Thursday, January 24, 2013

Through Nature's Playground - The Slot Canyon

Date: December 26, 2012
Place: Anza Borrego State Park, Borrego Springs, California
Dirt road entry coordinates: 33.1591, -116.2188
Trailhead coordinates: 33.1907, -116.2231
Length: 2 miles
Difficulty: moderate

The badlands of Anza Borrego State Park are of sediment sandstone. Sand and small rocks that had eroded from the mountains were packed and hardened over the years to create the badlands material.  This semi-soft terrain is easily carved by flood water into spectacular canyons that provide fantastic hiking experience for adults and children alike.
Of the numerous canyons in Anza Borrego the most known one is the Slot Canyon and that's where the park's ranger had recommended we'd go. We went there with the friends we made at Palm Canyon and had a great time.
The upper, still shallow  part of the Slot Canyon
The way from the California hy 78 to the trailhead is 3 miles of a passable dirt road. The ranger had directed us to go to the end of that dirt road and go up the canyon. Instead, we parked in an area where we saw several other cars, and found ourselves near the upper part of the canyon.

There isn't an actual trail there, but what the ranger had called, 'a social trail' that's marked by the many feet that had passed there before us. The problem with that, of course, is that there's often more than one possible trail and, having to chose one of the few we saw caused us some confusion. Eventually we followed the most apparent path and entered the wash to our left, and started going down stream.
The deepening walls
At first, the wash was nothing but a shallow depression in the gravely ground. Before long, however, we dropped deeper into the earth. The softly packed gravel was replaced by hard-packed sandstone.
Layers of sandstone, lain by olden floods.
 The canyon walls, made of soft sandstone, are easily eroded by rain. Dried mud 'stalactites' decorate many areas of the canyon walls.
Dried mud dribbles.
We continued down the wash. At some point we could see far behind and above us the parking area. One last glance at our car and we plunged into The Slot.
The Slot

The canyon walls got really high indeed. Inside The Slot it got shady and cool. At some points it got very narrow too.
The Slot

Unlike Palm Wash, here we didn't need to do any rock scrambling. The wash bed kept being soft, flat gravel throughout, making it an easy walk. 

In some parts, large boulders that fell on top of the narrow canyon created a natural ceiling. 

Boulder ceiling

The Slot part of the canyon goes on for nearly half a mile before its walls widen enough to allow vehicles. We did see tracks of vehicular use there, up until the narrow part. 

On the other side of The Slot we encountered a flowering desert holly. It was a nice cheerful color to the otherwise brown-gray terrain.
Desert Holly (Atriplex hymenelytra)
On the other side of The Slot we saw red and green sediment layers. It made me wonder about the origin of the eroded soil that had made this canyon. I made a point to read about the region's geology by the next time I visit there.
Sediment layers
Eventually we saw a wide path leading uphill on the left side of the wash, where its sides were no longer sheer walls but manageable hills. We scrambled up and met the dirt road and an area where, I presume, we were supposed to park had we wanted to hike up The Slot.
The view from uphill included a Swiss cheese-like rock, similar to the one we saw at the Calcite Mines, but reddish in color.
Swiss-cheese rock
We hiked a bit down the dirt road. At some point the children sat down to rest. Me and one of our friends went on to get the cars and all of us had a nice picnic before separating and driving each family to its next destination.
The Slot Canyon is definitely a not-to-miss hike for anyone visiting Anza Borrego State Park.

And no, we did not see any Bighorn sheep there either.


  1. איזה יופי, הקניונים הצרים והנקיקיים מזכירים לי את קניון עדה בנגב - רק שאצלינו זה קטן יותר (כמובן) והמסלע אחר לגמרי...
    אבל גם אצלינו אפשר לפגוש מלוח שם :-)

    1. I was impressed by the variety of canyon shapes and sizes over there. The entire area is just grand - enough to provide rock pleasure for quite a while :-)

  2. יפהפה!
    תודה על ההדרכה לטיול העתידי.