Tucked away in the southern end of the Anza-Borrego Desert is an engineering marvel that, due to its remoteness, has only been viewed by a relatively small number of people.
The Goat Canyon trestle was built in 1932 after an earthquake collapsed one of the tunnels of the Carrizo Gorge section of the San Diego and Arizona Railway. At 200 feet tall and 750 feet long, it remains to this day the longest, tallest curved wooden trestle ever built in the United States.
The ruggedness of the mountainous terrain as well as the searing desert temperatures warranted the name "The Impossible Railroad." The preferred route is to park near Mortero Palms; take the trail that leads you up and over the Jacumba Mountains, dropping you down into Goat Canyon after three miles or so. This is pretty much the standard route and is published in a few hiking books and on a few websites.
While we have hiked out to the Goat Canyon trestle along the "popular route," I have always had it in the back of my mind to park at the north end of Carrizo Gorge and then hike up to where it intersects Goat Canyon. Mary and I tried it once a couple years ago and eventually gave up. There is no clearly defined trail up the gorge, and a majority of the hike had us dodging cholla, hopscotching across river rocks, and squeezing through cat-claw. Still, I was itching to do it and Mary agreed to accompany me.
Saturday morning, we loaded up the Land Cruiser, slapped on the sunscreen, and drove out to meet up with Daren at the Carrizo Creek turnoff. After quick introductions, we hopped in our vehicles and lumbered up the Carrizo Gorge jeep road. The trail was deserted, except for a few jackrabbits, and after an hour of bouncing up the trail we parked and hiked into the gorge.
Now, I am usually not one to worry about rattlesnakes, but the combination of the thick undergrowth and Daren's rattlesnake stories had me a bit spooked. Suddenly, the stillness of the desert was interrupted by a loud, piercing rattle. No, these weren't maracas, but a four- to five-foot-long diamondback rattler coiled up into strike position. We quickly detoured off the trail and continued deeper into the gorge, vowing to pay better attention to our steps.
A couple miles into the hike, we realized we were not covering as much ground as we had hoped. By our calculations, the Goat Canyon juncture was still a couple hours away, and the sun had already moved directly overhead. At this point, we made the decision to bushwhack up the side of the mountain, using the train tracks as our goal. We made our way up the loose material, sweating, cursing, and dodging cholla until we finally arrived at the tracks of the Carrizo Gorge railway.
From here the hike was easy since we merely had to follow the tracks for about another mile and a half. Along the way we passed through two-story-tall tunnels that had been blasted out of solid rock and are supported with massive wooden beams. Further down the tracks we passed by some old boxcars perched on the edge of the gorge. After a bit more hiking, we found ourselves standing in the middle of the 200-foot-high Goat Canyon trestle.
Looking west, down into Goat Canyon, we realized the approach from Carrizo Gorge would have been all but impossible. There is a towering dry waterfall at the mouth of the canyon that looks deceptively easy on Google Earth. Our view from high atop the trestle said otherwise.
We explored the trestle area for some time until hunger eventually got the best of us. Far off in Carrizo Gorge was a Land Cruiser with cold beer and sandwiches, so we reluctantly started our long journey back.
Originally posted on anzaborrego.net