Tucked away in the southern end of the Anza Borrego Desert is an engineering marvel that, due to its’ remoteness, has only been viewed by a relatively small number of people. The Goat Canyon Trestle was built in 1932 after an earthquake collapsed one of the tunnels of the Carrizo Gorge section of the San Diego Arizona Railroad.
At two hundred feet tall and 750 feet long, it remains to this day the longest, tallest curved wooden trestle ever built in the United States. The sheer ruggedness of the mountainous terrain as well as the searing desert temperatures warranted the name “The Impossible Railroad”.
The preferred route is to park near Mortero Palms and take the trail that leads you up and over the Jacumba Mountains dropping you down into Goat Canyon after 3 miles or so. This is pretty much the standard route and is published in a few hiking books and on a few websites.
While we have hiked out to Goat Canyon Trestle along the “popular route”, I have always had it in the back of my mind to park at the north end of Carrizo Gorge and then hike up to where it intersects Goat Canyon. Mary and I tried it once a couple years ago and eventually gave up. There is no clearly defined trail up the gorge, and a majority of the hike had us dodging cholla, hopscotching across river rocks and squeezing through catclaw. Still I was itching to do it and amazingly Mary agreed to accompany me.
Saturday morning we loaded up the LandCruiser, slapped on the sunscreen and drove out to meet up with Daren at the Carrizo Creek turnoff. After quick introductions, we hopped in our vehicles and lumbered up the Carrizo Gorge jeep road. The trail was deserted apart from a few jackrabbits, and after an hour of bouncing up the trail we were parked and off hiking into the gorge.
Now I am usually not one to worry about rattlesnakes , but the combination of the thick undergrowth and Daren’s rattlesnake stories had me a bit spooked. Suddenly, almost as if Daren had a magic crystal ball, the stillness of the desert was interrupted by a loud piercing rattle. No these weren’t maracas, but a 4-5′ long Diamondback rattler coiled up into strike position. We quickly detoured off the trail and continued deeper into the gorge, vowing to pay better attention our steps.
A couple miles into the hike we realized we were not covering as much ground as we had hoped. By our calculations the Goat Canyon juncture was still a couple hours away while in the meantime the sun had moved directly overhead.
At this point we made the decison to bushwhack up the side of the mountain using the train tracks as our goal. We made our way up the loose material, sweating, cursing and dodging cholla until we finally arrived at the tracks of the Carrizo Gorge railway.
From here the hike was easy since we merely had to follow the tracks for about another mile and a half. Along the way we passed through two-story tall tunnels which have been blasted through solid rock and are supported with massive wooden beams.
Further down the tracks we passed by some old box cars perched precariously on the edge of the gorge and after a bit more hiking we found ourselves standing on the middle of the 200 foot high Goat Canyon Trestle.Looking west down into Goat Canyon we realized the approach from Carrizo Gorge would have been all but impossible. There is a towering dry waterfall at the mouth of the canyon that looks deceptively easy on Google Earth. Our view from high atop the trestle said otherwise.
We explored the trestle area for some time until hunger eventually got the best of us. Far off in Carrizo Gorge was a LandCruiser with cold beer and sandwiches, so we reluctantly started our long journey back.