Sunday, January 5, 2014

Carrizo Gorge Railroad - Where Trains, & Things Go to Die!

Josh has a lot of hiking experience in the Anza Borrego Desert and he suggested we go check out the Carrizo Gorge Railroad. We drove east on I-8 to Jacumba where there is gated parking for $5 at the De Anza Nudist Colony. We arrived around noon and registered with the office. This is a cool deal if you are solo hiking, as you can leave your itinerary with the staff there and they will alert the authorities should you fail to return.
We parked at the trail head and headed out a long wash paralleling the tracks.

Just a short jaunt down the hill and we arrived at our first abandoned train! I couldn't wait to jump in and explore!

Upon stepping in to the train car I had the overwhelming memory of the smell of my Grandma's breeze way in her Desert Hot Springs home. Everything was baked and dusty and smelled of the desert.

The further in I walked the creepier things got, doors were broken, glass and debris everywhere!

Stepping into the control room I had to squeeze through the tiny doorways.

It seemed sad that these trains were sent here to rust and be vandalized in the desert sun. Is there not a better use of this material?

After walking the length of the first train we set out on the tracks. We are looking for a Big Horn Sheep carcass Josh saw on a local hiking forum. As we cross the first trestle I realize I am not a fan of traversing the rotten wood over these huge washes. I step gingerly, trying not to look down.

Having made it safely over the first trestle, we encountered our first tunnel!

I was excited to go through the tunnel. "This is like Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland!" I said to Josh

After the tunnel we could see our next set of trestles. I hope these are in better condition.

I'm glad this expanse was covered with metal as opposed to the rotten wood, but the ability to see down did not help my vertigo. It seems, the older I get, the less I think I am invincible and things like old abandoned train trestles cause me to be nervous!

Walking through tunnel number two, we did not find the sheep but instead a million old cans and bottles.

At every turn there were canyons with signs of old waterfalls. This place must be amazing in the wet season. I would like to return and climb into those canyons. I'm sure there is much to be discovered.

Ah, we arrived at train number two! Why did they chose this spot to decommission this train?

As we step on board we see that this is not only a newer train but a French train! We walk around reading the signs in our best french accent.

Josh's face sums up my feelings about this hike: Pretty cool, but super trippy!

Jumping down from the cars we head on toward more tunnels in search of the sheep carcass. There are train cars and track debris everywhere, begging to be explored.

As we follow the tracks to our next tunnel, I turn to look at a field of equipment and spot another tunnel off the track line.

We walk into a debris field of shale and dust. We turn on our headlamps but the light is completely swallowed up by the darkness. We only climb a few feet in before turning back. 
"My Dad would have something to say if he saw me in this tunnel without a mask." I think.

Sticking close to the opening I notice blast marks in the side of the walls. I assume this is where dynamite was set off?

Josh sees a large bird nest is at the opening and I wonder what type of raptor lives there. Josh spots several fur balls in the debris below the nest.

We leave the tunnel in progress and head for the main tunnel on the track line. This one looks to be undergoing renovation and signs of construction are everywhere. Only a few steps in I spot the big horn sheep in the dust.

It is smaller than I thought. It's just a baby and laying, mummified, next to a pile of dermastis beetles.

As Josh turned it over with a stick I keep thinking, 'welcome to Jurassic Park', and a sense of uneasy reflection washed over me.

We left the sheep and headed further down the tunnel. In the distance I could see a headlamp bobbing in the darkness. We met with a couple halfway through the tunnel and I asked them if they had made it to the trestle. 
12 miles down the tracks from the trailhead is the Goat Canyon Trestle which is worth a visit. Josh and I took a bouldering route through Goat Canyon last winter and it was a blast!

We emerged from the tunnel and sought out a sunny place for lunch. The tunnel was so deep in the mountain that water dripped from its ceiling and it was super cold!

After lunch we opted to hike down the tracks a little more and make it a good 10 mile day. The desert here is amazing, so many signs of big water in its past.

We turned and headed back to the trailhead about 3pm having hiked 5 miles in. The shadows were getting long and the wind cold as we hiked.

Back at the trailhead before dark, we set off in search of mexican food and a shower. It was another great hike!


  1. What a fun hike! I love hiking on the rail trails. You just never know what you'll find. I think that goat carcass would have freaked me out a bit too. Nice pictures!

    1. Thank you so much for reading, Carie! I love the tracks too. When I lived in Redlands CA I walked the tracks to get back and forth to work. One day I found a crib mattress box spring and hung it on my patio wall and started to mount all of the weird/interesting stuff I would find around the tracks. It turned out to be a cool installation/sculpture thing and I wish I still had it, maybe I'll start a new one!

    2. I thought I had sent this once but now don't see it on your blog.

      Can you get to the Goat Canyon Trestle the way you went. Google earth made it look like there might be some detours. Like your hikes!!

    3. Hi Dan!
      To my knowledge you CAN hike to the trestle from here. It is a long hike so get an early start. I have not gone to the trestle this way, only by climbing up and over the mountain which is a blast too. Thank you so much for reading! Link or email me a trip report after you go!

    4. When you say "up and over the mountain" are you referring to entering through Anza Borrego and the dirt roads?

      And good luck on the PCT, I'm very jealous.

    5. Yes, that's what I'm talking about. If you want to email me I'll send you our KMZ track log from that trip.

  2. Is it easy to find the parking lot at the beginning?

    1. Yes, contact De Anza Springs Resort: They are very helpful and will direct you were to go as well as keeping an eye on your car to ensure you've returned safely or contact authorities if you have not. Give them a call, they can answer all your questions. Have fun! Be safe!