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Anza Borrego State Park

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Mortero Palms
Goat Canyon

December 6, 2003


This is without a doubt one of the best hikes in all of Borrego State Park.  The trailhead is about a two hour drive from San Diego to the southeastern part of the park, taking I-8 to Ocotillo, then backtracking 9mi's along S-2 to Mortero Wash.  The hike offers several challenges and points of interest along the way.


Challenges / Points of Interest:
  • Mortero Palm Canyon Ascent

  • Palm Grove

  • Rock Scrambling

  • Route Finding

  • Goat Canyon Descent

  • Spectacular RR Trestle

  • Many RR Artifacts

Hike Statistics:
  • Mortero Palms Trailhead:  2000ft

  • Top Altitude:  3200ft

  • Total Vertical Rise:  1200ft

  • Trestle Altitude:  2400Ft

  • Vertical Descent to Trestle:  800ft (very steep in spots)

  • Hiking time:  3hrs out and 3hrs back plus 2hrs exploration time - 8hrs total

  • Moderately Strenuous Hike


Mortero Canyon: 

Probably the trickiest part of 


Mortero Canyon:


One of the most critical parts of this hike is getting started up the correct canyon.  There is a choice of two main washes each of which split into multiple possible routes.  The correct wash is North-West with an immediate turn to the West.  It is tempting to take the South-West wash, which will also get you there but adds about 0.75 miles to the trek.


Mortero Canyon climbs steadily upward to a dense palm grove at the 0.75 mile mark.  This is a good place to take a break, eat some trail mix, and do some local exploration.  It is possible to exit the palm grove to the right or left.  To the right is a water chute that can run strong in the spring months.  It is climbable and the most direct route up.  Exiting the palm grove to the left takes you through some class 3 rock scrambling - nothing too technical, but a challenge for first time hikers.  Contour to the right once you are above the palm grove to rejoin Mortero Canyon upward.


The trail is fairly well traveled so keep an eye out for the most warn footpath.  Unfortunately, there are several paths visible along the way.  Most will get you there, but some will get you lost.  Mortero Canyon flattens out at the 1 mile mark for about 0.25 miles, then proceeds steeply upward for another quarter mile.  You will reach the crest between Mortero Canyon and Goat Canyon at exactly 1.5 miles - the halfway point.


Trail Crest:

Probably the trickiest part of the hike is route finding along the relatively flat section between Mortero Canyon and Goat Canyon.  Mortero Canyon peters out at the 1.5 mile mark and becomes a rolling  desert meadow lined with Choilla, Barrel cactus, Agave, some Ocotillo, and my personal favorite... Cat Claw.  There are several possible routes to Goat Canyon, but the best one tends to the right and bypasses the beginning of Goat Canyon.  Again, the best advice is to find the most well worn trail and stick to it.  It is also advisable to have a good 7.5min quad topo map and compass in case the "well worn trial" leads in the wrong direction.  If you do everything right, you will begin descending into Goat Canyon at the 2.25mi mark, some 0.75mi's after reaching the crest from Mortero Canyon.


Goat Canyon:

The descent into Goat Canyon is significantly steeper than the ascent up Mortero Canyon.  But keep the faith, every obstacle you encounter has a workaround.  You will meet several un-jumpable drop-offs of 15ft height or less.  Most can be circumnavigated on the right and left.  The total distance in Goat Canyon is a short but "thrilling" 0.5mi scramble.  Your reward comes with the first sighting of the Goat Canyon trestle - a 200ft high, 750ft long, curved train trestle built just after the turn of the last century.  This first glimpse occurs at a particularly steep and tall drop-off, some 300yds from the trestle.  On first inspection, it appears you can't get there from here.  However, you can make it by climbing to the left, then dropping into the scree-choked canyon below.  But be careful as the footing is treacherous.  This last 300yds will take between 20 and 40min's depending on how adept you are at balancing on loose rock.


Exploring the Trestle Area:

There are a number of things to do and see once you have reached the trestle.  Look to the left and you will see the reason for the trestle's existence.  The original tunnel crossing Goat Canyon caved in during an earth quake, necessitating the construction of a shorter tunnel and a much larger trestle.  If you go through the tunnel to the left of the trestle you can enter the other end of the old, caved-in tunnel.


Also, observe the tank car and tank perched on the hill above it.  These were part of the fire fighting equipment defending the trestle against hot ash emanating from steam locomotives... pretty cool.  Other things to look for are two derailed boxcars about 2mi's to the right down the track, a working RR switch you can operate (near the trestle), dates on the steel tracks, a catwalk inside the trestle, and a 0.5mi long tunnel to the left.


I highly recommend this hike to any and all hearty hikers.  You will not be disappointed, trust me on this one...


Gear List

Backpack 1 Day pack for hike, 1600-2400 Cu. In capacity for lunch, light jacket
Boots 1 Midweight hiking boots
socks 2 pr two pair wool or synthetic (one worn)
Shoes 1pr teva's, flip-flops, tennis shoes or slippers for ride to and from site
Pants/shorts 1 pr lightweight w/zip-off legs for hike or shorts based on weather conditions, nylon wind/warnup pants ok
Underwear 3 pr synthetic is best
Gloves 1pr synthetic or wool. 
Jacket 1 lightweight nylon windbreaker or fleece
Shirts 2 t-shirts for hike and ride to and from site
Rain Gear 1 rain jacket & pants or poncho
Bandanna 1 Use as hat, sweatband,  kleenex
Cap/Hat 1 baseball hat or wide brim for sun protetion
Sunglasses 1 with cord or lease
Swiss Army Knife 1 ea or multi-tool for cutting cord, blisters, fingernails, splinter removal etc.
Toiletries 1 set Toilet paper
1st aid kit 1 set aspirins, tums, or ibuprophen as needed, bandaids
Headlamp/light 1 Petzl, Princeton, or mini-mag light with extra batteries & bulb
Water Bottles


24-32 oz bottles for cytomax, gatoraid or min 64 oz Hydration bladder
Whistle 1 plastic for emergency signalling
Camera 1 with lots of film, disposables work great
Hand Towel 1 for washing face & hands use your bandanna or wet wipes

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