Anza Borrego

Goat Canyon Trestle Revisited

Join us we hike from Mortero Palms to the world famous Goat Canyon Trestle deep in the Carrizo Gorge …

Someone got creative with the water tower at Dos Cabezas in Anza Borrego
Someone got creative with the water tower at Dos Cabezas

Goat Canyon Trestle has been called the highest wood trestle in the United States. It was constructed in 1932 after an earthquake collapsed one of the railroad tunnels in Goat Canyon and is 600ft. in length and 180ft. tall at its’ highest point. Due to the complete remoteness and volatile nature of the terrain, the Carrizo Gorge railroad is nothing short of an engineering marvel.

It has been 4 years since we have hiked out to the Goat Canyon Trestle from the Mortero Palms trailhead. I have been itching to do this hike again and finally it looked like things were falling into place. This time we were accompanied by my sister Linda and later by our friend’s Jan and Gina.

We arrived in Ocotillo around 2PM and after a quick beer at the Lazy Lizard , found a nice camp spot near the junctions of Mortero Canyon road and Jojoba Canyon road.

Camp set up in Mortero Wash - Anza Borrego
Camp set up in Mortero Wash

We had actually camped here years back and it was great to see that nothing much had changed. OK well there was now a huge face on the side of the water tower at Dos Cabezas and someone had built a make-shift wood table at our site but besides that it looked the same as it had 4 years ago. **

What is nice about this location is that it has a 180 degree view to the east and a lot of big rocks to climb if you get bored. That night we feasted on Tandori chicken grilled on the open fire while occasionally gazing upwards in the hopes of seeing some falling stars.

Stopping for a breather along the trail to Goat Canyon
Stopping for a breather along the trail to Goat Canyon

Jan and Gina showed up the next morning to join us on the hike, so we all headed over to the Mortero Palms trail-head. Unlike last time, we now had a Delorme PN-40 GPS to guide us to the trestle. I was also able to download a GPX file so we could follow a route right to the trestle.

We parked and immediately headed up the northwest wash. For the first 1.5 miles or so it is a strenuous non stop climb until you reach the crest between Mortero Canyon and Goat Canyon. Half way up you enter the dense Mortero Palms grove which is really spectacular. We stopped for a bit to rest and enjoy the shade of the palms knowing we still had some more climbing to do. There were signs of water everywhere around the Mortero Palms grove and the desert palms looked extremely lush and healthy. After numerous trips to various desert palm groves out here, I am starting to prefer palm trees with their natural “skirts” and not the trimmed version we have on the coast.

Linda's technique on her descent into Goat Canyon was second to none.
Linda’s technique on her descent into Goat Canyon was second to none.

Cresting the hill and exiting Mortero Canyon we were greeted with a huge rolling desert meadow of cholla, agave and numerous barrel cactus. This was the only flat part of the hike so our pace quickened in anticipation of seeing the trestle. The trail is a bit hard to follow at this juncture but with the help of the GPS and the numerous “ducks” people have left, we soon began our descent into Goat Canyon and the trestle. After about 3/4 mile the trestle came into view.

The awe inspiring Goat Canyon Trestle deep in Carrizo Gorge
The awe inspiring Goat Canyon Trestle deep in the Carrizo Gorge

Even though I have seen the trestle 4 or 5 times the first glimpse always put me in a state of awe. The fact that this was built out here in this inhospitable terrain is amazing!

We stopped at the overlook to rest and have lunch. It was decided that we would turn back at this point which is about 300 yards or so from the trestle. Problem is from this point on there is a precipitous drop-off that must be careful navigated and it was getting late in the day.

We were satisfied with the view for now and would leave the Goat Canyon Trestle for another trip.

Goat Canyon Trestle Photo Journal

RE our campsite in Mortero Wash: Since this post was written the area has changed drastically. The Bureau of Land Management gave approval for the construction of a 12,000 acre industrial wind farm in in the area west of the small desert town of Ocotillo. The area was scraped clean of all desert flora and fauna for the construction. As of this writing the area houses hundreds of 300 foot tall wind towers. The beauty and serenity of this particular camp site has been ruined.

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