Abandoned Railroad Ride – Carrizo Gorge to Goat Canyon Trestle on KLRs
This write up I initially published on ADV Rider here:
But I wanted to record it here for posterity as well.
NOTE: While this is an awesome ride, please do it at your own risk if you want to go. The RR tracks are owned by SD MTS and it is illegal and posted that you run the risk of arrest or fine if caught. There were many people hiking and biking on the trip, but I have no idea what the consequences would be if caught. Please just understand the risk involved!
FULL PICS ALBUM CLICK HERE
So this last weekend my brother (FadingFastSD) and I decided we finally wanted to tackle explore Corrizo Gorge – the mostly abandoned railroad line outside of San Diego that includes the “tallest and widest wooden railroad trestle in the United States”. After reading about this thing on various hiking and mountain biking websites, we decided we wanted to be the first people to ride motorcycles on this thing. And as far as I can tell…we were!
Before I get into the trip, and tons of pictures of the ride, some awesome history on this Railroad. To quote various historical sources about the RR and the trestle:
“The Goat Canyon Trestle is perhaps the signature piece of engineering on the “impossible” railroad that stretches from San Diego to Yuma. It was built in 1932 after an earthquake destroyed one of the seventeen (17) tunnels that were constructed along the track between 1907 and 1919. Rather than proceed through the same mountain that had the remnants of the previous collapsed tunnel, the railroad engineers elected to bridge Goat Canyon; and the results are the trestle that remains to this day.”
More info HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Anyway, this seemed like a run that most people typically hike and/or mountain bike into. I was able to find fairly decent directions to the general area we wanted to head, and pinpointed coordinates from google maps. If anyone is in or near San Diego, basically you take the 8 freeway east of San Diego to the Jacumba exit (the only one with a gas station and subway for miles). Exit Jacumba and go back west on the dirt road parrallel to the freeway. 1 mile or so in it will curve north, under the freeway, and end at the DeAnza nudist resort (more on this later).
Google Maps Location Here.
EDIT: Go to my brother’s website to get a detailed run down on directions and GPS locations in order to get here:
Now, we were super stoked about doing this ride, as we had read quite a bit about the history of the RR and the region, and there is a ton of cool stuff to explore out there. Of course, we wished the king of Adventure, our good friend The Filthy Nomad (Parepin) was still in town to do this with us…but the deep Parepin sized impression permanently existing in my couch cushions tells me he’ll be back. So just the two of us (FadingFastSD) and I set out from San Diego on Sunday morning on KLR 650s. We planned on doing this ride with just the two of us, but in retrospect, we wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without what happened next. We pulled off the freeway to gas up before we hit the dirt, and when walking in to the gas station, come across two newer KLR’s fully loaded out in adventure gear for obviously a more substantial trip. Of course we end up bullshitting with the two guys, who end up being brothers, and inmates (Didn’t get their names on the forum though). They were down from the LA area on a camping trip and just riding around. They had planned to do some riding along the border that day, but after telling them where they were heading, they were immediately down to come with us! Miguel, Rey – we couldn’t have done it without you! AND we made two new friends who I can see some serious riding going on with in the future!
So the four of us take off down the dirt road to see what we can find. Now if you check Google Maps, you’ll see the dirt road curves up parallel to the train tracks, but there is no easy way to get up to the trail I had read existed that ran along the tracks. Knowing that the RR is now pretty much defunct (They do occasionally run a maintenance car on it, or the rare locomotive) and seeing the condition of the tracks, we found the only way to get started on this journey was to get our bikes up on the tracks. This is where I can’t believe our fortune that we had run into two other guys as crazy as we were. With loaded out bikes, there is no way Evan and I would have been able to lift our bikes over the tracks with just the two of us. But with all four, we made it happen no problem. What I had initially thought was a trail running along the tracks turned out to be a tiny dirt path big enough for just a mountain bike at most places. We realized that the only way we were going to make this ride was to do it ON the tracks. From the looks of things, tons of rust, debris, condition of the wood, the tracks were obviously not used, so we decided what the hell let’s do it. We got all 4 bikes on the tracks and headed up on an EXTREMELY bumpy ride. Less than a mile in, we came to the first interesting thing on the trip…
Parked on this siding were a row of split-level passenger cars. 5 of them I believe. It was pretty awesome to see, just 5 minutes in to the trip and already some cool stuff to explore! The cars had obviously been abandoned for some time. Windows were broken out, glass was everywhere, and some of the most amazing graffiti art I’ve ever seen decorated the side of the cars.
We started walking through them to explore, and made some pretty interesting discoveries.
First of all, there was one passenger remaining on the train. She was sitting in her sit, waiting for her stop that will probably never come…
Poor girl just looked so lonely…so Evan gave her a hug
We later found her box (pun intended) outside on the ground. Apparently she’s a “Jenna – 3 Hole Doll” model. In remarkably good condition too taking into account the rough terrain, jagged metal, and relentless sun surrounding her. . .
We continued exploring the cars, and made our way up to the drivers area. This is where we made a second interesting discovery:
Either the driver of this train had parked it here while high as shit, or we stumbled across someone’s secret stash spot. Regardless, the bowl was cashed so we put it back in its hiding spot and continued the adventure!
At this point near these first train cars, we encountered a few groups of hikers. One group had about 10 people, and another smaller group followed shortly after. They were all cool, but like everyone else we ran into – very surprised that we were taking motorcycles on this journey. I’ve done a lot of research online and I can’t find anyone else who has taken even a dirt bike on this trip. Just hiking and the occasional mountain biking (See the Miles Todd crash for more information on mtn biking this trail).
Once we had explored all there is to that first siding, we were stuck figuring out way over the first real obstacle. There is a ~30 yard long bridge that crosses a dry riverbed just north of that siding. (also just north of the nudist resort). Some of the supports and pilings for this bridge are in horrible shape, and it was also actually missing a few of the ties that go across it. Since it’s about 20 feet up in the air, we were reluctant to try and ride across it. With no guard rails an d being in the middle of nowhere, we weren’t exactly stoked to ride across this thing on loaded bikes.
While we were figuring out a possible way through the riverbed, we heard a bike start up and were surprised to see Rey just jump on his bike and go for it. This guy had some serious balls! He made it across fine, and we ended up carefully getting the other bikes across. It was at this point during the deliberation of how to tackle this, that we encountered another set of visitors.
Warning: Naked Dude
I gotta say, that guy had bigger balls than me! Literally, because I saw them, and figuratively, because you gotta be pretty tough to walk around a ton of rusting steel with your hang dang swinging like a wind chime in a hurricane…
Anyway, we all made it across, and headed on down the tracks to come across the first of 11 tunnels.
We hit a few more switches in the tracks which we developed a pretty quick and efficient way to lift our loaded bikes over the tracks. The tracks continued, winding around the mountainside over some of the most beautiful and rugged terrain that CA has to offer. I couldn’t’ believe someone thought it would be a good idea to build a railroad back here!
We crossed multiple bridges, mos of which had rails and were in fairly good condition. We didn’t encounter any others that had the ties in such bad shape as that first bridge, and were able to just ride straight over these others. A few more miles in, we came accross the second awesome discovery of the trip. On the next large siding we passed, we come around a corner to find another set of passenger cars just sitting there rusting away! It was so awesome seeing these things, like we discovered a part of history just rusting away in the middle of the desert. These one’s weren’t that old, and had markings from a Montreal Canada railway, but it was still cool just to look through all this stuff!
We stopped here for a while to rest and eat some lunch, and talked with another group of hikers that passed by. They said they had left around 9am that morning, and were just headed back around 2pm when we saw them. The hike is about 8 miles in off the freeway, but on pretty rugged terrain for hiking.
Then we finally saddled up and headed on. The hikers told us we were about another 4 miles from our destination – Goat Canyon Trestle. This is where we started hitting the majority of the tunnels. This was one of the coolest parts of the ride. Riding your bike through these tunnels looked like you were literally riding through a mine shaft, they were all blown straight through the side of the mountain. It was an unbelievable experience.
Another 4 or so miles up the tracks, we go through a super long tunnel which curves along the mountain. We come out of the curve to see an amazing sight – the trestle. It was seriously a beautiful picture. This massive wood structure curving around the mountain right out of the black mouth of a dark tunnel. Really cool experience to ride this. We ripped out of the tunnel and just tore straight across the trestle, without even stopping to check the ties. They were all in good shape and we made it across and parked to do some exploring. Just the size of this thing, and knowing it was built in the 1930’s was unbelievable.
There was a ballast car sitting on a siding here, with a water tanker up on the hill above it. I’d read that this was placed there in case of any fires on the wood structure. In the hill across from it, you could see the original tunnel that used to go through the mountain. It was damaged in an earth quake and later rock slides took it out for good.
The tracks continued to the biggest tunnel, and one was blasted straight out of solid rock. This was a pretty amazing sight to walk through.
A little farther up the tracks were some other UP boxcars that had been derailed and fallen off the tracks. I think these might have been used in a movie, as I know there was other debris from old cars from a movie they filmed in the 30’s.
Around this time it was getting late, 5pm, so we decided to turn and head back so we weren’t stuck getting over that first bridge after dark. We made pretty good time heading back, since we knew the tricks to getting over tracks, and just about had it down to a science. We passed a couple of guys mountain biking in, who said they were going in to camp for the night. We did pass a couple of clearings, one that had a fire ring made from rocks that someone set up. There were definitely some good spots to camp. Hell you could even sleep comfortably in some of those train cars! The guys on bikes were surprised to see us, and said they come often but have never seen anyone on motorcycles attempt this!
We made it back to the gas station by dark, and exchanged all our contact information, having found a good group to do some future rides with!
Overall, this was probably the best and most exciting ride I’ve done in Southern California. There’s still a lot to explore out in the deserts surrounding San Diego that we plan on checking out. I would recommend this ride to anyone, but it’s definitely easier on a lighter and less loaded bike. I’m going to come back with my street plated CRF 450x and can make pretty short work of it I’m sure. My one caution is that no one is really sure of the legality of this, and it is posted in some areas that its trespassing. We didn’t see any authority or anyone who cared we were back here, but I did happen to find some videos on youtube where they recently (March 2014) ran a maintenance truck on the line. Their website says that it is still patrolled by RR Police, and they will arrest/fine anyone caught. I have no idea the accuracy of that, but just be warned that it could be dangerous to be out here. Don’t let that stop you, just please be careful!
I posted the links to the full album, and lots of links with more information up near the top.