Good Times in Anza-Borrego's Badlands

Hiking the Palm Wash Slot Canyons in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego’s badlands look forbidding, but anyone with a sense of adventure can dive in and explore V-shaped canyons, 100-foot-deep slots, and a vast maze of sandstone rock formations laced with the calcite veins that drew miners here in the 1940s.

At the heart of all this badness is Palm Wash, which can be explored via any or all of its three main routes: the South Fork, Middle Fork Main Branch, and Main Branch South Fork. The safest route for you and your vehicle is the South Fork. At the highway turnoff for Calcite Mine Road, park on the side of the road and follow the tracks down to the wash. Instead of continuing on Calcite Mine Road, turn left and follow the wash upstream. After about a half-mile, the canyon quickly narrows and a huge sandstone bridge spans the vertical walls, marking the entrance to the slot. Some parts of the route require a bit of climbing over rocks, but nothing extreme. The path is easy to follow and dead-ends after a few hundred yards at a 30-foot dryfall.

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Ready for more? Once you return to the trailhead, you can access both branches of Palm Wash’s Middle Fork from Calcite Mine Road—a rough 4WD road that winds through the canyon and reaches Calcite Mine after about 1.8 miles. Or you can spend a full day exploring the countless branches of slots off all three major forks.

TIPS: This canyon can quickly turn into a maze, so it’s important to remember landmarks while hiking through. The landscape is dry and barren, so be sure to bring lots of water.

Palm Wash is located just inside the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park boundary. The Palm Wash (Calcite Mine) Slot Canyon Trailhead is just off the side of the S-22 about 10 miles west of Salton City. Park at the trailhead on either side of the road. No dogs except on Calcite Mine Rd.

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