Cool Things in Palm Springs: hiking Borrego Springs & The Slot

If you remember the last few scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you’ll remember Harrison Ford on horseback picking his way through a narrow cinnamon hued slot canyon only to have it unfold into a city carved from the rock before his eyes.
That scene is filmed in Petra, Jordan. Ford slips through a thin, rocky area known as The Siq (in the movie it’s dubbed The Canyon of the Crescent Moon) as he hunts down the Holy Grail. If you can’t get overseas to see it for yourself, there’s a reasonable, if significantly smaller and less dramatic substitute. It’s called The Slot.

A fun and easy day trip from Palm Springs

If you’re thinking of finding this hidden hiking spot near Borrego Springs, be prepared to do your research, and keep your eyes peeled. This gem is not marked in any way, and takes some detective work to find; much in the same way Indy and his father had to locate Christ’s cup. Borrego Springs is a small community about 90 minutes drive from Palm Springs. It’s an easy day trip via Highways 10 and 86 that will also take you past the briny Salton Sea.

img_0686California’s mini Grand Canyon

The Slot is a small canyon; a gash torn in the earth by the centuries-long forces of flash flood water. From above it looks like a mini Grand Canyon.

There are no signs advertising the slot or its location. You’ll either learn about it through word-of-mouth, or likely someone’s blog after a Google search about fun things to do in the Borrego Springs area.

If you’re game, The Slot is well worth playing hide and seek for. It’s a very easy hike, and provides beautiful vistas from both the rim of the small canyon and the canyon floor.

Finding the turnoffimg_0692

The turnoff to get to the slot is a narrow and unmarked dirt road off of California Highway 78. We actually drove by it three times without realizing it was even there. You’ll need to keep a sharp eyes, and it helps if you have GPS. (The coordinates for the trailhead are: 33.182132, -116.214176 (33° 10′ 55.67″N 116° 12′ 51.03″W)) Eventually we noticed a very small sign low to the ground which reads ‘Buttes Pass Road’. That’s your turnoff, but you won’t find any other clues since the ‘road’ is just an opening in the sand; no curbs, no turning lane.

Once on the road it’s about a five minute drive through a rather bumpy, sand-covered road. Wheel tracks from other vehicles are easy enough to find, so follow the dirt road to the parking area and ditch your vehicle. From there, you’re right at the edge of the canyon.

Look out over the desert, then slip below it

img_0672Take a walk over to the canyon rim and look out across the vast and sandy plains. The bumpy badlands landscape ripples for miles into the distance, and is a beautiful site for photos. Once you’ve had your fill of looking out across wide-open spaces, find one of several access points and climb down to the floor of the canyon. It’s not so much a climb as it is a walk or even a light scramble. There are several different paths that will take you down, some are slightly steeper than others. It was recommended to us we head up a small hill from the parking area and find the least steep access point on the backside of that hill. A small sign points to ‘The Slot’ with an arrow, that’s how you’ll know you’re going in the right direction.

In minutes we were on the sandy canyon floor which was actually quite wide in this area. Many people have piled rocks along the sides or on the floor of the canyon to mark their entrance paths. While it appears you could go to either the left or the right in this slot canyon, opt for the left as this is where the best features can be found.

Once on your way, the canyon floor is very flat and sandy, however in some places it narrows to no more than a few inches wide. I was with a group of four friends and each of us had to turn sideways and in some cases suck in our guts to fit through the narrow slot openings. So while you’re not going to face a fear of heights here, claustrophobic hikers may not make it all the way through.

Ancient waters carve the wayimg_0673

The canyon dips and winds and twists and it’s easy to see where ancient and fast-moving waters carved out pools and eddies in the bottom of this slot canyon. The geology is fascinating particularly where the canyon takes sharp hairpin turns and becomes extremely narrow. Water gushing through such a narrow channels would have had incredible force behind it, grinding this canyon away over time as if it were breadcrumbs.

The sandstone rock is indeed quite soft and it’s cracked in many places. There are a couple of areas where you’ll need to scramble under a large rock overhang. When one of my hiking friends brought up Aron Ralston, we all cringed.

img_0682One of the most interesting sites to see here is the “official” entrance to The Slot which is a massive truck-sized boulder that has clearly fallen from high above and wedged itself into the narrow opening, creating almost a doorway kind of effect. It’s pretty, if a stark reminder of nature’s powers.

“There are no massive crowds here, no fighting for footholds with camera-toting tourists. Just the beautiful silence of the wind blowing across the rocks, and blood pounding in your ears.”

Once through the doorway the next big sight to see is what looks like a pillar of rock that has tipped sideways and come to rest like a pencil in a cup high above the canyon. Though it looks like the pillar could come tumbling down at any moment, I’m sure it’s a very secure.img_0669

On the Sunday morning we were in The Slot, we only saw two other groups; one was leaving just as we arrived, and another was just coming to get started as we were leaving. There are no massive crowds here, no fighting for footholds with camera-toting tourists. Just the beautiful silence of the wind blowing across the rocks, and blood pounding in your ears.

Keeping a steady pace and stopping for photos and videos along the way as we did, we were in and out of The Slot in less than an hour.

For a close-up view of what the first 4 minutes of the hike is really like, check out my video.

While you won’t find any ancient archaeological artifacts, or adventurous archaeologists, The Slot is an easy and relatively safe hike in the desert that will give you a different and stunningly beautiful view of scenery that looks from the road to be nothing more than a boring sandy carpet.img_0676

There are a few other very cool sights to see in this area, including the absolutely stunning Font’s Point where a plane buzzed us on the rim of a massive canyon, and Galleta Meadows with its massive life-sized ironwork sculptures. Watch for more on the blog about things to do in Borrego Springs area soon.



Erin L