Ironwood trees are found in the wash
  • Ironwood trees are found in the wash
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Nude Wash

This is a hike in an often overlooked small wash and canyon with fascinating geology and vegetation, similar to that found in the larger, more frequently visited washes and canyons in the Vallecito Mountains. It can be considered a refresher course for those who recently visited the nearby Narrows Earth Trail and want to find other examples of the geological formations displayed there. The unusual name for this wash is attributed to California State Park ranger Merle Beckman, who was checking the canyon in the late 1950s and found a man in the nude sunbathing. He thought it an appropriate name for the wash.

Nude Wash trail

To get the most out of the hike, park in the wide sandy area near SR-78 and start hiking south, down the dirt road, through scattered ironwood trees. The road forks in about 0.1 mile with the left fork leading further down the wash; the right fork leads to a small tributary canyon that is worthy of a detour. About 100 yards into the tributary there is a dry fall with exposed, highly eroded, colorful metasedimentary rocks. Although the falls could easily be climbed, go back out to the main Nude Wash road and continue hiking south. Note the variety of spiny plants found in this wash, including ocotillo, several kinds of cholla, barrel, and beavertail cacti, catclaw, and mesquite.

A small anticline in Nude Wash formed when granite intruded in ancient metamorphic rock.

The dirt road ends 0.4 mile from the highway, but continue hiking into the narrow canyon. The vegetation includes not only the spiny plants and ironwood trees found in the sandy wash, but also desert lavender, creosote bush, wishbone, and brittlebush. It offers an opportunity to see many interesting geological phenomena as well. The Vallecito Mountains were formed when igneous plumes of granite pushed up through the ancient metamorphic layers that had lain here since the Paleozoic era, about 500 million years ago. That is about 420 million years before the Vallecito Mountains even began to be uplifted. The structures found here include evidence of faulting and anticlines that were formed as the layered metamorphic layers were bent and broken by the intruding igneous plume.

At 0.6 mile from the highway, look for traces of a trail going up the hillside on the left. Take this trail to the saddle for an overlook into the much larger Sunset Wash, a major channel carrying debris from rapidly eroding Sunset Mountain into the San Felipe Wash. Once on the ridge, follow it north, but don’t try to cut down into either Sunset or Nude Wash. Instead, hike up the middle of the ridge. It will gradually descend into Nude Wash near where you parked your vehicle.


Distance from downtown San Diego: 86 miles. Allow 1 hour and 45 minutes. From Julian, drive east on SR-78, down Banner Grade, across Scissors Crossing, and past the junction with SR-3, the Yaqui Pass Road. Nude Wash is about 5.5 miles past this junction, after the road turns abruptly to the left to go over and around a hill. Just after passing the right curve of “the Narrows,” there is a power substation on the right. The Nude Wash entrance is just beyond the substation, also on the right where a short dirt road extends into the wash. Park there.

Hiking length: 1.5-miles loop hike. Allow at least one hour.

Difficulty: Easy. Elevation gain/loss less than 100 feet with a small amount of climbing. No facilities. Dogs and mountain bikes are not allowed on hiking trails in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

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