San Diego Trail Tramps

  Sumgglers Cave - Valley of the Moon - Elliot Amethyst Mine

Smuggler's Cave, an old hideout for bandits and smugglers.

Date:  Sunday, May 17th, 2015  9:00 AM - 5:00 PM (With campout the previous night.)

Location: Valley of the Moon lies just north of the Mexican border in the Jacumba Mountains, east of Jacumba, in the SE corner of San Diego County, just east, across the Imperial County line.

Directions: The Valley of the Moon is located south off of I-8 East, just past the San Diego County/Imperial County line, near the Mexican Border. About a 90 minute drive from downtown San Diego, head east on Interstate 8 for 70 miles and exit at In-Ko-Pah Park Road offramp, just a few miles east of Jacumba. This is just short of where the eastbound I-8 lanes take a precipitous plunge toward the desert floor. Turn right onto the frontage road (Old Highway 80), then drive about 500 feet to where there is an information kiosk and a large turnout on the left, with plenty of parking.

As usual, we'll meet in Hillcrest at 8:45 am to arrange carpools, then depart at 9 am sharp. Our first stop will be at the Desert View Tower (about 10:15 AM) for half an hour. It's just off the I-8 freeway, near Jacumba. Exit Interstate 8 at the In-Ko-Pah Park Road offramp. Turn left, go under the freeway, and turn right onto the old highway, which ends at the Desert View Tower.

After our visit to the Tower, we'll carpool back under the freeway and turn right onto the frontage road (Old Highway 80), then drive about 500 feet to the parking turnout on the left. We'll start the hike about 11:00 AM.

Background info.: The owner of the Desert View Tower (one of our members), has invited all hikers to stop by anytime they’re on their way to/from Anza Borrego Desert State Park. From the top of the tower there's a stunning panoramic view of the desert which stretches below to the east and north. Be sure to show your support and appreciation to Ben with a purchase or two from his eclectic collection of souviners. :^) (See below for info. on camping out at the Tower the day before this hike.)

Located in the NW part of Valley of the Moon, Smuggler's Cave is an old hideout of bandits and smugglers. The Valley of the Moon, itself, stretches about 3 miles SE towards the Mexican Border. At the end of the valley is the now-abandoned Elliot Amethyst Mine. The Valley of the Moon area is open to camping and lies within the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, El Centro Resource Area (phone 760-337-4400). Be aware that this time of year can be quite windy in the high desert, and wind gusts can carry away any tent not securely staked to the ground.

Hike Description: Degree of difficulty is moderately strenuous, with the out-and-back distance at 7 to 8.6 miles, depending on where you park and start hiking. It's a 4 hr. round trip, plus breaks for exploring and lunch, and the elevation gain/loss is 900'. Be prepared for breezy weather.

The road up the ridge actually parallels the highway for a short distance, making it look like a dead-end powerline access is the "real" road. The hike up the ridge gains about 800' and can be quite steep in places.  It can get very windy and cold out there, or it could be warm. (Check the NOAA weather forecast above before heading out.) Be prepared either way, with appropriate clothing and lots of water.

After reaching the saddle near the top of the incline, turn left off of the road and drop down into the valley floor, heading due east. Pick up an old jeep road that leads over to the Smuggler's Cave spot. From there, continue south/southeast on the jeep road to where it comes back out to the main dirt road, which heads further S/SE into the Valley. it eventually ends, up at the top of Tahe sub-peak, where the mine area is. Keep an eye out for tailings piles spilling down the slopes of Tahe. They indicate a few of the tunnel entrances that have been excavated in the past.

(Check the Maps page of this website for more directions, maps and satellite photos to print out.) The abandoned amethyst mine has a number of open tunnel entrances into the mountainside. Bring flashlights/headlamps with extra batteries and bulbs, and beware of bats and other critters that may be lurking inside. A bicycle helmet or hard-hat are useful to avoid hitting your head on low ceilings. For safety, watch your step around loose rock and explore together in small groups for safety.

For those who want more info. on the area, check out Jerry Schad's book "Afoot and Afield In San Diego County" in Ch. 39: Jacumba Mountains, Trip 2: Valley of the Moon. In the 2007 edition, on p. 434.

Campoout/Sleepover at the Desert View Tower:

A sleepover is planned at the Desert View Tower the day/night before our Sunday hike to Smuggler's Cave/Valley of the Moon. We've been invited by the owner (one of our members) to come out on Saturday and spend the night in the Tower itself. (It's usually way too windy this time of year to pitch a tent outside.) Each hiker should bring their own sleeping gear, etc. A potluck dinner party is in the works for Saturday nite, and curling up in front of the stone fireplace in the middle of the Tower is first come, first served. ;^) For more details and to sign up for it, please contact SanDiegoTrailTramps @ gmail DOT com ASAP.

And finally, to view some GREAT hike photos of 42 Trail Tramps on a previous adventure in the Valley of the Moon, the abandoned amythest mine, AND an amazing search and rescue story, click HERE.