For a brief period at the start of America’s involvement in World War Two, this area was heavily mined for its high-grade calcite, a mineral then used to make bomb sights. This approximately 4-mile long expedition follows an old mining road into the Santa Rosa Mountains, crossing a narrow ravine with slot canyons that hikers may explore to add variety and excitement to this trek in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
From the not-entirely-well-marked trailhead on route S22 east of Borrego Springs, begin down Calcite Mine Road, which immediately drops seventy-five feet into Palm Wash. Continue up the dirt road across desert badlands toward a mine built into Pyramid Peak. You are hiking up a 4X4 road so look out for occasional vehicle traffic.
The road dips into a ravine 1.4 miles from the start, and half a mile from Calcite Mine. Above and below the road are narrows open only to hikers. To venture up the ravine to the mine site, leave the road and turn left. After a few hundred feet, the ravine narrows to just a few feet wide. Weave your way through winding water-swept sandstone, climbing a few pour-overs that obstruct the path.
The trench eventually widens and arrives at a ten-foot dry falls. Retreat a few hundred yards and look for a steep track ascending through a gap on the east wall of the canyon. Climb to the rim and turn right, marching east on a faint and sometimes invisible footpath. Worry not, the mine is near. Hike over a low ridge and across the top of a small depression to reach the mine. You will pass to the left of a tall porous rock formation before stepping down to a large turnaround area at the top of the road.
This is the mine site, though there is no rusting equipment to identify the location. Look below your feet and you are sure to spot a few pieces of calcite glistening on the ground. Calcite Mine played a brief but important role in U.S. history. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, military specialists pinpointed this rich deposit of optical-grade calcite, an essential material in the manufacturing of precision bomb sights and anti-aircraft weaponry. The discovery led to vigorous trench mining, which came to an end as quickly as it began when a synthetic substitute was created that held the same optical qualities as calcite and was less expensive to produce.
There are footpaths leaving Calcite Mine in several directions. Take the opportunity to explore. A track descending southeast to a rocky mound offers nice view over the vast badlands. The Salton Sea is visible to the east, a full 1,300 feet below Calcite Mine at 226 feet below sea level. North of Calcite Mine is the aptly named Locomotive Rock, a long prominent formation with jagged steps that stands out from the landscape and is identifiable from the trailhead. A rugged jeep trail drops into the canyon below Locomotive Rock, allowing even greater exploration.
When you are ready to head out, hike half a mile back down the road to the ravine where you first went off-road to explore the narrows. Now turn left to head downhill through a lower slot.
After 0.45 miles of fun, the narrows join a larger branch of the canyon. Turn right and stride down to the top of another 4X4 road. About a quarter mile down the wash, turn right up a steep jeep road. The road is faint, but it is very important not to miss this turn. If you continue down the wash, it will angle progressively farther to the east, away from the trailhead, resulting in a frustrating unplanned extension of several miles. It is quite easy to lose your sense of direction in these winding desert channels, which is why it is important to hike with a reliable map, and useful to carry a GPS device. Assuming you don’t mistakenly continue down the wash (man, that would be frustrating…), hike out of the wash up the jeep trail connecting to Calcite Mine Road. Turn left and return to the trailhead, less than a mile away.
This figure-eight-shaped loop visits enthralling narrows and a mine site important to the history of the Anza-Borrego Desert. Calcite Mine is 1.9 miles from Route S22 over the mine road, and a little farther through the narrows. Plan to hike at least a quarter mile around the mine site on this varied 4.25-mile trek with 600 feet of elevation between the low and high points. No fee or permit is required to visit Calcite Mine and the adjacent narrows in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, so get out enjoy.
To get to the trailhead: From Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs, drive east for 4.3 miles on Palm Canyon Dive. The road bends north, becoming Pegleg Road. After 2.4 miles, the road turns east onto Borrego Salton Seaway (Route S22). Drive another 12.4 miles to the trailhead. There is a large turnout on the north side of the road near mile marker 38. Calcite Mine Trail begins 0.2 miles to the east (marker 38.2). Directly across from the trailhead, there is a smaller turnout on the south side of the road near emergency call box 382. Park in either spot, and walk to the display panel at the start of Calcite Mine Road, which describes the history of Calcite Mine.
Trailhead address: Borrego Salton Seaway & Calcite Road, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, CA 92004
Trailhead coordinates: 33.281126, -116.096372 (33° 16′ 52.05″N 116° 05′ 46.93″W)
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