Canyon Tajo


By: Marty Goodman


Ron Jones and I met (for the first time) at Ontario Airport, and drove toward Tecate. We crossed the boarder into Tecate, then drove 38 miles east on paved Baja 2 to where a dirt road leave south for Laguna Hanson. We followed this road due south for about 15 miles, then left it heading south east, and after 4.5 miles parked near the base of a conical peak on the Sierra Juarez plateau.

I had made the trip to the "North Fork Dropin" half a dozen times before over the last 20 years, and had no trouble finding my way along the Sierra Juarez Plateau to the point where the trail Leads down into Canyon Tajo. The plateau is roughly elevation 4,800 feet, with pinion pines and many varieties of Sonora Desert cacti. We crossed the plateau to the east in 20 minutes, and then hiked down the into canyon Tajo, descending steeply about 2,500 feet along well-ducked, rugged trail. Total hiking time was about 2.5 hours. The trail is suitable for external frame packs. Elevation where the floor of the canyon was first reached was about 2,300 feet. This canyon has thousands of palm trees of both the Washingtonia and Blue variety. Ron and I then made our way up canyon, passing the division between north and south fork at the base of the "Great White Throne" and heading roughly a half hour up the south fork of the canyon, where we made camp.

The next day we explored down canyon. Ron found numerous pottery shards from previous Indian occupation. We found several rocks with moteros, including one rock with over 20 morteros. Ron hiked further down canyon than I, and reported finding warm springs in a side canyon to the north at roughly 1000 feet elevation below the point where the dropin trail enters Canyon Tajo. At that elevation Ron reported seeing ocatillo in bloom. Higher in the canyon the ocatillo was not yet blooming. We did find some ghost flowers, and some fishook (mamalaria) cactus in bloom. We also Saw tracks and seat from what seemed to be big horn sheep, coyote, and some sort of cat. Ron found a five pound sledge hammer (probably an artifact from-some misguided prospector) which he put in his pack and carried out.

The second day in the canyon we explored up the south fork, seeking a means of reaching the plateau from the south fork. The main south fork proper became impassable at about 3,300 feet with a 100 fo0t waterfall on the Left, and many jumbled, hard to climb big boulders to the right. At elevation 3,100 feet in the south fork there was a prominent canyon heading in from the west. This canyon had a good deal of water in it. The water in this side canyon had a great deal of white sediment. The canyon was narrow, with red-rock walls. We climbed over waterfalls in this canyon to an elevation of 3,800 feet until progress was halted by impassable small waterfalls.

Hiking in Canyon Tajo is a joy. One is constantly faced with delightful small challenges as to what route to take. There is constant rock hopping, boulder scrambling, and stream crossing. Tajo is truly a glorious desert canyon. Ron and I saw very little evidence of any recent human use of the trail. In the canyon we saw only a very few, faint traces of human footprints in only a few places.

We hiked out the next day. For the first time in all my visits to this region, I got slightly disoriented toward the end of the hike, and had trouble finding the car. Ron's excellent sense of direction saved the day, and we were back at the car after a detour that lasted no more than about a half hour. The return car trip and boarder crossing were uneventful.

DPS Archives Index | Desert Peaks Section