Dust, Destroyer of Worlds
Hidden deep in the Carrizo Badlands of the southern part of Anza Borrego Desert State Park is an extensive system of mud caves—the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves—that is said to be the largest of its kind in the world. Formed by fluvial erosion during periods of heavy rainfall and flash flooding, significant changes in the caves can be observed from year to year as a result of erosion and silting.
Unlike what most cavers imagine when they think of most types of caves, which remain a relatively stable temperature year-round despite how cold or hot the surrounding environs become, these mud caves permeate the desert bluffs of the Badlands, reaching baking temperatures in the summer (albeit still cooler than the outside, which usually well exceeds 100°F throughout the summer) and getting cold in winter.
Despite sometimes giving you the feeling that you’re baking alive in a clay oven, these caves are still a fun way to spend a summer weekend. Astrid had never been caving before, and was away running her fieldwork in Mexico during all our other trips this summer, so Eric, Astrid and I took a quick weekend jaunt out to the Arroyo Tapiado to show her “the ropes.”
(This pun is intended, although all of the caves are horizontal access and don’t require any vertical gear. The only vertical “pitch” I’m aware of is a short one inside Hidden Cave, and there is a short fixed hand line already rigged up there. However, every single time we’ve been in this cave we’ve discovered—and isolated—a core shot in the rope, usually high up and out of sight. As always, make sure to check the integrity of the rope before trusting your life to it.)
These photos are mostly from Hidden Cave. We chose not to go all the way through the exit into the slot canyons on this trip, stopping after climbing the vertical part in Hidden Cave. A good introductory caving trip for Astrid—hopefully she’ll join us again!