Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Smugggler’s Canyon Provides a Stroll Through Time


Departing Smuggler's Canyon

©Bert Gildart: Smuggler’s Canyon overlook provides what many say is one of Anza Borrego’s most scenic vistas, which it certainly could be. It is reached following a hike of about a mile and a half, the last hundred yards of which threads through a maze of boulders and steep-sided walls. Historians caution, however, that Smuggler’s Canyon may be a misnomer, noting that smugglers could never use the area as there is simply no reasonable access.

In a round about way Bill and Polly Cunningham, friends of ours from Montana, explain as much in their their book Best Easy Day Hikes, Anza-Borrego.

They say that when you reach the overlook there is an abrupt drop-off above Smuggler’s Canyon, “so keep an eye,” they advise, “on overly adventurous members in your hiking party.”

The drop-off they’re referring to is also known as a “dryfall,” created by water, but which runs only following exceptional downpours. But they’re right, the drop off is substantial, descending about 150 feet. And because it does so abruptly people wonder how it could have ever been used successfully by smugglers?

From our readings of Marshall South’s various entries, we believe he was aware of the overlook as he spoke of other aspects of the vista, which includes the old Vallecito Stagecoach station all of which is back dropped by the rugged peaks of the Tierra Blanca, Jacumba, and Coyote mountains.


Though the vista is worth a hike in itself initially we were drawn to this area because of the pictographs, which take you back hundreds of years. Pictographs differ from Petroglyphs in that the former are created from pigments while the latter by chipping and scraping. Both were, of course, created by Native Americans of the time, meaning these works of art date back hundreds of years.

According to Lowell and Diana Lindsay, in the informative book The Anza-Borrego Desert Region, the pictographs you’ll see along this trail are unusual for “their well executed red and yellow symbolic designs consisting of interlaced elements in a diamond-chain motif.”


Click on each image to see larger version and extended caption.

Janie and I have seen Petroglyphs and pictographs in many areas of the Southwest and concur that these images are extremely well preserved. No one has carved their name over them or destroyed them with bullet holes as have so many in other parts of country.


For photographers the images could represent a challenge, and I find most of the time they photograph best with strobe lights. Specifically, I use two, one of which Janie holds. The other is on my Nikon D300 and I set my SB-800s so the daylight exposure is about one stop less than the setting for my strobes.


View from dryfalls of Vallecito Stagecoach stop and Vallecito Mountains, all of which is spectacular.


But you may not be concerned about photography, and if simply seeing beautiful country is your goal, this hike is a winner. Simultaneously, it exposes you to Rock Art and so to a bit of America’s earliest history.



Ranger Overboard



One Response to “Smugggler’s Canyon Provides a Stroll Through Time”

  1. Rich Charpentier Says:

    Hey there Bert! Great write up. I did that hike last year. Great shots on your trip.

    Hope you’re still enjoying Borrego. Seems like we’ll be having some major rain this week. Stay dry!

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