Distance: 3.5 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1207'
Elevation Gain: 850' (combined)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.68
Round trip time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Butte Pass Dirt Road
"The Slot" in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a slot canyon nearly a mile long on the edge of the Carrizo Badlands. This was my first experience hiking a slot canyon, carved by flash floods creating walls that are high but narrow. It took about 2.5 hours one way to get to the trailhead from south Orange County. With an expected dangerous high of 111F in the desert, we left early enough to start at dawn and planned to finish our day before noon and the worst of the heat. In addition to water, I packed plenty of S! tabs to keep my salt and electrolyte levels balanced. The forecast called for a 10% chance of rain and we saw a large storm in the distance. Throughout the day, we heard thunder roll across the desert but the wind kept the storm on the horizon.
The Butte Pass dirt road was easily navigable in my low clearance sedan. Just after sunrise, the temperature was already 90F. At the end of the road, we headed straight ahead and descended into The Slot. Later on, Sean found a somewhat easier entrance to the east, but it wasn't hard to drop in directly. It started as a fairly wide slot canyon, then soon narrowed as the walls gained height. At some points, the gap was only one or two feet wide as it twisted through the badlands. The walls were mainly mud and silt and easily crumbled. In places, debris and boulders were trapped overhead. On the way through, we passed a few side canyons that we came back and explored later. In less than a mile, we came to the scepter, a tower of rock that had fallen from one wall to the other. It is a very interesting and unstable looking formation. Beyond The Slot, the path turns into a Jeep trail. Instead of looping around toward Borrego Mountain, we reversed course and returned back through to explore the side canyons and enjoy another look. Sean took a difficult side canyon that led to an uncomfortable pitch while Rod and I explored the easier wide canyon near the beginning. Sean caught up with us and after a bit, we scrambled up to look around from a ridge. The mazes spread in all directions, but we found a way back in The Slot and back to the car. After reloading water we headed to Borrego Mountain.
The trek toward Borrego started on a well groomed trail from the same parking spot as The Slot. The trail started winding around the summit, then appeared to wander. There were conflicting cairns set up all over the place and we eventually just headed up toward the summit, intersecting numerous trails near the top. Based on a recent trip report, I was surprised to find a summit register stuffed into a small container. We all signed it, rested briefly, and enjoyed the steady wind that provided much needed cooling already. We had great views of the Carrizo Badlands and our next goal, Borrego Mountain East Butte. We could make out Villager and Rabbit Peaks, but there was considerable haze in the distance. The return trip was uneventful as the heat continued to build.
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