gay while Clark makes a side trek to Ahwatukee to pick up Ken Schopen. We rendezvous at the Gila Bend McDonald's two-ish and our race red F-150 and red Ford Expedition form a convoy heading west along the I-8. We exit the I-8 at the Imperial Highway turn-off in Ocotillo CA (check out => PHOTO #26 link goes here...). About 8 miles along the Imperial Highway, just past the Border Patrol check point; you will find a kiosk and sign indicating "Mortero Wash" (check out => PHOTO #25 link goes here...). It's a 4WD from here to the trail head. About 4 miles from the Imperial Highway you reach the railway tracks and water tower at the Dos Cabezas ghost town. We stop to strategically place some rocks to improvise a rail crossing grade. Onto the Mortero Palms trail head where we set up camp in the glow of our headlights. An almost-full moon rises to supplement our field lighting. I'm on dinner duty - camp dinner menu includes choice beverages, BBQ steaks, corn-on-the-cob, gherkin pickles, grilled mushrooms and onions. We have a cozy camp fire and complete solitude - no evidence of any other campers in our corner of the Anza Borrego tonight. Somebody points out that the time is after midnight...

Saturday Feb 4th - "Mortero Palms to Goat Canyon Trestle with Return Via the Tracks" - At sun-up Clark prepares a camp breakfast of fresh perked coffee, bacon and scrambled eggs. We organize our packs and consult our maps (check out => PHOTO #24 link goes here...) one last time before tackling our convoluted trail. Any doubt we are at the wrong location is allayed when I find a trail marker labeled "MORTERO PALMS". Paying heed to our trail notes;

"One of the most critical parts of this hike is getting started up the correct canyon. There is a choice of two main washes each of which split into multiple possible routes. The correct wash is NORTH-WEST with an immediate turn to the WEST. It is tempting to take the South-West wash, which will also get you there, but adds about 0.75 miles to the trek."

We manage to find multiple cairns along our route giving us some assurance that we are on the right path. As we amble into the palm oasis, we are somewhat awestruck and reassured we're on the correct path. Again, paying heed to our trail notes;

"It is possible to exit the palm grove to the right or left. To the right is a water chute that can run strong in the spring months. It is climbable and the most direct route up."

We make this our chosen path. There are plenty of options, all very climbable... The path is fairly obvious and well cairned taking you to the crest. At the crest we once again pay heed to our trail notes;

"Probably the trickiest part of the hike is route finding along the relatively flat section between Mortero Canyon and Goat Canyon. Mortero Canyon peters out at the 1.5 mile mark and becomes a rolling desert meadow lined with cholla, barrel cactus, agave, ocotillo and cat claw. There are several possible routes to Goat Canyon, but the best one tends to the right and bypasses the beginning of Goat Canyon. Again, the best advice is to find the most well-worn trail and stick to it."

We listen to this "best advice" and stick to the well-cairned, obvious trail. Soon we are descending into Goat Canyon as the side walls begin to box up. There are multiple pour-offs with work-around on either side. As the trestle comes into view, our jaws drop - it is stunning! The 35 foot dry waterfall is also dropping our jaws - so we consult our trail notes once again;

"This first glimpse occurs at a particularly steep and tall drop-off, some 300 yards from the trestle. On first inspection, it appears you can't get there from here. However, you can make it by climbing to the left, then dropping into the scree-choked canyon below."

As we contour over to the left, an obvious path down the scree chute comes into view. A little bum surfing and we're at the trestle! There's a group of about 10 people at the Goat Canyon Trestle on this Saturday about lunch time. We find out that they are all from a San Diego area motorcycle club out on a day trip. They've hiked the 5 or 6 miles along the tracks starting from the I-8 near the town of Jacumba. One of their photographers obliges me and takes a group shot of us with my wide-angle lens camera. We cross the trestle and the tunnel to go check out the earthquake collapsed tunnel (the reason for building the trestle by-pass in the 1932). On our return crossing of the trestle we note that each one of the columns is from a single redwood tree. That's more than 175 feet for some of the column members! The return route north along the tracks starts at about mile marker 102 and ends near mile marker 109 at the Dos Cabezas water tower. The route is filled with eye-candy including train wrecks, smaller trestles, multiple tunnels, palm oases, and railroad artifacts.

Rob posted his SPOT Track on HAZ =>
1,735 AEG and 10.62 miles later (check out => PHOTO #01 link goes here...), we bum a ride to our base camp from San Diego Aaron and his dog Tula. They were checking out the water tower at Dos Cabezas when we ambled by. We negotiate a ride in the bed of his F-150 in exchange for a couple of choice beverages back at the Mortero Palms TH. As the sun sets, temperatures plummet from 71degF to 40degF in about 30 minutes! That camp fire keeps our conditions perfect while Ken whips up a camp dinner of BBQ burgers with jalapenos. That night I get a weeks' worth of sleep - nothing like some fresh air and a little bit of exercise to promote some zzz's! SIDE NOTE: We had to perform emergency surgery on Ken to remove an embedded tick at his waist line - WTF? Not something we expected to come across on a desert trek - always associated ticks as long grass residents =>

Sunday Feb 5th - "The REAL Indian Hill Rock Art Site" - Ken whips up a camp morning meal of breakfast burritos. It's soon time to break camp and head over to the rock art sites (armed with some tips courtesy of Hank Luke aka Grasshopper). We meet a couple from the Sierra Club at the REAL Indian Hill that point out the alcove and the cave and the fertility rite area. Lunch at the Lazy Lizard in Ocotillo and we're on the road home... Check out the rest of the story at =>

Denouement - It's almost unimaginable to think that this rail line was re-opened in 2004 and trains actually ran until 2007 (check out => and and ... ata_player ). Also need to get a portable metal camp fire set-up for future back country adventures. Photos and Hike Description to follow...
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Goat Canyon Mortero Palm Canyon
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