Distance (round-trip)

4 mi

Time

2 hrs

Elevation Gain

120 ft

Season

Spring
Fall
Winter

Weather

A short hike through a historic WWII-era calcite mine, including some fun canyon crawls and a few short slot canyons.

While camping in Anza-Borrego with some friends, we realized none of us had ever been into a slot canyon before. So off we went to the closest one – the Calcite Mine.

This desert looks deceivingly flat when you casually glance across it. Then, as you walk, you start to notice smaller ridges and valleys. As you get closer and closer to the valleys, you see they actually run pretty deep.

There’s a vast system of old wash canyons and fault lines beneath the park that’s torn the ground into a labyrinth of canyons. Water rushes through the cracks, gorging out these deep gashes … which are then further carved by wind and seismic activity.

We drove to the Calcite Mine Trail, the site of the only operating calcite mine in the U.S., put into emergency operation after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The trail starts out just off the main, paved road and follows the old service road to the mine for the first few miles. At one point, though, the road dropped to the canyon floor, where a large wash canyon intersected it. We took a detour on the north wash, and walked into our first slot canyon.

Carved more by water than wind, the slot canyon is much smoother than the wash canyons, and comprised more of tougher sandstone than loose layers of dry mud. Also, as the name would suggest, the canyons got extremely narrow, which led to some great Indiana Jones-style scenery.

Eventually, the slot canyon opened up again, and we decided to scale up the walls to get back on the mine trail. We found a fairly steep section and started up.

This was by far the most challenging climb I’d done so far. The incline was teetering on the edge of vertical, with loose gravel and long sections of brittle walls – so not too much to grab on to. I had to take my time with this one, and stopped a few times to clear gravel and search for grips.

I realized I liked this wall-scrambling for some of the same reasons I dig hiking so much – the clear challenge, the reliance on endurance and balance, and the massive feeling of achievement when you’ve reached your goal. It also activates my deep-seated Yankee work ethic – if you work hard and smart, you’ll eventually win out.

In a world where so many of our gratifications are delayed, it is refreshing to stand at the bottom of a mountain or canyon, set your sights at the top and tell yourself you’ll be up there soon. You know it won’t be easy, but you know if you just ignore the pain in your feet or the sun beating down on you, and focus on the scenery, the scent of the trees, or the feel of sandstone, you’ll make it.

And when you reach the top and look down at where you started … man, there is nothing like it. This picture doesn’t really portray the scale or the slope of the canyon wall, but when I pulled myself up over the edge, all I did was dust my hands off, clap them together, and let out a loud yell.

We hiked up to the old mine site, which was totally abandoned and empty, although you could still clearly see the areas where miners had dug shafts into the canyon walls. We explored some of the otherworldly eroded land near the summit before sitting on a cliff and looking over the entire park.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.





Camping

Historical Interest

Solitude

Trail Map

18 Comments

Scott Turner

Scott Turner Aug 8, 2016 17:08In reply to: Brian Haden

There are bits of Calcite scattered all over the ground near the mine.

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Brian Haden Aug 8, 2016 13:08

Can you find Calcite around the old mine site?

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Jeremiah Haynes May 2, 2015 15:05

About how long is the slot portion of this trail?

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'Adventures Through Dystrophy': This Is True Friendship Mar 8, 2012 05:03

[...] job interview is nothing. Try piggy-backing your wheelchair-bound friend through California’s Anza-Borrego State Park for a day. Aleckx Angely and friend Raul Pizarro (an excellent painter, by the way), who suffers [...]

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Modern Hiker Oct 10, 2011 23:10In reply to: Aaron Brooks

Aaron, you should be able to find the parking lot from the dirt road, unless it's changed significantly due to rain or erosion - it's pretty apparent when you come upon it.

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Aaron Brooks Oct 10, 2011 13:10

I am going to hike The Slot in two weeks. I can see from your directions where I stay left at the fork on Borrego Mountain Wash, but how far will the parking lot be after the fork. Do you have a GPS Lat/Long or is the parking lot obvious.

Also, can I use your map waypoint as a lat/long for my GPS.

Thanks

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Modern Hiker Oct 4, 2011 08:10In reply to: Preston Schumacher

@Preston, I made it down these roads in a Honda Accord. It wasn't the most fun drive I've ever been on, but I made it out in one piece :)

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Preston Schumacher Oct 3, 2011 21:10

Can a Honda Civic make it to Calcite Mine and The Slot? I have been down some pretty hairy roads in my Honda, but I am not sure how bad the roads are to these two locations.

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Calcite Mine Trail | Anza-Borrego Desert State Park | Hikespeak.com Mar 31, 2011 10:03

[...] Calcite Mine Trail on mho.dev [...]

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SDHiker Jan 14, 2011 12:01

Thanks very much for the info! Ive visited many sites in my years of hiking and must say this always at the top of my list for southern california. Thanks.

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