Arroyo Tapiado Mud Cave Exploration


We felt like we were in an Indiana Jones movie out here!


I am not sure if the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are one of the best kept secrets of the park, because many people I run into have never even heard of this magnificent place!

Granted, you feel like a lost sheep wandering the vast desert to find them but they are “totally” worth it!!

The drive to find the mud caves, is almost as much fun as the mud caves themselves. The trek in makes you feel like you are a million miles away from everything. There are no city lights, no freeways, no stop lights and no one around for miles.We kept playing the “Indiana Jones” theme song in our heads while traversing the desolate dirt roads! Every twist and turn made us hold our breath wondering what was around the corner. The rock and mud formations along the way were a sight to see and left us wondering “what was back there”? At every corner we wanted to get out and hike and explore the area, but we kept onward to our mud cave destination.

There are no neon signs, no “Welcome to the Mud Caves” billboard and no physical way to see that these mud caves exist from the road. The only way you know where they are is if you follow another motorist in, someone is parked down near the area, or if you have been there before. This anonymity adds to the mystery and anticipation of exploring these natural wonders.

The name Arroyo Tapiado derives from the Spanish language meaning “walled wash” and the Arroyo Tapiado canyon is full of 22 known mud caves and 9 slot canyons! These mud caves are the most extensive mud cave systems in the world with some of the caves extending over 1000 feet! These are not claustrophobic caves either, some of these systems are cavernous with ceilings 80 feet tall and 325 feet wide.

They were formed by fluvial erosion caused by periods of heavy rain fall. When the heavy rain occurs it cuts channels into the mud hills which causes erosion and forms canyon with undercut walls. Some channels deepen and some cave in. The mud of the collapsed walls dry and adhere to other portions of the canyon thus forming bridges, archways and even natural “skylights” in the caves.

It’s truly a natural wonder and you can spend days there and not see everything that Arroyo Tapiado has to offer.


Some notes of interest and words of caution:
* 4WD is recommended to traverse the dirt roads in.
* Make sure you bring water and snacks (you are a long way from civilization and it is dry and hot out there).
* The mud caves can be unstable, so use caution (it is also recommended not to walk on top of the caves for fear of cave ins). People have lost their lives in these areas, so use caution and common sense (this is not rock, this is unstable MUD)!
* Bring lights, i.e.: flashlights, lanterns. Once you are in the caves, there is no light and it becomes pitch black.
* Don’t leave your trash please, let’s keep it nice for many generations.

***On a side note, we recommend doing that while in the cave…gather everyone around and simultaneously shut off your lights. The blackness is astounding and the quiet is deafening!!***


Our taxi to the great unknown!


Even my parents came to explore the caves…it was a family affair!


                                    Three Generations of Explorers!


The entrance to the cave is a back breaker, but looks like fun doesn’t it?


Equipped with lanterns and Camelbak’s we are ready for adventures


There is no greater skylight than God’s skylight!


Taking a break and eating some lunch perched at the mouth of a cave


Papa and little one went off exploring on their own


Wedged into a narrow slot and passageway


Oh No, look who the tour guide is?!


Hubby and I walked right up on this perfectly coiled and perfectly camouflaged rattler…that will give you a moment of pause!


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