The Amazing Hidden Slot Canyons – Anza Borrego State Park, CA

Paul leans on a squeeze-point between 2 boulders in “The Slot”

In “real-time” it’s a day since we left our fabulous boondocking spot in Borrego Springs, but in “blog-time” I’m still sitting in the sun and enraptured by the place, and will be for at least another 3-4 blogs or so (there’s simply TOO many great impressions to write about). So, get ready for a little delayed writing, but with all the impressions as real as today.

One of the images still etched on my mind are the slot canyons. It’s one of a mere multitude of deep impressions from Anza Borrego State Park, and for those unfamiliar with the place I have to start there….because the park really is something else.

On the dirt road to nowhere…Anza Borrego beauty

Anza Borrego is the largest State Park in California. At over 600,000 acres (2,400 km2) it’s got  500 miles (800 km) of dirt roads, twelve designated wilderness area, and 110 miles (180 km) of hiking trails. It’s a desert wonderland encompassing millions of years of history, deep canyons, high mountains and endless reams of solitude. And completely unique to this park (and just about ANY state park I know)….you can boondock anywhere in the back-country for free!

“The Slot” badlands as seen from the parking spot

But today we’re taking a trip to the badlands and deep into the slots. These areas take you back in time to when the California desert was a tropical sea. Badlands are super-cool, deeply creviced tracks of land that look like giant-blown-up stretches of 100-year old alligator skin. Geologically they’re areas where softer sedimentary rock has been eroded by years of wind and rain. In Anza Borrego that soft rock is mostly sandstone, and in areas the rock has been eroded down to form slot canyons up to 100-foot deep.

Hanging out in the deeps

I love going into these slots, mostly because the light-and-c0lor plays can be amazing (depending on the time of day), plus you feel like you’re squeezing into some deep and unexplored geological past. Our very first slot experience was Antelope Canyon in 2010 in AZ. It was very pretty but it was guide-only and heavily over-run with tourists (there must have been at least 5 groups going through with us at the same time). Here in Anza Borrego the grey/blue/brown rocks may not be quite as pretty, but the experience is totally rocking.

A wide-open section at the very back of “The Slot”

We decided to hit “The Slot” which is a few miles off Hwy 78 ~1.5 miles east of Borrego on a road supposedly called Buttes Pass. I say supposedly because (honestly) the dirt spur looks like any other dirt road in the entire park, has NO markings on it whatsoever, and we would have totally missed it if our GPS hadn’t indicated the name (one time I’ve actually liked the darn machine). There’s nothing that tells you you’re getting close either, but if you’re lucky enough to find the road, simply take it 1 mile to the “Y” intersection, stay to the left and then drive another 0.8 miles to a relatively flat spot which is where you park.

Warm colors and gorgeous curves

We arrived at ~9AM with first light filtering the tops of the badlands and striking diffuse silhouettes in the canyon. A short scramble down from our parking spot and we were in the slot and ready to explore. Best of all we were the ONLY people there. Paul and I spent a couple of hours scrambling through the slot and around some of the “arms”, exploring the beautiful curves, admiring the light and feeling the cool, sandy walls on our fingers.

The whole experience is pretty surreal. It’s like being inside a living sculpture reliving eons of time with your footsteps, and while you’re in the slots everything above and around you seems almost like a dream. Coming out of the canyon and into daylight wakes you up to the heat and expanse of the desert, almost a surprise. There are several other slot canyons around Anza Borrego, all of which are worth a visit. Be prepared for back-country driving, the cool depths of the canyon and impressions that will etch their way into your mind forever.

Paul leans in the shadows
Beautiful blue-grey lines
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  1. Brent says

    Nice! I stumbled upon one down south in Canyon Sin Nombre but it sounds like the one you guys hiked was a bit more extensive.

    • libertatemamo says

      Thanks for the tip on Water Holes! Page is definitely a town we’d love to go back to (at the right time of year). Gorgeous spot!

    • libertatemamo says

      It’s only a few days off, so not really worth changing the date. I’m usually within a few days on all of my blogs.

  2. Jerry B. says

    I never knew those canyons were there, I’ll have to look for them next time we go to AB. I’ve been down in the ones at Antelope Canyon but years ago when it hadn’t been publicized yet and I could just go down by myself. Hard to get good lighting for photos, but as usual you did a nice job.

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh gosh…Antelope must have been fabulous back when you could climb in yourself! It’s definitely become a bit of a tourist trap now. And yes, the lighting is a challenge in the slots. If I had a whole week I could probably find the perfect “moment” for shots.

  3. says

    This post was so well written Nina. We have been to the slot canyons in Utah and would love to see these as well. Our list of places to visit has grown significantly since reading your blog. Thanks!

  4. says

    We are planning a quick trip this wknd to see Slab City and Anza. Can you provide details on where exactly to stay? I know in Slab City in particular some have advised to stay in certain parts “the lows”?? We are first time Boondockers in travel trailer. Thanks

    • libertatemamo says

      Hi there,
      For Anza Borrego I have our favorite area detailed on the blog here:
      Boondocking Site Review – Rockhouse Canyon Road, Clark Dry Lake, Borrego Springs, CA

      For The Slabs I think around the lows area is a good one. There is no real map at The Slabs, but you’ll drive past Salvation Mountain into the main street and you’ll see pretty obvious boondocking off to your right (there will be rigs all over). As far as I remember the lows actually have a little sign detailing where they’re located right on main street. Anywhere on the right side will be fine and if you get lost just ask someone on the street. Everyone knows where everything is around there.



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