By: Ron Grau
The California winter weather subsided and offered a gorgeous weekend for hiking. For a small adventuresome band of Hiking and, Railroad enthusiasts, that meant, "Let's head for Carrizp Gorge!" For those of you who only appreciate railroads you would probably say "too rugged". For those of you who do the peak lists you-would probably say; "it's not a peak!" For those who went on the trip they would say. "WOW! I never realized this was here."
Ron and Ellen Grau had done the hike to Goat Trestle from both directions. Now they wanted to do a car shuttle and do the hike the entire length of the gorge. That involved getting others to go along with the idea. When first proposed, Ron, sent out this invitation:
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CARRIZO GORGE RAILROAD HIKE
Welcome to the Carrizo Gorge hike on the old abandoned San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad. The hike will be about 11 miles with approximately 1000 feet of vertical elevation gain. The railroad was abandoned in the 1980's. There are 17 tunnels and 21 wooden trestle bridges along the way. The longest tunnel is about 4/10 mile long. The highlight of the hike is the Goat Canyon Trestle, which is one of the largest wooden railroad trestles built in the U.S. It is over 600 feet long and about 200 feet tall. Two of the tunnels are collapsed and we will hike the hill around them. The rest of the tunnels and bridges are intact and safe, to cross over, or pass through.
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He received some responses from people who wanted to go so a date was set, and VOILA! the Carrizo Gorge trip was on. Now the logistics of this endeavor would come to a test. You have some people that camp out and have trucks and you have some people that don't. So we compromised and made the Indian Gorge camp spot (Sombrero Camp Spot - recently the "List Finish Extravaganza for Pat and Dean Acheson), the place to meet everyone on Friday night. This was easy to find and easy for cars to pull into.
Friday night arrived and we circled the wagons. Larry Boreio, RR enthusiast and hiker, Ron, Bogie and Ellen Grau, Greg and Mirna Roach, Rayne and Mary Motheral made plans for the next day. With a 6:30 pull out time, we all headed for bed. So bright and early Saturday morning the Indian Gorge group left for Jacumba to collect the other participants and car caravan to the starting point. Once there we added Neal Scott, Judy Ware, Sue Holloway and Cliff Jones, Bob Michael to the group. We drove the "clothing optional" parking lot (a real nudist colony). Paid our $5 per car fee and loaded bodies into vehicles headed back for the Dos Cabezas entry point.
We finally arrived at Dos Cabezas around 10 AM. It probably seemed like organized chaos to everyone, but to some it made sense why we were doing all this crazy driving. Larry was even a good sport about leaving his car in a sandy wash because it couldn't go any further (Don't tell his boss what he did with the company car.) And so it was, a small band of determined Railroad Archeologists set out to find the illusive Goat Trestle, cross it, make their way through the LONG Energizer Bunny Tunnel (cave), retrieve our vehicles from the nudist colony and have a party Saturday night. THAT was the plan.
The group started out, and like a typical hiking group little sets of conversations began. For Bob Michael it was the tough granite that was dynamited to create the tunnels, and impossibility of all the wash outs taking their toll on the rails, the landslides, mountains collapsing and mineral deposits that intrigued him. For Greg and Mima it was the canyon exploring, trestle high in the air exposure (sort of like peak bagging and looking down), caving (tunnels that never quit). For Sue Holloway, Mary Motheral, and Cliff Jones it was the peak that they bagged at Goat Trestle (BM PUFF!!! As in Puff the Magic Dragon, which made this trip even more magical). For Neal Scott and Judy Ware it was the completion of the rest of the canyon (they had done Dos Cabezas to the Goat Trestle and part of the Jacumba hike. For Bogie it was a nice comfy ride in Mom's backpack. For Ron and Larry it was railroading at it's very best.
Everyone enjoyed the first part of the hike, which included the majority of the trestles. When you first enter from Dos Cabezas you can see a cluster of Palm Trees at the bottom of the canyon. When Ron and I did our last hike of this canyon from this direction we saw 5 bighorns coming out of the oasis. They scooted right up the ridge lice it was no big deal - the land lies at a 45-degree angle, it is steep. As you hike along this portion of the Railroad, the rails literally hang out over the canyon, and it goes STRAIGHT DOWN. Along the way you can see 5 boxcars in the canyon. Their abandoned wreckage leaves you with the idea that this route is not for sissies.
We got to the Goat Trestle around noon. We all waited for Mary, Sue and Cliff to come "down from the Mountain", while the rest of us explored the Goat Trestle and ate lunch. It is SO BIG - at 600 feet long - plus it curves and goes right into a tunnel. There are ladders on it that the crew used to use to check it periodically. Even though these trestles have been here for years they are pretty substantial. Their wooden beams do however creak when you walk across them. As you cross the trestle you can see the tunnel in the side of the mountain that sits to the left of the trestle. It is about 40 feet below the trestle (the mountain gave way and moved down, taking the tunnel with it in 1928, so the Goat Trestle was built to replace the route taken away by the tunnel collapse.). When you walk across it and look straight down it's 200 feet to the bottom and the air from the bottom of the canyon blows up at you. It really is a neat thing to hike across.
We continued on at 2:00 and made our way along the winding, snake-like rails. When you walk along part of them they curve this way and that as they hang along the side of the canyon. The 1/2 mile tunnel that you walk through shortly after the Goat Trestle is a "mind blowing experience". When you first walk into it you see the other end and think, "Oh, another tunnel". Then, you keep walking, and keep walking, . . . . . and keep walking.- . . . Gosh are we there yet? . . . no . . . . . .and keep . walking . . . . .. .looks like we are almost there. . . and keep walking . . . is my mind playing tricks on me? Okay, I'll turn around and look back at the opening that I started with . . . . . YIKES! It looks the same from that direction and I have been walking for 10 minutes now! . . . . . .. Don't anyone think earthquake right now . . . . . . . Spelunker, yea that is what I am . . . . . .and keep walking . . . FINALLY. WHEW. I'm through it!. We all gathered round and exchanged experiences of how you feel when you walk through it.
We soon came to the twin tunnels. Those are neat too. You come out of one and go directly into the other. The railroad bed then winds around to another collapsed tunnel. This one "was" a mile long! This tunnel is off limits, there is a natural spring that feeds into it, so if you were to attempt entering it you soon will end up in chest high water. Hiking around this obstacle however is a neat part of this portion of the hike. When you go around the collapse, the terrain is more like a desert peak hike. You even get to go through a cholla forest! Some of the cholla is 6 feet high. Remember, the cactus is our friend! We all scattered in around 4 o'clock. Piled into the trucks for the car caravan back to Dos Cabezas. Upon leaving the clothing optional parking lot we noticed the sign "CLOTHES REQUIRED BEYOND THIS POINT".
After retrieving vehicles and getting back to the camping spot we had a wonderful potluck. Everyone brought yummy things to eat, and we all got fat. Mima made a great soup.. YUM! Mary provided a campfire that could be seen from deep space. Judy brought brownies. YUM! We all shared stories about our day and the fun we had at the tunnels, Peak, Goat Trestle, and a railroad from the past. It's not a peak, it's not a train ride, but it sure was fun.
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