Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Whazoos Trip to the Mountains of the Moon, Goat Canyon Trestle Anza Borrego

I must have missed the turn off to Eldorado. The directions said to turn right at the third ocotillo just past the fifth wash on the left side of the second canyon, on the winter solstice. So that was my problem, it's not the solstice. I missed it by that much, 6 days. That place called Eldorado is one hard place to find, we'll look again some day.

Lucky for us we had a back-up plan and decided to make the best of camping in the Mountains of the Moon, which is what this area of Anza Borrego looks like, especially at night. 

And just so you know, this is what an rv.net post looks like.
(If this post is too long, let me know and I'll cut it in half. The trip report I mean)

I want to give credit where credit is due, and that would be to FishPoet for his trip report on the Goat Canyon trestle of Anza Borrego. I have been going to Borrego since 1972 and had never heard of the trestle. Just when a guy thinks he knows everything, well there you have it. 

Just off Mortero Wash are the remains of the old train stop so it looked like we were on the right track. Track, that was a train joke, or was I just blowing steam. And let's face it, that water tower is cool.

Just in time for the Whazbash Cannonball to make a stop.

Riding the rails was something I always wanted to do. It's now checked off the bucket list.

We spent the first night camped by the remains of the old train stop. With a little imagination you can still hear the train pulling up and people taking care of duties. Speaking of duties, I don't see the outhouse anywhere. 

I couldn't help but take a picture of the view. Maybe not so scenic to some, yet the horizon is what I crave, maybe a full hundred miles distant.

What we have here is the newest in fire attire. At least for the Whazoos. There are no ground fires allowed in this part of Borrego and in fact many of the places we go now have this restriction. A last minute stop at Home Depot for a $16 bbq grill and a hack saw to lower the legs gave us our new platform for both cooking and a fire.

That along with my new Dutch Oven (a gift from a good friend) gives us reason to stop earlier in the evening and relax. Typically we run until dark and have Dinty Moore or something simple before bed. 

Now don't laugh you Dutch Oven cookers out there. I never knew it was a science as I threw out a half bag of charcoal. The recipe for "Dave's Saucy Chicken" said it would take an hour, 15 minutes later it was done. Little did I know to use only as much as the diameter of the oven plus 2 briquettes. Also with some of those put on the lid. This was all information given to me after the trip. Oh but boy it was fun, and added some spice to our evening as well as the chicken.

Evening at the train depot was gorgeous and the temps perfect. 

The next morning we were heading out on a hard looking hike to the Goat Canyon train trestle, the tallest in North America. Was Mrs. Whazoo showing me where to start or was she divining for water?

First up though was a bath for the Whazoo. The date inscripted in the concrete gave this cattle trough a manufacturing date of Dec. 1940. No wonder the water was green, or not.

The hike started going vertical immediately along with the heart rate.

Soon we came upon one of the splendors of the ancient Borrego world, palm trees left over from the Mesozoic era. Now I don't know how long ago that is but it sure mesozs with my mind to think that they have outlived the dinosaurs. These are native palms that have endured in small huddles around the desert southwest, usually where there is a supply of seasonal or underground water. The water from this spot fed the cattle trough in a previous picture, though there was none there at the time.

Some were small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Or is it not very trick photography and a bad joke?

The bases of some were so big as to dwarf the pose of Mrs. Whazoo.

I quickly became very frond of them as we walked through their silent stand.

And as you stood there looking up it almost seemed as if their silence had a face. Or four.

Not too often, but every now and then a mood hits, and words fall into place. I apologize...I don't do serious very well.

Climbing above the palms the boulders were getting larger and it seemed as if the palms were hemmed in with no way to escape. Yet they are natives here, we are not, and they will be here fighting off the rocks long after we have gone.

It didn't really happen, but what if? Maybe leaving that second set of keys hidden in the secret spot under the bumper would not be a bad idea. Except that it's not a secret now is it?

Looking up to see the mountain we had to climb over, my knees buckled. Well, my left knee anyway. That and the right hip are shot and aching terribly, like many of you. Vicodin, you've let me down today, not making a dent in the pain on both sides. I have to say this is the first time I've ever had to back down from a good hike. It's something I'll have to learn to deal with I suppose, until I get my whole-body transplant that is. Yep, I'm in line for a Hugh Jackman body. Mrs. Whazoo picked it out herself. The train trestle we seek is on the other side of this mountain and we didn't make it that day...

It was still early getting back to the truck. There was still time. Time for a change of plans and a new route.

I'd been told of another way to get to the trestle. It's not recommended and I had to trestle with my conscience, but I was determined to see that bridge, even if I had to become a criminal to do it. 

Mrs. Whazoo looks down the endless track and says "12 miles of walking rails Whazoo? I'm not trained for this!"

Walking along, the scenery was underwhelming. I made the observation that if Colorado has every shade of green then Anza Borrego has all shades of brown know to the human eye. And I was glad it's wasn't summer.

We had to traipse through several tunnels and were amazed at the construction involved. It gave rise to the question "what was their loco motive, their insane reason for building this crazy railroad?" And were the gates there to keep the zombies out of San Diego? 

Something about the Jacumba Mountains being in the way of getting from San Diego to El Centro where the 146 mile line was to connect with the Southern Pacific. This railroad, the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway, was also known as "the Impossible Railway." Well it's pretty impossible for me to imagine the work that went into building this in the very early 1900's.

Another stand of palms were in view down in the gorge, fighting off the encroaching rocks.

We saw several of these doomaflatchies along the tracks. They had a drive shaft and hydraulic lines making me wonder their purpose. I was thinking they were track tensioners but how would there be slack track? I'm sure some railroad buff from rv.net can answer...Jefe?

I forget what number of tunnel this was, but we lumbered through it.

As my wrist was bothering me from working the hiking stick so hard I named this the "Carpal Tunnel".

The tunnels were as varied as the hills they cut through.

The Goat Canyon trestle finally came into view from a distance. I zoomed in for this picture, little did we know it was still an hour away as we contoured the mountains following the tracks. Goat Canyon is where the trestle nestles and I was so glad right then to have not made that hike from over the mountains.

The trestle is in the shadow of the distant canyon.

There were two derailed cars down the mountain. I suppose they will be eaten by the earth
as time goes by. Story has it that the engineer was blinded by the "ghost lights" of Anza Borrego and made that corner too fast.

Put your good glasses on now, to see Mrs. Whazoo standing near the middle of the trestle.

Here, let me help you see better.

"Wow" said Mrs. Whazoo, "that's a lot of chop sticks!"

While the Mrs. trains for the hike back, the Whazoo was studying the construction techniques involved in trestling. Could it be Greco-Roman trestling?. 

Boy, I wonder how long this ladder is?

Guess I can finally say I walked the walk. The catwalk that is. And as I walked I noticed the reason for the ruddy red color of the wood, creosote. These wooden timbers have been saturated giving off a slight pungent oder. 

Creosote was used as a wood preservative and insect repellant in the timbers used for these trestles and ties. It is also very flammable which is a good reason there were several old hose boxes under the trestle to use in case of fire. At least that's what I thought they were. But then who would run into a burning creosote soaked trestle to put out a fire??

Being able to walk across the trestle was just grate, with some of the sections starting to come un-fastened from each other and tied together with cheap rope by sightseers. Please don't trip...we won't see you next fall as that wood be your last.

Isn't it obvious, it was brake time. 

There were quite a few stacks of large timbers along the way and I was thinking...is this where you board the train? Board...the...train. OK, moving along. (Was that bad? I thought it was bad.) I'll try again...Looking at this pile of wood I told Mrs. Whazoo "Look, they're all a board." ?? 

The Whazoo shows he has mettle, metal, meddle. Don't you just love the english language?

These tracks were first laid in 1921 and are in fantastic shape. I did not see anywhere "Made in China".

There it is, made in Colorado. That explains it.

This was the last tunnel heading back to the truck. Looking close you can see the two ravens on the posts that had followed us the whole way there and back, hoping for some of Mrs. Whazoo's Gummy Bears. 

We crossed 8 trestles on the way back...

and 6 tunnels, which did of course end up giving me, tunnel vision. Ah, you knew that had to be in there somewhere right?

Driving around after the hike looking for a place to camp we found the smallest Ocotillo plant I'd ever seen. Check out the thorns on this little guy.

Until we found this little dude, smaller yet.

Ocotillos are the strangest of desert plants, very otherworldly, and we were in an area where some were already putting on a show due to recent rain. We were in the land of the Ocotilians.

Some look just like dead sticks yet put out the brightest row of red blossoms.

While others dress out in green within a few days of the last rain.

Ocotillos have evolved to become the most enduring desert plant and with time you can evolve to see them as beautiful for what they are, survivalists in the Mountains of the Moon.

"Breath deep the gathering gloom, watch lights fade from every room." And our blues are indeed moody as we watch the desert become the Mountains of the Moon before our very eyes.

Meanwhile Whazoo was having a close encounter of the third kind, as his hat had become a UFO. This is actually a gift from Dear Mother and you know guys, the women in our lives are so good at giving the perfect gifts, things we never knew we couldn't live without.

With the fire burning down I was up for trying some night photography. I have a long way to go.

The fire was out, time for bed on the mountains of the moon.

I took a couple more pictures of the friendly Ocotillians before we headed out for the days fun.

The night before I noticed the flashlight getting a bit dim, it was finally time to change the batteries.

Since I first started coming here in the early 70's Anza Borrego has become the most regulated desert in the world. With all washes blocked, no dogs on trails and no ground fires it sometimes takes away from the open desert experience. However, there is a reason. And the knuckleheads that do this bring it down on all of us. 

We were driving over to the Arroyo Tapiado to visit the mud caves, Of course they are dirt now, having been volcanic mud in the early formation of the area. The last time I was here, about 1976, this place was unknown to the general population.

There are manyholes, both large and small, and tunnels that run for up to a quarter mile through the Carrizo Badlands. Some start off as a simple wash before turning into simple fun.

"I think I found the way out Dear." Being lost in a tunnel is like being lost on train tracks, you can only go one way or the other. Don't tell Whazoo, he hasn't figured it out yet.

It looked possible...
Maybe my big self can fit through.

Oh Man, I'm getting to old for this stuff. Surely I could just stay home and watch this on youtube.

The cave closed and opened, closed and opened as we got farther in.

Crawling through the bowels of the earth we came to the inner sphinctum, I mean sanctum. So is this what a colonoscopy camera feels like?

Yes Dear, that noise you just heard was the elusive Borrego barking cave spider. I might have stepped on one.

What? You thought I was joking? These guys bark like a Great Dane. 

"Whazoo, can we leave now, you know I don't like barking cave spiders."

We finally came to a slot that I didn't feel like contorting to get through, it was time to leave the lair of the Borrego barking cave spiders. 

You get a little dirty in these caves. Just think, that dirt getting in your pores is ancient mud millions of years old. I'll just hope there isn't any ancient flesh eating bacteria in it.

And if anyone ever finds a shirt like this one, please notify me. This one won't last much longer and it's been my favorite for many years.

Leaving the arroyo we were going back to the ocotillo fields to spend the last night.

We found a nice little spot to hang out surrounded by cactus. No bare footin going on here.

That evening we broke out the dutch oven again to celebrate a great trip to Borrego. This time it was peach cobbler. Yes, I know these are simple recipes. Give me a little time and less charcoal, I'll cook with the best of you. Maybe we can even trade recipes sometime. Wait, did I just say that? 

Once again it was supposed to take an hour. Thirty minutes later it was done. I couldn't believe how the dough came up and over the peaches as it cooked. Is it supposed to do that or was it caused by too much heat?? Regardless, delicious was the word. Full was my stomach. Tired was my brain.

We sat by the fire and stared, full and happy. I needed tooth picks to keep my eyes open as we shared the fire with a friendly Ocotillian.

He cradles the moon with fingers of thorn, wishing to be home again.

Peace and quiet...priceless. The lights of Calexico/Mexicali show over the horizon from 20 miles away. Unseen by the naked eye they show up in a timed exposure.

We are watched over by our Ocotillian friend. And he by Orion the Hunter.

And having written too many captions to too many pictures, the Whazoos bid you good night from the mountains of the moon.

Thanks for reading,
Dave Rogers

Post Script: The week or so before our trip there had been rain in Borrego. I called the Borrego Ranger Station to find out how much, we weren't looking to crawl around in real mud. I mentioned I hadn't been to the caves since the 70's and the Ranger told me it was different now with the internet and all, and to expect 100 people. WHAT? No way, the day after Christmas? Well, arriving at the arroyo where the caves are located in the morning there were only a few people here and there. So we passed the largest cave and looked for some smaller holes first, meaning to come back to the big one. By the time we came back down there were so many cars and people we couldn't leave fast enough. There was a couple pushing a stroller in the sand wash, having a hard time but still pushing. It was quite the zoo and the only thing missing was the organ grinder and his monkey. I would certainly advise anyone that wants to go that during the week would be best, but not a week of vacation time for everyone.

Oh and by the way there was no ancient necrotizing fasciitis, flesh eating bacteria, in those caves. I was only joking. Have a good night...


  1. not sure if you got an answer or not on the box along the tracks....its a greaser. there must have been a curve nearby that cant be seen in the picture. as train axles are solid the inside wheel has a shorter distance to travel. so greasers are put near curves to help the axles travel on curves better.
    awesome palm trees. huge! it must have truly been an amazing sight to be at.

    1. i should say...at least it appears to be a greaser. lol

  2. You are one smart guy Rich, that is exactly what it is and I would have never known. Yes both were near a curve. Thanks for the explanation!

  3. well you know, i try. lol. i actually worked maintenance of way as a contractor on what once was conrail. conrail is no longer around as csx and n.s. bought that railroad. i did track maintenance type of work. i like the smart guy thing though. lol
    great report as usual, id expect nothing less. happy tcing!