Discover "The Slot" and colorful Hawk Canyon at Borrego Mountain in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Amid the windswept wastelands of the Anza-Borrego Desert, Borrego Mountain's twin buttes (the East and West buttes) rise with low and broad profiles. From a distance they may look unremarkable, but at close range they reveal a number of scenic wonders. East Butte lies mostly within the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area, while West Butte is largely a hiker's and camper's domain. We'll focus only on the latter.

To reach the entry point for West Butte, turn north on unpaved Buttes Pass Road from Highway 78 at a point 1.5 miles east of Borrego Springs Road. The dirt roadways ahead, while passable for most ordinary cars a year ago, were coated with drift sand during and after summer thunderstorms in 2003. Now these roads can be recommended only for vehicles with four-wheel drive.

After traveling 1.0 mile on Buttes Pass Road, you reach a fork. On the left-branching road, 0.9 mile farther, is a small parking area for the upper entry into "the Slot," a slot canyon incised deeply into sandstone and siltstone strata along the base of West Butte.

A short and steep little descent (or maybe butt-slide) puts you in the upper reaches of the Slot. Mark the spot at the bottom of the descent so you will know where to climb out later when you return the same way. The Slot narrows to a two-foot width as you work your way "downstream." While squeezing past opposing rock walls, notice the tilted parapets and giant chockstones wedged above you. After 10 or 15 minutes of downhill meandering, the canyon walls part, and you come upon the upper end of a vehicle route through Borrego Mountain Wash. Follow the wash downhill another ten minutes or more for a look at some interesting "Swiss cheese" or wind-cave sandstone formations on the slope to the right. On the left is one of Anza-Borrego's several "dropoffs," or one-way-downhill vehicle routes for adventurous jeep or SUV drivers.

From the parking lot for the Slot, you can follow a hiking route north and northeast to the highest point on West Butte. There you'll enjoy a comprehensive view of the surrounding desert landscape. Heading west or northwest from that rocky summit, it is possible to gain access to an intricate array of dangerously steep and eroded ravines -- not recommended for inexperienced hikers. This flash-flood-torn, corrugated landscape is mostly hidden from view.

Back at the fork one mile in on Buttes Pass Road, a right turn takes you toward and over a small crest and down to the entrance of Hawk Canyon. Inside this small canyon is one of the finest drive-in camping areas in Anza-Borrego. Pale, crumbling granites make up the east canyon slope, while red-tinted sandstones on the west slope are reminiscent of desert locales in southern Utah.

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