Nature Watch: "Mud Caves"
Last updated 5/3/2022 at 9:27am
There is something both dangerous and attractive about caves, and the barren badlands of Anza-Borrego Desert State offer both in a serpentine wash called Arroyo Tapiado.
In Spanish, Arroyo Tapiado means "walled wash," which aptly describes this fascinating place where nearly two dozen caves and several slot canyons can be found in the sandstone cliffs that are cut by the wash that winds nearly six miles into the Carrizo Badlands.
Many of these caves are large, with openings that hikers can easily enter, ceilings at nearly 100 feet high, and extending for more than 1,000 feet. Others are what I call slither caves that require one to crawl to enter through narrow openings and may only extend a few hundred feet.
Some have openings that provide skylights, while others are just dark shafts extending into the mud hills.
Just about everyone who visits the area enters the Big Mud Cave, because it is clearly visible from the road, about three miles into the canyon, and the large opening seems inviting. It's ideal for the casual explorers, while more experienced spelunkers often use ropes and sophisticated equipment to plumb the depths of more challenging caves.
In the Big Cave there are several holes in the ceiling, providing visitors with natural light that allows exploration without flashlights.
These mud caves are a product of erosion. Flash Floods have carved away the relatively soft mud hills, creating the caves and the slot canyons.
Four-wheel drive, or at least high-clearance vehicles are recommended to reach Arroyo Tapiado, located north of Highway S-2. Turn off at mile marker 43 to Palm Spring/Vallecito Wash and travel east about 4.5 miles until to see the Arroyo Tapiado sign to the left.
The Big Mud Cave is three miles into Arroyo Tapiado but keep an eye out for other caves as you drive.
This is a great place to visit for a day trip, but make sure you go prepared with plenty of water, hiking boots and a camera. Let someone know where you are going and when you should return. There is no cell service in the canyon.
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