Scouting Goat Canyon
(1/19/06) I can see why the Goat Canyon Trestle hike is one of the most popular hikes in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The Mortero Palm Oasis is so dense, daylight barely squeaks through. Desert wildflowers were already in bloom. Just when I thought I saw it all after seeing the magnificent splendor of the largest wooden trestle in the world, I got the added bonus of viewing the abandoned original tunnel that caved in during an earthquake, an old railroad tank car used to put out trestle fires caused by hot steam-locomotive ash, a couple derailed cars scattered below the tracks, and amazing canyon views. But the perfect ending to the perfect day was running into the herd of big horn sheep.
Being a desert rat, it was easy enjoying this cool scout trip of Goat Canyon Trestle. I started my adventure shaking up the dust on the dirt road that runs from the highway to the Mortero Palms trailhead. Trying not to get distracted by my rush off-roading in my Jeep Wrangler, I checked road conditions to ensure that my X5 can handle it with a full load hike day.
Navigation can be pretty tricky in this hike. I'm really glad I scouted this trip. I ended up going up the wrong canyon which is pretty common for newbies to Goat Canyon. I backtracked to the correct canyon. A perfect marker for the correct canyon is finding the old stone horse troft at the base of the fork and heading to the canyon on the left. A short distance up this canyon revealed the beautiful Mortero Palm Oasis. The palm frond canopy was so thick it was actually dark walking through it. I was so mesmerized by the palms that I forgot to take pictures. Duh.
The toughest part of the hike was climbing the fifty foot steep section at the point where the palms end. It's a class three up this face so be prepared to do some light climbing. From this point on, cairns are strategically placed to guide the way. Although the distance of the hike isn't that long compared to most Perfect Pace hikes, the technical difficulty of the hike makes the hike challenging and slow. In fact, I bumped up the rating from "moderate to strenuous" to "strenuous" due to its technical difficulty. Its worth hiking all the way to the trestle, but it is a long challenging day.
Its tempting to stop and turn around once you see the trestle from the distance because the climb down looks impassable. But looks are deceiving. Its not as bad as it looks and it just gets more magical as you descend to the trestle. Flowers are already in bloom in Goat Canyon. Plants and beautiful granite striations emanate across the canyon from the trestle.
As you descend to the trestle, you can see the original tunnel that the train used to run through before it caved in during an earthquake. Apparently you can explore inside the tunnel from the other side. When I reached the tracks, I climbed up the ladder on an old water tank railroad car that was used to put out fires caused by the hot ash that emanated from the steam locomotives. From the distance, you can also see two cars that derailed and were now scattered below the tracks down the mountain.
The trestle itself is absolutely magnificent. Its an architectural marvel and the upkeep on the trestle certainly shows.
The best part of the my scout trip was running into the herd of big horn sheep on my way back. When I heard the distinct sound of galloping, I looked to my left and was awestruck by a herd of Big Horn sheep stopped fifty feet away. They didn't seem all that afraid of me and seemed just as curious of me as I was of them. I watched them for quite a while, but had to get going because it was getting late. Hopefully they will be back to greet us on hike day.