Thursday, December 7, 2017

Anza Borrego Mud Caves and Sandstone Canyon With Kids

Nestled in the middle of the California desert is the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves or as us desert go-ers know them as, the Anza Borrego Mud Caves. These are a site that you definitely want to see at least once in your life!

These caves are estimated to be over 5 million years old. They are created from the erosive nature of rainfall and the mud hills. There are multi-level caves, caverns that open up to show the sky in an otherwise completely dark area, tiny crevices that you have to crawl through and 35' open areas.

Some of the caves are as much as 5 miles long, going deep into the ground and raising up the sides of the mountains.

These are located about 25 miles north of the I-8 freeway in a small community of CranBrake, CA.

As you are driving down the road in the middle of the desert, you will see a sign that points Left to "Palm Springs" (not THE Palm Springs so don't make that mistake).  Take that turn and follow the dirt path for a few miles until you see the signs for Arroyo Tapiado, from there you have a two mile journey before you hit the peak of the mountains and start to see the caves!

There is roughly 5 caves that are visible and accessible from the road.

Now, with any of natures beautiful wonders, there is some danger. You never want to go near the caves after a rainstorm or an earthquake. The worry of rock/mud slides is always a thing to keep in the back of your mind.

These are located in the middle of the desert, where the heat can raise well above 100 degrees. As with any setting like this, you need to remember to drink water and carry the proper provisions for your journey.

Don't worry though, as soon you come close to the entrance of the cave, you begin to feel the cold air. The further in you go, the colder it gets. It is truly amazing to be sweating in the 100 degree weather and the next minute cooling down.

My family and I have been to these caves four times now. This was our first time with my 1 year old son going to the caves. He just learned how to walk last month so it was definitely an adventure!

You can camp along the trail anywhere you would like but beware at dark, because a lot of people come flying through there in their trucks and if you are not far enough off the road, you can get hurt.

We happened to have found THE perfect spot and try to get this spot every time we go.

It is a big cleared out spot that is right in between the huge mountains and right across the road is the entrance to the biggest cave! It really is perfect!

We set up our tent, got all our firewood ready and started our fire.

We usually have a camp stove and set it all up to make our "gourmet camping food" but this time around we kept it simple with a few cans of soup and raviolis.

You have to remember that your kiddos are probably going to be playing more than they would be at home, getting dirtier and being more thirsty than at home. Pack accordingly!

I have a 6 year old, a 4 year old and a 1 year old. I packed double their snacks, juices, milk and tons of water.

It is always better to be over prepared than it is to regret not bringing that second box of crackers.

Being out in the middle of the desert on an off road trail, unless you have experience could spell disaster. You have to think anything could happen. What happens if you get a flat tire with no spare? Something happens to your car that you cannot fix? Better to have that extra food and drink laying around, just in case.

You also want to remember that you are in the desert, so when you pack clothing, it will be hot during the day and cool at night. It is sand and rocks everywhere, so bring lots of extra clothing for those kiddos.

Flashlights, head lamps, etc are always a must while in the caves. It is pitch dark the second you walk into these caves.

I always made sure to equip each kid with a flashlight or head lamp before entering.

Of course our little man was carried almost the whole time, but he was able to walk for a small portion of it.

I carry a backpack with wet wipes, extra drinks and snacks.

As you are walking through you can visibly see where the water has run through the floor of the caves. You can see how it has carved the paths and made bridges and walkways for you to explore. It is truly breathtaking to see what nature is capable of.

As you venture through, there are a few spots that open up to caverns and openings to the sky! You can be in pitch dark and all of a sudden come up on a spot that you can see the stars!

You can follow the caves as far as you would like to go, some go for miles. With the kids, we lasted about 40 minutes of just straight walking down into this cave. We have gone without the kids before and have spent hours in them!

There are a lot of really cool carvings and photo opportunities inside, if you have a camera.

This time around, we stayed at this spot for just one night. The next morning we woke up and packed up the truck. You can either come back the way you came and hit the main road, or you can take the off road journey through the desert which takes a good 3-4 hours and head through the Solidified Highway. We chose the latter!

As you head away from the caves, there are a lot of small, tight trails that you must take with rock walls on both sides of you. Rocks and valleys where the rain has just destroyed the roads are always a common threat. You have to be on your toes at all times when you are out there.

Drive slow, drive smart and think!

It is said that 4 wheel drive vehicles are a must, but if you know what you are doing, you should be able to get through with no problems. We have driven in a Ford Explorer, a stock Toyota Pickup and most recently a stock Dodge Ram with no issues.

You will eventually hit the end of the trail head, and be able to go left to Diablo's Drop off or head off to another trail which would lead you out into Ocotillo. We always choose to go to Diablo's Drop off.

Now the name alone sounds scary, and for an amateur it is probably a scary site. It is a steep hill that goes straight into a gorge with cliffs and deep ravines on both sides of you. It takes some maneuvering to get down. We have experience driving off road so it is no big deal for us.

As you continue to go down the trail, you start to come up on these huge sandstone mountains, mountains that tower over you on both sides. They are absolutely beautiful, colorful and you can see all the layers in them as they have been there for millions of years and the wind and rain is just slowly chipping away at them.

This area of the trails are called Fish Creek Trail. This is where it is said that you can find dinosaur tracks, the earthquake fault lines and wind caves.

This area leads to Sandstone Canyon where it will finally bring you out to asphalt! You've finally made it out.

You end up at Split Mountain Road in Ocotillo Wells. Once you are here, it is time to get away from the rocks, hop in the dirt and have some fun.

All of this trip was made in about 4 hours. We, of course, stopped a few times to let the kiddos run around, change a diaper or two and have some snacks.

Make sure that your camera is charged as there are a ton of places to take some pretty epic pictures!

This is an amazing day trip to take with your family or a group of friends. Make the most out of your day and explore what the desert has to offer you!


  1. Stunning photos Amber. Isn't nature magnificent? Thank you for sharing with us at #BloggersPitStop and have a lovely week.

  2. We're big campers, but I've never camped out in the desert like that before. It sounds like quite the adventure! I've chosen this post as my feature for this week at #FridayFrivolity!

  3. Oh my goodness, what amazing scenery! This is a wonderful post - you've not only shared your experience, but so many excellent hints and tips for camping in this rugged area. Thank you so much for sharing, and for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link party.

  4. Amber it looks like a fabulous trip and I love your pictures

  5. I clicked on link as I was interested in the Anza Caves then as Icome across first pic I am looking close and think to myself that looks like Amber and Chris and kids but was not sure because I am half blind too lol then as I read on and come to next pic Benny confirmed that it was you guys. Well you do know your way sround the desert that is for sure. Love you all

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