Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves Anza Borrego State Park
Another great desert camping trip to Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves in Anza Borrego State Park. This is one of my favorite spots to explore in Anza Borrego because of the cool caves and the ability to camp far away from anyone else. Also, only street-legal vehicles can go offroad in Anza Borrego State Park, so you do not have to worry about dirt bikes or quads tearing through the area.
- Get yourself to the S2 either from the 78, 76, or 79 depending on where you are coming from.
- Take the S2 until right about mile marker 43
- Take the dirt road on your left named Vallecito Creek for 4.5 miles
- You will see a small sign for Arroyo Tapiado Wash you will make a hard left here
- Follow the wash, and you will begin to see signs of caves and canyons shortly
Note: Putting Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves into Google maps and having it route you works perfectly. It even navigates you very well on the dirt road portions. High clearance 4x4 or AWD vehicles are prefferred for traveling to the mud caves. I have taken out trucks and a Subaru Crosstrek with no difficulty. However, we saw a Honda Oddessy on the trail as well. It surprised me to see them out there, but they made it.
When we made it to the Arroyo Tapiado wash and saw our first sign of a cave, we parked the truck and ran for it. We were at Bat Canyon looking for Cool Cave. Before leaving for the trip, I loaded my GPS up with the routes of all the caves. I found the GPS download here GPS data for cave entrances. Some caves are much easier to see than others from the main wash, so without the GPS, you can easily find 5 - 8 caves from the road. The GPS coordinates will help you find those hard-to-locate cave entrances.
As we made our way through Bat Canyon, we quickly spotted the cool cave. When I hear the word cave what often comes to mind is a big pitch-black open space. For some reason, I think it is big opens spaces. Cool Cave is the exact opposite. It is a cave that you must basically shuffle your entire way, though. I have never been a fan of tight spaces, and this one was on the smaller side. I went back probably only 40 feet while Charlie went about 60 feet back into the cave. He did not see an end.
Entrance to Cool Cave in Bat Canyon
They are caves not hiking trails so be prepared for small, tight, dark spaces. The first thing I noticed, upon entering the cave was the drop in temperature. The caves are much cooler than outside in the open desert. It makes for a pleasant escape from the direct sun beating on you in the desert.
Inside Cool Cave
After making it back to the cars, we decided we would set up camp before exploring anymore. We drove a long way down the wash to get a private spot with no one in either direction for miles. The solitude and quietness of the desert are amazing.
Our campsite just before sunset
After setting up camp, our friend who we were waiting for quickly joined us. It was getting into the late afternoon and sunset was just about 2 hours away. We had to decide if we wanted to quickly jump back into our vehicles and explore some caves or complete camp set up and play some games around camp. We opted for the latter and finished setting up camp.
The first thing I did was set up the model rockets to be launched. No one else in the group has had much experience with model rockets, so when I said I would get this tiny wooden and cardboard rocket up 1000 feet in the sky, everyone looked at me like that would never happen. I loaded up the rocket and strapped in the biggest engine I had with me a C6-7 rocket engine. So 6 seconds of thrust, then 7 seconds of delay before the pop and parachute comes out.
This was our first rocket launch of the day, and it did not seem too windy well, at least no wind on the ground. So we pointed the launchpad straight in the air and hoped for the best. Bummer the darn battery launchers were dead. Seems old batteries were left in the launchers and had created some nasty corrosion. After a little moping around camp, I got to thinking we could not launch any rockets. I thought to myself, "we don't need the launcher. All it does is send electricity down the wires." So I ripped the wires out of the "safe" battery launcher, stripped the ends of the wires, and grabbed a 9-volt battery I had brought along.
WOOOOOOSHHHH!!!! That rocket took off well as well a rocket. It kept going, going, then went some more and then....gone. The faint black speck in the sky seemed to have disappeared. There is no way of telling, but that rocket must have gone at least 1000 feet up if not more. Our calculations on pointing at the launch pad were a little off. It went FAR towards the West. There was no way that the rocket was going to be found.
I brought a handful of rockets, so we still had plenty to play with. We some of the heavier cardboard and plastic rockets. Still with big engines, but because they were so much heavier, they did not go as high, meaning we actually could see them float back down to earth and retrieve them. I think our best idea was nighttime rocket launches. We strapped a few glow stick bracelets to one of the larger rockets and let it fly. It landed close to camp!
Sunset in Anza Borrego State Park, Mud Caves
Evenings and nighttime in the desert are some of the best. As the sun goes down, everything gets much quieter then the night comes to life! It gets so much darker in the desert, bringing the night sky to life. Nighttime also means fires and hanging out, talking with good friends. We spent our night warming up next to the campfire, exchanging stories and looking up at the night sky enjoying the stars. I had purchased this great used washing machine drum from someone who had welded legs to it. Above ground, campfires are required in Anza Borrego State Park, and this was perfect. The large number of holes in the drum meant high airflow for the fire.
Our campfire blazing!
At nightfall, we went for a night off-roading trip. We took a trip further up the wash was in order. We hopped in our trucks and made our way up. Our buddy, with a light bar in front, made for easy riding. We went at maybe 2 or 3 miles further up the wash until it got a little tight for the trucks. Maneuvering the turns and corners was possible, but getting back out if we went too far was a bit of a mystery. We decided to head back and get back to our warm fire.
Once it came time for bed, I was excited. I got to sleep on my cot out in the open. All I had to do was open my eyes, and I had the milky way shining above me. Little scary when I would hear rustling sounds around me but I made it through the night. Having a 5F degree sleeping bag kept me more than toasty throughout the night.
We all woke up early and were well-rested. The clean desert air makes for great sleep. Weather reports had stated it may rain today, so we wanted an early start to hopefully explore a bit before any major rain started. Nothing worse than being in a cave formed by rain while it is raining.
We headed down the wash and found Blind Cave. We did not know what to expect but started our way through. This cave was a little wider than Cool Cave, but not by much. We pressed on. We pushed forward to what felt like maybe 150 to 200 feet into the cave. It is very difficult to determine how far you have gone in when you have no perspective of anything else. But after not too long, we saw a light at the end of the cave. We crawled out the hole and found ourselves at a low point surrounded by 30-foot mud hills. All the water must collect in this spot and go down the hole forming the cave. We crawled back into the hole and made our way back. Seemed shorter on the way back. That always seems to be the case though.
We were able to do a little more exploring that day. Going down a few canyons. We went through Big Mud Cave, which seemed to be more of a canyon rather than a cave. The canyon had some covered wall spots, but still, nothing too cave-like. While hiking through Big Mud Cave though it rained. The trip was cut a little short due to the rain. We were in canyons and caves where rain runs and camped in a wash where the rain runs. All signs pointed to we should get the hell out of here.
We had not torn down camp before leaving to explore the caves so in the rain we quickly dismantled everything and threw it all into our vehicles. It was a little saddening having to leave so quickly and rush to get out of there. It was a beautiful park with tons of exploring left undone.
We will go back to the mud caves again!
- Never go in the caves alone, always bring a buddy, and even better have someone who is not going in caves know where you are going
- Never go in the caves while it is raining or after there has recently been rain
Things to bring/plan for when going to the mud caves
- GPS data for cave entrances
- Headlamps so you have two hands to stabilize you while in caves
- Emphasis on plural, if one light goes out you do not want to be stuck without one in the cave
- Bandana or Neck Wrap - it gets dusty in the caves
- Lots of water - Bring too much water
- Gas in vehicle - there are no gas stations out there