The Carrizo Badlands Mud Caves in Arroyo Tapiado

In order to be, you must do. All great things start from that one denture, that one dream, that one idea, that one step. To adventure is to find yourself whole. To adventure is to have a story at the end of al of this. The places you see, the things you make and the people you meet will fuel you forever. Choose to see beauty where others see none. Strive for greatness always. We want to inspire others to do more. To be more. To feel good, get lost and explore always!


The temperatures in California are hitting triple digits out in the desert and Rachel, Rawley, Mike and I decided to embrace the heat and take a day trip to explore the mud caves in Arroyo Tapiado. Several hours away from San Clemente we found ourselves wedging ourselves into the tiny slot canyons and various caves around the southern part of the Anza Borrego Desert. 

This is one of the most fascinating points of interest in the Anza-Borrego Desert State.  Arroyo Tapiado, translated from Spanish, means “walled wash.”  The Mud Caves are found along the walls of this wash canyon. Apparently the Anza Borrego Mud Caves in Arroyo Tapiado have been around for close to 5 million years and are some of the most extensive mud caves on the planet, containing approximately 22 known caves and 9 slot canyons.

You can park and walk into the canyon. There you will begin to see dark holes or cracks in the side of the mud walls that are the entrances to some of the caves.  Others you will find by walking into the slot canyons off of the main wash area that runs through the canyon.


The caves are not always obvious.  You may need to do a little searching and exploring to find hidden entrances and caves that are off the beaten track. If you have 4WD you can continue into the canyon by car and stop where you want to hike into a cave or slot canyon, there are many along the route.

The length of the caves varies, with some extending over 1000 feet and featuring ceilings as high as 80 feet. Caves have been reported up to 35 feet wide, and others so narrow, you have to squeeze through openings.  Multi-level caves with skylights have been found, where erosion has created an opening, or sinkhole, in the ceiling of the cave.  Some of the caves are fairly easy to navigate while others may require you to crawl in sections. All of our caving crew made it through just fine. The dust and dirt flies around as you’re making your way through but it’s tons of fun and it looks a bit like snow in the pictures and videos.

The Mud Caves are formed by fluvial erosion caused during periods of heavy rainfall.  When this infrequent rainfall occurs, it cuts channels into the mud hills that are commonly found in the Pseudokarst topography of this arid region.  The channels cause erosion and form canyons with unstable and undercut walls.  As the channels deepen, the walls cave inwards.  Because of the cohesive consistency of the mud in this particular area and its ability to swell to several times its original dry volume, it adheres to itself and to the canyon walls, creating natural bridges and, sometimes caves, as it dries. A head lamp is necessary if you’d like to see where you are going in these interesting caves, there are so many nooks and crannies, you will be entertained for hours.  Four hours passed before we realized it was time to take a break and have some lunch. We had packed sandwiches, power bars, fruit, gatorade and lots and lots of water. We stopped at the jeep each time that we went into a new cave so that we could re-stock fluids.


Some of the cave entrances are hard to see. It is best to google & download a map of the area before you go so you have a better understanding and direction of where you’re going.


The caves are not as well known as some of the other points of interest in the Park.  They are not really mentioned on the Park’s Web site or in its literature. The Mud Caves are more popular with spelunking enthusiasts and other desert denizens. Luckily, Rachel and Rawley had been several weeks before and knew their way around.  As you walk/crawl/climb through the winding tunnels of the caves you come across patches of light shining in from  “sinkhole” openings from the sides of the mountains. It was a LOT cooler in the caves but waves of heat drifted in as you passed by these openings.

Safety Tips:

Always use caution when exploring caves.  You will need to carry several light sources, and water…LOTS of water, and it is recommended that you wear a hardhat or helmet.  Never enter the caves if it is raining, has rained recently or if rain is expected.  Try and take a caving partner with you when you explore the caves or let someone know exactly where you are going to be and when you will return.  Use the buddy system!

Do not walk on top of the caves, along the ridges or in areas where the ground may cave in.  These hills are made of mud and can be very unstable. 

Getting There:

4WD is recommended.  Some non-4WD vehicles have driven into the beginning of the canyon, but to drive through the canyon you will need 4WD. 

The Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves are located in the southern part of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

-Take the S2 (from the 8 head North) to mile marker 43

-Take the Palm Springs or Vallecito Wash exit (dirt road heading East)

-Approximately 4.5 miles in, you will see a sign that says Arroyo Tapiado (on the left)

-Go left at the Arroyo Tapiado Wash which will be heading North

-Continue on Arroyo Tapiado Wash Road until you reach the canyon area where the caves are located. 

As far as I can recall this is the first time I have been in an actual desert and it was AMAZING!  I really enjoyed this adventure full of beautiful landscapes and getting to spend quality time with friends. It’s definitely a great place for exploration and I highly recommend it to all of you curious/outdoorsy/adventurous peeps out there 🙂

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dfmw
    Jul 16, 2012 @ 22:28:53

    Reblogged this on crisp clean clear and commented:
    great post. looks like fun

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves in Carrizo Badlands

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