Canyon Sin Nombre

EFFORT Moderate
LENGTH 3.0+ miles
GEOLOGICAL FEATURE(S) Erosional Features
LOCATION Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
CONTACT 760-767-5311
TRAILHEAD COORDINATES 32.49.802N 116.10.213W

If you have a 4WD vehicle, you can drive down this sandy road into the canyon. Otherwise, take the road on foot. There are no facilities at the trailhead. Access is free.

Description: Canyon Sin Nombre, or Canyon without a name, is a colorful canyon with sheer walls of sandstone and mudstone located in the Carrizo Badlands, a warped and folded landscape containing the remains of mastodons, sabertooth tigers, zebras, and camels that lived here over a million years ago. On display in the canyon walls are layer upon layer of ancient lake sediments deposited over time, offering a slice into the past. Some of the layers are almost completely vertical, so mauled is this landscape. As with most of the other canyons in the area, this one has been chiseled by wind, rainfall, and, mostly, by flash floods, which, when they come, are violent and undiscriminating.

The walk down the road is just over a mile. If you are here in early spring, this part of the hike will be dominated by wildflower blooms, pink verbena, white chicory, lavender phacelia, and yellow sunflower. The road descends gently, curving to the right on its way to the canyon mouth. Some cars will be parked here, but many continue into the canyon. Because you want to appreciate the geology here, you will need to continue on foot into the canyon. Be on guard for careening 4WD traffic, though. Plenty of visitors seem oblivious to the story told by the natural world around them. Right away, you will find this canyon extremely attractive with its chocolate brown walls. Watch for some large white dikes cutting through the darker rock. The dramatic color contrast makes them easy to see.

Just two tenths of a mile into the canyon (Red X on the topo map, 32.50.135N 116.09.310W), you will come upon the most striking geological feature on this hike, a big, obvious syncline/anticline sequence. In laymanís terms, thatís the section of folded rock you see on the right-hand canyon wall. An anticline is a convex upward-tending fold. A syncline is an inward-tending fold. Rocks deform into folds in response to stress at higher-than-surface temperatures. Rocks may also fracture in response to stress, resulting in a fault, such as the fault in the right side of the photo below.

photo of syncline

In the image below, the contour lines of the rocks are highlighted in white. The red line is a fault.

As you continue deeper into the canyon, you will see further evidence of how erosion and tectonic forces have shaped the landscape. You can go as far as you like before turning back. If you continue about two miles, you will reach a narrow opening west. Enter the slot canyon and walk between the hundred foot high sandstone cliffs for about a quarter mile, sometimes so narrow you will have to squeeze through. Shortly, the slot widens and opens into a sandy wash above the canyon.

If you continue into the canyon nearly four miles, you will reach Vallecito Creek. Return by the same route.

Driving Directions: From Interstate 8 in Ocotillo, drive 13 miles northwest, and then take County Highway S-2 to mile 51.3. Passenger vehicles should park at the Canyon Sin Nombre Overlook, just north of the Carrizo Badlands Overlook, which is another option for hiking down to the canyon. The trail leaving from the Carrizo Badlands Overlook is located at the pullout with the stone marker. It is a steep descent to the wash from there. There are no facilities.


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