Carrizo Gorge Overlook

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By Scott Saschmitz

At the end of the Northeast Trail there is an old jeep road, still used by recreational four-wheel-drive enthusiasts, that winds its way northwest towards the top of an isolated mountain peak that offers a grand view of the Carrizo Gorge and its surroundings.  From the top of this peak, unnamed except by its elevation, one can contemplate an enduring mystery.  While the majority of desert canyons drain from west to east, Carrizo Gorge is one of a few that drain from south to north. Why is Carrizo Gorge here?

On either side of the gorge are thin strips of the oldest remaining rock of that era, mixed metasedimentary marble, schist, and metaquartzites, the remains of the continental shelf.  On top of this layer migmatitic schists represent the eroded base of the impinging island arc.  And then intrusive plutons began bubbling up from below, first the late Jurassic tonalites representing the increased friction and melting of the Farallon plate as the continental shelf overrode the eastern margin of the island arc, followed by the early Cretaceous Granite Mountain tonalites formed as the island arc became welded to the North American Plate.

The rocks of the Carrizo Gorge date to the age of the Nevadan orogeny which occurred along the western margin of North America during the Middle Jurassic to Early Cretaceous time (155 million years ago to 145 Mya). During the early stages of this mountain-building event, an "Andean type" continental arc developed due to subduction of the Farallon oceanic plate beneath the North American Plate.  The latter stages of orogenesis, in contrast, saw multiple island arcs accreted onto the western margin of North America.  The Laguna Mountains and the Sierra de Juárez in Baja California represent the remains of these island arcs.

As the island arcs neared the shores of North America, the mountains of these offshore islands began eroding sediments onto North America’s continental margin.  And then the collision occurred and these sediments were folded deep into the earth’s crust, probably due to forces of subduction as the Farallon Plate plunged beneath North America.  The resulting syncline stretched along the base of the Lagunas and south 50 kilometers into Baja California along the base the Sierra de Juárez.  Dragged deep into the crust, the syncline was cooked into the migmatitic schists seen today lining the Carrizo Gorge.

Successive plutons were emplaced beneath and along the sides of the syncline, climaxing with the mighty La Posta Pluton which rose on either side of the syncline, and culminating with the Indian Hill Pluton which rose mostly on the syncline’s east side.  Pluton emplacement stopped 85 mya when the Farallon Plate switched to flat-slab subduction.  The resulting Laramide orogeny lifted the area up in a series of mountain-building events.  Erosion off of these mountains eventually exposed the syncline and its enfolding plutons.

Starting 50 mya, this portion of the Peninsular Ranges was worn-down by a series of ancient east-to-west flowing rivers.  One such river found its way into the dip of the Tule Mountain syncline and drained down the syncline until diverted west by the Indian Hill Pluton.  This ancient river broke through the syncline where Tule Canyon is now and flowed down what became Stony Canyon into the route of Campo Creek.  During this time the waters of Carrizo Gorge flowed from east-to-west, the opposite of what it does today.

27 million years ago the East Pacific Rise was overridden by the North American Plate.  Transform faulting opened up the Jacumba Graben and then the San Andreas Fault, uplifting the Peninsular Range.  The head of the ancient river that flowed east-to-west was cut off, the Tule Mountain syncline uplifted, and the lands to the east dropped.  As a result, the waters draining through Carrizo Gorge reversed and began flowing west-to-east, draining off of the uplifted Laguna Mountains.  The presence of the syncline and the gorge preserved the older rocks of the Tule Mountain Roof Pendant.  Carrizo Creek has yet to erode past the bottom of the migmatitic schists that line the gorge.

The Tule Mountain Roof Pendant did not escape damage from the rising plutons.  The roof pendant is crisscrossed with white pegmatite dikes as the hot magma of the plutons probed the cracks in the migmatitic schists.  The dikes brought with them various minerals that promised riches to the prospectors who explored these dikes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  One such dike, found just northwest of Peak 3367, was promising enough for miners to stake a claim and then build a road up and over the peak to access the ore.  According to Minedat.org, the ore contained Wollastonite, a calcium inosilicate mineral (CaSiO3) containing small amounts of iron, magnesium, and manganese substituting for calcium. Wollastonite is used primarily in ceramics, metalmaking, paint filler, plastics, and friction products (brakes and clutches).  Perhaps the mine provided a readily-available source of material for the repair and restoration of the brakes used by the train cars traversing the grade, wearing them down traversing the twisty curves of the Carrizo Gorge railroad.

To get to Peak 3367 and the Carrizo Gorge Overlook Mine, go to the end of the Northwest Trail where it forks.  Take the left fork down into Lone Tiger Wash and pick up the 4WD trail on the other side of the wash.  The road ascends out of the wash and turns sharply left, climbing to the top of a small ridge dividing Lone Tiger Wash from Camp Sizzle Wash.  Here the road passes The Maze, jumbled outcrops of the Indian Hill Pluton.  Many small drainage channels emerge from The Maze to collect in the bowl the road traverses before spilling over the edge of the bowl towards Camp Sizzle.

The road leaves the bowl over a small rise and continues on over rolling terrain draining towards the northwest.  The walking is easy here, luring you into a false sense of ease.  You enter the Granite Mountain tonalite, the oldest of the plutons in the area.  The boulders are particularly worn here, creating rounded spires and boulder piles. Suddenly this sea of boulders ends and the road begins to climb steeply up the mountainside.

The road makes a switchback to get to the top of the ridge.  Ambitious drivers have created a steep shortcut across the switchback, black tire marks discoloring the rocks along this crazy route.  The switchback it the preferred hiking route.  Once on top of the ridge, the road passes through a cleft in the crown of the ridge and down a challenging slot to the bottom of a wide saddle.  Yes, the ridge was not the summit you were looking for but just an appetizer.  The real summit is still to come, and the road after crossing the saddle climbs steeply towards the top, this time without a switchback.

There are two summits on the mountain.  The east summit is 3367 feet high, while the west summit is 3358 feet high, barely 9 feet lower.  The west summit is easier to access as it is just north of the 4WD road while the east summit requires about a 180-foot cross-country traverse from road.  Both summits are marked by a pile of boulders.  The higher summit gives Peak 3367 its name.  The west peak has the better view.  To the north you can see the Impossible Railroad winding its way along the sides of Carrizo Gorge before disappearing into a tunnel.  To the south Tunnel 5 is clearly visible, as is the DeAnza Springs Resort.

Just past the west summit, the road begins to descend.  It curves around the west summit and descends to a wide, flat shelf where there is a turnout.  Wise 4WD drivers will park here and go no further.  The foolish and the brave can continue down the narrow and steep switchbacks descending onto a ridge jutting out into the gorge.  At the end of the ridge is another turnout.  On the north side of the turnout is the narrow trail that switchbacks down to the mineshaft.  Foot travel only from here.

Four steep switchbacks bring you to the top of the mine.  The final climb down to the mine entrance requires cautious and careful navigation down a scree slope.  The mine is curiously disappointing.  For all the work making the road to get here, the horizontal adit is barely 60 feet long.

Below, the railroad tracks appear tantalizingly close, but the steepness of the terrain precludes dropping to the tracks.  Climb back to the turnout and take in the view of Tule Canyon.  You can see the McCain Trail descending into Tule Canyon.   Tule Canyon drops nearly 1100 feet in three miles.  It is hard to believe that once a river took this route from the Mexican highlands to the sea, but that was before the mountains uplifted and the Gulf of California opened wide.

After climbing back up the 4WD road past Peak 3367, it’s mostly all downhill back to the resort (there is that intermediate ridge).  The hike is best done on cool and windless days.  On windy days the wind is powerful with quite a bite when you’re at the top.  Take water and snacks. This is one of the longer hikes, almost 9 miles round trip, but well worth the effort.  But be on the lookout. Despite the State Park discouraging use of this road (it is technically a wilderness area), drivers of 4WD vehicles still enjoy taking this challenging route.  Try to avoid them if you can. 

 

DeAnza Springs Logo
DeAnza Springs Logo

1951 Carrizo Gorge Rd.

Jacumba, CA 91934

619-766-4301

Stay@DeAnzaSprings.com

1951 Carrizo Gorge Rd.

Jacumba, CA 91934

619-766-4301

Stay@DeAnzaSprings.com

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