Up in the Sierra de la Giganta west of Puerto Escondido lies Canyon de Tabor, a steep canyon filled with huge boulders, pools of water, palm trees, and impressive geology. The locals often refer to this cleft in the mountains as Steinbeck’s Canyon because John Steinbeck explored this oasis in 1940, with Ed Ricketts, the biologist from Monterey, CA, three wealthy Mexicans, and two native guides. I’d read about their trip to hunt mountain sheep in the canyon in The Log From the Sea of Cortez, and though they never found any sheep, they did enjoy a great camping adventure. We’d also read about the canyon in the Sea of Cortez cruising guide and had always wanted to explore the place at some point.
Yesterday we decided it was time to stretch our legs a little more than the 86′ hike to the bow and back, so it seemed a good time to head for the canyon. Along with friends from s/v Nomad and s/v Toccata (who we’d met in Alaska!), we headed in early hoping to beat the heat of the day. Since there was a taxi sitting there looking for passengers we decided to take him up on the offer of a ride to the trailhead. We hopped out of the taxi and started hoofing it up the dirt road past a water tower, a couple of abandoned homes, and then a huge construction project for some sort of irrigation canal.
After walking to the end of the canal where tons of rocks had been piled up in cages made from chain link fencing to form walls, we found our way around the construction to get to what we hoped was the beginning of the trail. There are no trail markers, signs, or anything to indicate where one might begin to cross the canal and head up the canyon. We clambered over boulders, kept our eyes peeled for the occasional trail duck, and tried to navigate the easiest path along the curving scoured bottom of the canyon.
The first part of the hike was relatively easy as we jumped from boulder to boulder maneuvering the canyon slopes and the huge dry granite cauldrons that had been carved by the runoff from torrential downpours in the mountain range above. As we progressed further up the canyon the hike became more challenging as the trail deteriorated and at several places disappeared or seemed to be completely blocked. Not for the faint of heart, we soon found ourselves scrambling over huge boulders, skirting pools of water, and scaling steep ridges strewn with crumbling rock.
By helping each other up the biggest steps and reconnoitering around seemingly impassable spots, we finally made it to a place where the boulders were so thickly wedged against the canyon walls that we decided to call it a day. I’ve since read that there is a 30′ long 2′ wide “squeeze” somewhere under that rock wall, but even had we known it was there I think I can safely say we would have stopped anyway!
Sitting on some of the many-colored rocks we enjoyed a long drink of water in the cool of the shady depths, and listened to the gurgle of running water; a rich and unusual sound in this bone dry country. Figs trees, with their pale snaky roots and dark green leaves clung to the cliff walls, and the boney white trunks of palo blanco stood on the gentler slopes reminding me of birch trees in the spring. A single date palm, looking very out-of-place, appeared to grow right out of a rock, and some beautiful geranium type plants grew in the shady areas.
The colors, the sounds, the immensity of the bus size boulders, and the sight of the Sierra de la Giganta towering over our heads all made for a stunning and challenging hike!