Anza Borrego Desert--The Mud Caves, Diablo Drop-offs, and Broken Shaft Gulch


We were originally in southern California to visit our son and his family who live in the tiny community of Campo down on the border southeast of San Diego. On the morning that we were to retun to Tucson, he suggested that we take a detour from our normal route for a few hours and accompany them out into the desert to see the Mud Caves. The "few" hours turned into an all day trip with the visit to the caves and the follow-up 4wd adventure to the Diablo Drop-offs, Broken Shaft Gulch and Fish Creek Canyon!

The Mud Caves, and the 4wd route are in the Carrizo Badlands in the southwest corner of the park. We accessed the area from the community of CaneBreak northwest of Ocotillo California. At CaneBreak we turned down Vallecito Wash a few miles to Tapadio Wash. The desert country was very scenic with the multi-colored layers of the badland hills. The drive in the washes was easy and did not require 4wd.

There are supposed to be 22 caves in the Mud Cave area. It was easy to find the one that we were headed for--there were a half dozen vehicles parked in front of its entrance. Luckily they all left before we were ready to go inside. The cave was in a "hardened dirt" like material that although it was wet was not very muddy. Our son told us that it had changed since the last time that he had been there. The floor level had dropped considerably from flood erosion. The cave seemed to be primarily a single passgeway that extended quite a few hundred feet into the hill. Two collapsed sinkhole type areas along the way provided occasional skylights. The grandkids really liked the thrill of the exploration.

(Click on photos to enlarge)



After visiting the cave, we drove back down Tapadio Wash to Vallecito Creek. A few miles downstream, we turned up Arroyo Seco Del Diablo wash. As we ventured up this wash, we drove through a spectacular narrows. The trail was not 4wd, but it seemed that there could be times when the ability to switch into 4WD would be appreciated. We exited out the head of the canyon onto a mesa. From there 360 degree views of the surrounding country could be had. We soon came to the first of the Diablo Drop-offs. The guide book description portrayed it as ominous looking. We didn't see any problems and plunged off. There were three choices to descend the second drop off. Eric decided to take the most-left of the three. It was wider but there was a right turn and a dip to negotiate. It was a pretty exciting descent for him with one of his rear wheels coming off the ground a couple of feet. The third dropoff was very uneventful. It was at this point that we encountered a jeep coming from the other direction. The driver and passengers asked us if we had ever been through the next section(Broken Shaft Gulch) before. We had not. Their descriptions were quite ominous sounding! We thanked them and proceeded onward. It was very narrow in several places, especially for Eric's Tundra. But he negotiated the turns well. At one bouldery place, it took several maneuvers to get the width and length of his truck through, but once again he did well. At that point we noticed the sign. From that point the road improved dramatically. Fish Creek canyon was spectacular especially through "Split Mountain". We exited the backcountry at Ocotillo Wells many miles north of where we had started. Our "few hour" trip had turned into all day. But it had been a great trip. The only downer was that we still had 5-6 hours to get back to Tucson that night!


YouTube - DiabloDropoffs.MOV

Eric at Dropoffs