Spelunking the Mud Cave: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

anzaborrego desert state park; california; carrizo badlands; desert Looking down into the badlands.

Looking down into the badlands.

Q: Why is it called spelunking?

A: Because that’s the sound they make when they fall and land in a puddle?

Spelunking is a term often used to refer to those inexperienced in the art of cave exploration and that’s exactly what we were. With no helmets, knee pads, gloves, and very little real experience to boot, we headed down Canyon Sin Nombre and the Arroyo Tapiado to visit the Anza-Borrego Mud Caves.

The Mud Caves were created by water flowing through silt deposit. Think slot canyons with ceilings. These may be a geographically unique feature and are extremely fragile. If you choose to explore the caves please keep stay on the worn paths, don’t climb the delicate slopes and touch as little as possible. The caves have been around for thousands of years and if you choose to explore them, it’s your responsibility to ensure they’ll be around for many more.

anzaborrego desert state park; california; cave; caving; desert; spelunking Peeking out of the entry to Plunge Pool Cave.

Peeking out of the entry to Plunge Pool Cave.

Also, be aware that the caves ARE DANGEROUS. There is a risk of cave-ins and bodily injury. People have died in these caves. If it is raining, don’t even think about going in. A small amount of moisture can further destabilize the caves and make the walls swell. Never go in alone and carry extra sources of light. These are real caves and get completely dark. We left a member of our group outside the caves and it’s a good idea if you do the same. Finally, don’t do anything stupid (aside from the very act of entering the caves). If you feel uncomfortable with any aspect of the exploration make sure your group knows and don’t let them proceed.

We visited four caves on our trip, on two separate days; each one posing a very unique experience.

HDR; anzaborrego desert state park; california; cave; caving; desert; spelunking What a skylight! HDR.

What a skylight! HDR.

Carey’s Big Cave and Chasm Cave

The winding passages and large chambers of Carey’s Big Cave, named for Dwight Carey who wrote a thesis on the caves in the 70s, made for an exciting first look. We planned on visiting Carey’s Small Cave but the entrance was too small to get through. Very likely due to a recent cave-in. Chasm Cave was even windier than Carey’s Big Cave, but for some reason not as exciting; very likely because the latter spoiled us. It did end in a room with a spectacular skylight.

Plunge Pool Cave and Cave Canyon

On our second day, we visited Plunge Pool Cave (you’ll know where it got the name) and Cave Canyon. The latter was more canyon than Cave, but had lots of side-caves to explore. This second day we found ourselves using more contortionist skills, twisting our bodies and crawling on all fours. Those of larger stature may not be able to traverse certain passages.

There are at least 22 caves of various shapes and sized to keep you busy, but if naively entering caves isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of canyons to explore. After all, this is the Carrizo Badlands.

HDR; anzaborrego desert state park; california; canyon; desert We really don

We really don’t know what name, if any, was given to this canyon. The table, a relic of a previous camper, inspired the name. Follow the canyon for a nice hike. HDR.

You often don’t even have to go far from your camping location. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and be able to hike quite a ways as was the case with Luke’s Canyon, a.k.a. Table Canyon, a.k.a. We Have No Idea What It’s Called and Probably Has No Name Canyon. Other times you’ll turn around only a few hundred feet from the start as was the case with a small slot right by our camp site.

HDR; anzaborrego desert state park; california; composite; desert; moon Experimenting with lunar HDR and composites. What do you think of the result?

Experimenting with lunar HDR and composites. What do you think of the result?

However you choose to explore the Carrizo Badlands, make sure to carry plenty of water and use your head.

anzaborrego desert state park; california; canyon; desert Jim makes his way out of Table Canyon.

Jim makes his way out of Table Canyon.

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For more information on and adventures in state parks, visit our California State Park Guide.