Chasing the Borrego Sandman: Hike to Goat Canyon Trestle

The mythical Goat Canyon Trestle is a hidden gem in the Anza Borrego desert near the California-Mexico border. The Carrizo Gorge Track, at first called “the impossible railroad,” stretches from San Diego to Yuma, navigating the difficult terrain through a series of 17 tunnels. The Goat Canyon Trestle was built in 1932 to replace a tunnel damaged from an earthquake and still stands strong today at 600-ft long by 200-ft tall.

During the construction in scorching desert heat, railroad workers reported seeing “glowing orbs” of light. One conductor even derailed to avoid an oncoming train that never existed. As if working the railroad wasn’t hard enough, no one was safe from the “Abominable Sandman of the Borrego,” a terrifying man beast reported to have white fur and glowing red eyes. (Learn more about the railroad’s fascinating history from The Last Adventurer.)

I put off this hike for a long time due to warnings from Chris of The Last Adventurer, until he offered to take me himself! The adventure began at 7:30am Saturday morning. Josh of California Through My Lens and I met Chris at a park in Ocotillo, CA. I borrowed my dad’s truck for the off-road journey to the trailhead, which required 4-WD and high clearance. We only managed to get stuck once, using the jack and building a rock bridge underneath the front tire to set us free. (Sorry, Dad.)

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The hike started with a steep climb, following a faint footpath and a trail of cairns. When we could climb no more, the trail dropped into Goat Canyon and vanished like a Borrego Sandman.

Once the trestle was in sight, we bouldered for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, we reached the tracks and took our lunch break in the shade of a tunnel.

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WARNNG: The railway company claims to be reopening the tracks and threatens cite any trespassers. Explore at your own risk!

On the climb out of Goat Canyon, we counted down our sips until we ran out of water. Usually 3 liters is more than enough for a day hike, except in 90 degree heat! Some lessons we must learn the hard way… twice.

Lured by the thought of warm water awaiting us in the truck, we stumbled back to the trailhead around 5:30pm. Once we properly hydrated with cold Gatorade at the only gas station/market in town, the feeling of accomplishment finally set in. This was an epic adventure I shall not soon forget.

Special thanks to Chris of The Last Adventurer and Josh of California Through My Lens for bringing me along!

Do not attempt this hike without acknowledgement of risks, proper navigation tools, sufficient water and outdoor experience. If you’re prepared to take on the challenge, go to The Last Adventurer for a detailed trail guide.



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4 Comments

  • We did our Hike to the Trestle on March 25th 2017.
    It was a great day to hike with temperatures in the mid 70’s and very windy at times (one gust of wind almost knocked me over).
    Like you said, this is a very tough hike and you do need to be prepared with GPS or compass, we got off the trail a few times and end up scrambling through some rocks for a while.

    We where averaging 1 mile and hour, and we did not stop to rest and we are all in pretty decent shape. Like you said, there is a lot of rock climbing and hoping along the trail, especially after the dry water fall.

    Getting to the trail head it’s not as tough if you stay on the right road, it is very confusing and easy to get off track, but if you want to avoid the hard rail crossing, you need to follow the Dos Cabezas Road the long way around and avoid the short cut on google’s maps, this way it will take you to a rail crossing that almost any car can navigate, second, to avoid that big boulder, you should at the Fork where a Park Sign is located, take the road to the left of the sign and you’ll be at the trail head without any problem.

    Once on the Trestle, we meet a few people that rode their mountain bikes on the tracks and other hikers, I guess every body was trying to make this hike before temperatures raise on the trail. The trestle looks in fairly shape considering it was built in 1930, be aware is you decide to walk on it that the planks are pretty worn out and some are missing so caution where you walk.

    The tracks looked pretty bad with lots of big rocks on them and the Trestle itself is missing quite a few supporting beams so I don’t see how can they be running any trains anytime soon until they fix all this.
    There was a lot of wild flowers along the trail and flowering cactus, be on the look out for the cholla catus, they are close to the trail and if you get prick it will be hard to pull out since it has hooks on it that attach to your skin!
    Overall we were very happy to have done this hike, I will put a big check mark on my list of places I wanted to go.

    Thanks!

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