After doing the Ladder Canyon we wanted to do something similar and heard that there were some canyons out in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park that were the same. Doing some research we discovered that the Anza Borrego Park was huge with a lot of Points of Interest. There was no way to fit all of it in, in just one day, really you couldn’t even do all that this area has to offer in a whole week. There are the slot canyons, the metal art sculptures, the wind caves, palm canyon and the list keeps going and going and going. We decided to skip the slot canyons and do something completely different, the mud caves.
The Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves are to be one of the most extensive mud cave systems in the world. Some are wide enough to have a party in while others are so narrow you have to crawl through them. There are caves that have skylights where the rain flow has broken through the ceiling while others are so dark if you lose your light you won’t be able to see your hand in front of your face. The Caves are not on the Anza Borrego Desert SP website and is not as visited as the rest of the points of interest but if you google it on the map you can find the center point of the canyon where all the caves are located.
We started out late Saturday afternoon on April 9th 2016. We decided to make this an overnight camping trip, something about sleeping under the stars in the middle of the desert brings you back to the old west, a feeling of simpleness. We had been watching the weather all week due to a storm system that had started on Friday and wasn’t ending until Monday, but in California the storm systems here are small showers to nothing but hype on the news. Friday had some good rain but Saturday was completely clear until we decided to head out. On Highway 79 after we got out of the city we started to get a light sprinkle, just enough to smear the dirt on the window of the truck. This didn’t help with my anxiety of getting swept away in a flash flood. Then POP the tire blows. Maybe this is a sign DO NOT GO DANGER DO NOT GO, but we got it fixed and the rain stopped.
It took us about 45 minutes to get to our first spot of the night, Marshal South’s Home Trail on Ghost Mountain. Now this excited me, I was going to do my first night hike on a mountain that is probably haunted. But after I googled the mountain I found that the mountain was named by Marshal and Tanya South in the 30’s while they lived there for 9 years with their 2 kids. The story of this family and their experiment in remote living was very interesting. If you plan on hiking this trail you have to read the story to appreciate their decaying homestead.
We parked at the trailhead and started to make our way up the trail. The crisp cold wind from the storm was at our backs pushing us up the well marked hill. The sun was bouncing off the dark clouds gave a little light to the trail so we didn’t need our head lamps yet. The desert provided us with beautiful plants with vibrant flowers along the way. The kids raced to the top as I was trying to catch my breath. The wind no longer brought chills to me as the sweat dripped down my back. We finally made it to the back of the ruined Homestead and at the moment you can see why Marshal choose that location. At the top you could see both valleys dipping in the east and west. The night sky was coming on fast as the gray clouds became black. Standing on the rock looking down into the west valley as the light disappeared the calm desert took over my mood, the mountain didn’t have a ghostly feel in the least. If was peaceful and silent except for a few desert mice that came out in the safety of the night. After spending 30 minutes exploring the ruined homestead we made our way down giving light to the trail with our headlamps. The new light on the trail showed more colorful plants that we didn’t notice on our way up.
We quickly made it back to the trucks and decided that the storm wasn’t going to empty on us anymore that night. So it was off to the Mud Caves that was only about 30 minutes away. We headed down the S2 North to Vallecito Creek dirt Rd and drove along that for a few miles. Even though there were no street lights, moon or street signs we were able to find the mud caves very easily. The night was still young so we ended up hitting our first cave that night. The entrance was easy to find but what we thought was going to be a cave turned out to be a long canyon. The canyon was still beautiful with its arches and towering walls. The canyon at night felt as if you were wrapped in a desert hug. The canyon seemed closed off to the world even though the night sky was all around us. We walked the canyon for about a mile in before we decided to turn around and find our camping spot for the night.
Anxiety of the looming dark clouds pushed its way back into my thoughts. We were driving through the wash to find our camping spot, I was looking at the wash as where I was going to be washed away. This first few spots we found were either too low into the wash or to exposed to the wind. We finally found a spot south of the caves. It was still a little too low to my liking but I found that there was an escape up the mountain if I needed it. By the time we got the bed made up in the back of the truck and the fire started I was ready for bed. The bed didn’t have enough padding so it was slightly uncomfortable, but not as bad as sleeping on the ground. I finally found a comfy spot when I felt the first rain drop hit my lip. At first I thought I was just imagining it but then it started to sprinkle some more. We spread the tarp out over the back of the truck, not only did it keep us dry all night it also kept us warm. Even though we were spared from the elements of the night, the ticking sound of the rain drops on the tarp reminded me that we were in a wash and flash floods happen in washes. The mud caves were created by lots of water running through the washes for thousand of years and I was going to be washed down this wash like all the mud from thousand of years. The rain would stop long enough for me to fall asleep for about a minute then it would start up again, at one point I couldn’t tell if I was scared or if I was enjoying listening to the sound of the slow rain. I wasn’t really worried until about 3am when it started to dump down and didn’t end until about 6am. When it finally stopped and we pushed the tarp up I thought we would be surround by water but to my surprise the ground barely seemed wet. Woo Hoo I wasn’t one of those people that ended up on the news floating down the wash hanging on the top of the roof of a sinking truck!
With breakfast done and the trucks packed we started our way back down the wash to find our first cave. After missing all of them and making a U-Turn at the end of the wash we came to our first cave, Serpentine Cave. We hiked back to where the entrance showed on the map but it seemed like the cave was either caved in or we didn’t hike far enough back.
The next cave on the list was Blind Canyon Cave. Once we were able to figure out where the caves were on the map they were easy to find. The entrance to Blind Canyon was small but right off the road. We made our way into the cave with the boys heading in first. I could hear them pushing their way through. The dust was turned up and the air was thick and humid. The walls seemed to be getting tighter and the ceiling shorter. I lost sight of the boys but I could hear them say “I’m not sure I am going to fit.” All I could picture was the movie As Above, So Below where he got stuck crawling through a cave with bones. That was going to be me! I was going to be the person that got stuck crawling through the cave. I have never been claustrophobic in my life but I couldn’t get out of that cave fast enough. I turned around and high tailed it out of there, but I wasn’t out of the cave for more than a second when Don came back for me and made me go through it. Which I am glad he did. The space at the end that the kids where saying they couldn’t fit was tall enough for me to crawl through. All of it was in my head and I am happy I got to experience the cave to the end.
The next cave we made it to was Mud Flow Cave. This one was long and fun and emptied out into a slot canyon. We followed the slot canyon to the top of the ridge and the view was breathtaking. The endless ripples of ridges and canyons melted into the blue sky spotted with white puffy clouds. I felt as though we were the only humans left, that there couldn’t possibly be anything beyond what I was looking at. I wish we could spend hours up there but it was time to turn back and make our way to the next adventure.
We left the caves and the wash that almost took our lives the night before, ok so maybe I could be a little less dramatic. On our way back down the wash we made a small detour to a small spring in the middle of the desert called Palm Spring. I found it on the map while researching the area. It’s a small spring in the middle of the desert that was used as a stopping point for the Butterfield stage. This was our last stop of our trip. We had our final meal then start our way back home. As we made our way down the 79 the skies turned black and began to opened up on us just in time to end our trip.