This weekend trip not only featured a stunning desert slot canyon, but also presented some powerful and personal realizations for me. Proving once again how therapeutic nature can be, and just by calming your mind and being one with the earth you can learn a lot about yourself.
On this particular weekend Jeremy and I decided that we wanted to take it easy, and spend a few days at home. We had been running ourselves ragged and were still exhausted from our Memorial Day weekend ordeal, plus our friends’ wedding the following weekend which required another trip to LA and night sleeping on a concrete apartment floor (thank goodness for our camping gear!). Unfortunately, once the weekend was around the corner we realized there was a problem with this plan: it seems that we had become slightly addicted to our weekend trips. The idea of sitting in our apartment all weekend was already making us antsy, and for me to say this is a huge change. Though I love the outdoors, I am also an enormous homebody. I am usually perfectly content to spend a weekend at home if I have no plans, and over the last few years this only increased which, as I have stated, became a problem.
It only took a few weeks of our consistent outings to create a shift, and so by this weekend I was itching for another adventure. These trips allow me to take in some beautiful and interesting sights, but I have also been personally noticing mental and physical effects. My mind has been clearer, and less clouded by depression and anxiety. All through the week I have something to focus my attention on and look forward to. I research new places that I want to visit, and spend hours looking online at gear that I want (only some of which I actually need, and plenty of which I will probably never buy). When I am exploring a trail, or focused on the perky little flower in front of me, I’m able to keep in the present and not dwell on the past or worry about the future. Every time I would push myself further and reach a new goal, the satisfaction would practically leave me glowing. Though I’m sure part of the glow was sweat from all of the physical exertion… Which of course in itself is beneficial for mental health. Excess energy was being expelled from my body, which lessened my jittery and anxious feelings. I was sleeping better, which helped to keep my moods in balance. Being in the sunshine has been a huge factor as well, as my time hiding indoors more than likely created a massive vitamin D deficiency. So my skin was looking healthier, I was feeling happier, and on top of that I have been consistently losing weight. Overall I have been in a better state because of these outings.
At the risk of sounding extra dramatic, I hadn’t felt real happiness in years. When you reach a certain point, even good days and “happy” times aren’t truly and fully felt. You’re just there, watching but not experiencing it. And now that I had something that was finally helping to lift me out of this depressive haze, I was utterly terrified to lose it. I had been sitting in my apartment for years, what if I gave in this weekend and essentially relapsed? Then the next weekend I would do the same, and again the next, until I fell back into old habits. As I thought about it, I felt as though I simply replaced one addiction with another. I was addicted to my own melancholy for so long and now all of the pent up energy was being redirected to this activity, and the thought of not having it actually made me feel somewhat panicked. Of course this was all overkill due to my own anxiety, because it causes me to read too much into things that really don’t need to be worried about. So perhaps I hadn’t quite reached the balance that I thought I had, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say. I can’t expect to suddenly be well adjusted after a few weeks!
So, this is how we came to our weekend’s adventure. We established that neither of us really wanted to sit still for the whole weekend, and near the end of the week Jeremy’s coworker mentioned that he had just gone out to “The Slot” in Anza-Borrego with his daughter. The Slot is a siltstone canyon, carved by erosion from flash floods over thousands of years. It acts as part of a 2+ mile loop trail, though the canyon itself is less than a mile. From his description, as well as what we found online, it seemed to be worth the long drive and hot temperatures and wouldn’t be too tedious on our tired bodies.
We figured we would get out there early and make a morning of it, and then return home to relax for the rest of the weekend. This would also hopefully allow us to miss the crowd, since this seemed to be a popular destination in the area and squeezing through a foot wide canyon with dozens of other people wasn’t quite so appealing!
Once Saturday morning arrived we set out early, taking the same route that we did on the way to the Pictrograph Trail. Rather than turning right onto Great Southern Overland Stage Route like we did then, we continued east on the 78 and enjoyed this new area of the desert that we hadn’t seen yet.
We continued on until we passed Borrego Springs Rd. on the left, and then reached Borrego Mountain Wash, or the beginning of Slot Canyon Trail, which is a dirt road that leads you towards the canyon.
Everything that I read stated that there were two parking areas, and that people with small cars would have to park in the first and walk in. It was firmly implied that the second, at the actual entrance to the canyon, could only be reached by vehicles with 4WD. Being in a tiny Civic with barely any ground clearance, we clearly wanted the first option. We looked for this parking area as we kept driving along down the dirt road, but never did seem to notice it. Then we ended up reaching the the second parking lot with no problem and parked next to the canyon entrance. Obviously I would still recommend being on the safe side by parking outside and walking in, if you can find the parking lot that we somehow missed (and didn’t see on the way back out either…?)
So as you can kind of make out on that map, the canyon starts to the left of where the road ends at the parking lot. It is a steep drop down and it can be somewhat slippery from the loose/crumbling pieces of siltstone, so be careful! I had my hiking boots on which kept me pretty stable, but I think I may have slid on my butt part of the way to be safer. Once you’re down at the bottom the fun really starts! It is by no means the biggest, or even the most spectacular slot canyon out there, but you are definitely being treated to some of mother nature’s marvelous handiwork!
It starts out pretty open, and you really get to see how high the canyon walls are.
I particularly loved this spot, it was as though nature spent thousands of years perfecting a grand stage. It reminded me of an amphitheater where I would expect a symphony orchestra to be performing.
After a while it began to slowly narrow into the slot canyon, which rightfully gave the impression of the walls closing in on you since, you know, they were!
Some areas were definitely more narrow, but always wide enough to just slip through.
For Jeremy there were a few instances where his 6’2″ stature required a bit of creativity, but I think he had fun getting to climb around on the walls.
I just had a blast marveling at the various textures, and how it had worn down so neatly to create this human sized path through the earth. It is so fascinating!
Then you come across sights like this, and it is a little off putting to think how easily that could potentially tumble down on you. I would hate to be in here during an earthquake!
We started coming to the end of the slots, and most of the pathways were a bit wider now.
Again, so delicately balanced! It does make for an amazing silhouette against the sun though.
We finally came out of the collection of slots and into the wider canyon on the other side. The towering walls felt almost prehistoric to me, like I had stepped into another time.
Here’s all 5’5″ of me for scale:
We came across plenty of scurrying little critters along our path, but this fella chose to come out to say hi. He sat just a few feet from us for several minutes, sunning himself and watching us snap photos of him.
I am not one of those who is particularly fond of reptiles, but that is a beautiful creature. He was maybe 2 – 2 1/2 feet in total length, including that magnificent tail. I am definitely appreciating more of nature these days, including animals, insects, and other creatures that I would not have given a second thought to in the past, or may have even been afraid of. I really enjoyed seeing this guy and was excited when he chose not to immediately run away!
We reached the end of the canyon and decided to turn back rather than to continue on around the full loop. It had been getting steadily warmer as the day progressed, and the rest of the trail was more exposed to the sun. We had already been out there for a while and figured it would be better to walk back in the shade of the canyon. You don’t notice it as much as you’re going through the first time, but it is a fairly steady decline the whole way. This meant a steady incline on the way back, which normally wouldn’t be an issue but I was starting to get really over the heat. I pushed through the canyon at a much faster pace on the way back up, eager to wrap this trip up, but you really do have to take it slow or risk bumping body parts into the narrow canyon walls. By the time we reached the spot where we would need to climb back up to the parking lot, I felt a little like Frodo scrambling up the last stretch of Mount Doom. Especially with the desert heat pounding me in the face. I booked it like a goat up the hill and was happy to see my car, which to me represented air conditioning. I chugged some water, kicked my boots off, and blasted the A/C.
At this point it was only noon, and we figured since we were already out here we might as well head back up to Julian for some lunch. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but San Diego is outrageously expensive. We don’t generally go out to eat, at most grabbing takeout when we’re too tired to cook. It is extremely rare for us to sit down in a restaurant and enjoy a meal, especially during the day. We knew that a Saturday afternoon in Julian would probably be a bit overcrowded, but we decided to check it out anyway. We found parking surprisingly easy given the number of people roaming the streets. We parked around the corner from Miner’s Diner, which is a classic diner & soda fountain, and rather than waste time finding anything else we just popped right in there. We got a table with no problem, and were able to sit in the window facing the street where we could admire the beautiful day.
The walls are lined not only with your basic 50’s nostalgia typical of a diner like this, but also with historical images and artifacts specific to Julian back to the mining days, as well as this particular diner. It manages to capture both eras in a cohesive environment that I found very fascinating and quite comfortable. I loved looking through the images lining the wall as I waited for the restroom, eager to wash the desert grime from my hands. As we sat waiting for our food we were mostly quiet, just enjoying each other’s company and listening to the classic songs blasting in the background. They do have a pretty large menu, but we opted for diner food and each went for a BBQ chicken sandwich (fairly mediocre) and some fries (seriously scrumptious).
If you find yourself in Julian and are looking for a good breakfast, lunch, or dinner, I would recommend checking them out! http://www.minersdinerjulian.com/
I became very interested in the history of Julian while we were here, and I almost felt like I was desecrating the ambiance of the restaurant as I pulled out my phone to look up a few historical sites. Apparently you can go on a guided tour of the mines, which I am all on board for. Unfortunately that would have to wait until another day, as it was time to keep our promise to ourselves and head home to rest. We strolled down the main street for a moment, since neither of us had ever explored Julian, and then began the long drive home.
All in all it was just the outing we needed. We were able to have our adventure, which included two interesting places that we had never been before, and still get our weekend of rest. I think that sometimes we underestimate how important it can be just to enjoy the simple things, like a nice lunch. Though for us it has mostly been finances that have kept us from getting out over the last few years, I also feel as though there is a misconception that to have an amazing day you have to have some grand adventure. And though we did get out into the desert to explore this interesting landmark, my takeaway from the day was more about appreciating the significance of less extravagant, though sometimes equally important activities. Just sharing time with loved ones on a nice day can make all of the difference in the world. Our lives are made up of each individual day, and aren’t just about getting by in between the bigger adventures. I realize now that I need to make more time in my life for these simpler activities and treat each day as the gift that it is.