The indigo blue night sky flashes brilliant points of light, and blankets my view in all directions as far as my eyes can see. Except for the occasional cry of a distant coyote or the soft flickering wings of a desert bat, the awesome silence envelopes me. I can actually hear myself breathe. Nestled in the warm, soft, and completely private natural hot springs tub carved into the granite rocks surrounding my campsite, I lay, soaking, without a single worry or thought of my daily life. I feel like I am a thousand miles from home. Guadalupe Canyon is truly paradise, and only a short drive from San Diego, where I live.
Canyon de Guadalupe is a palm covered oasis in the desert with natural hot springs, located 80 miles from the U.S./Mexico border in the Sierra de Juarez Mountains. Founded by Jose Loya Murillo, who first discovered the Canyon on horse back while searching for stray cows, “Don” Jose soon discovered the healing benefits of the mineral water and realized the natural beauty of the palm oasis. At the age of 60, Don Jose gave up ranching and set up a homestead in the canyon. He suffered from arthritis and found that bathing in the hot water cured his pain. The family built and continues to run two campgrounds containing about two dozen campsites each with its own private hand made hot tub. There is a store and a restaurant powered with solar and car batteries, but it is highly advisable to bring everything you will need for your stay.
Getting there was not too difficult on the first try and definitely part of the fun. I had a little trouble finding the campground but once I was on the right track it was a no-brainer. I arrived in the Canyon after driving south from San Diego through the Tecate border crossing and followed the signs to Highway 2 leading directly out of town to the East towards Mexicali. There are tollbooths along the way which accept US dollars, as well as checkpoints manned by Mexican armed guards, but passing through was fast and uneventful.
The “No Fear” Highway 2 passes through rugged mountains with spaghetti like turns where car carcasses lay far below. Eventually, the road descends onto the desert valley floor, and stretches out until it loses itself in the distance. The first road sign warns of Canon De Guadalupe, but I pass it knowing of another way to get there. I proceed about another two miles and turn South onto a ramp leading across a dry lake. This route is much quicker than the first one and saves my car and myself from a slow, washboard, bone crunching, thirty mile, drive. It’s important to check weather conditions before using this alternate route since recent rains could leave you stranded in the mud.
The road leads south for 30 miles into the mountains and to the turn off to Guadalupe Canyon campgrounds. The last 7 miles are difficult, slow going and would not be possible without a high clearance vehicle.
Once at the campground (there are two), I check in at the office, order up a wheelbarrow full of firewood, and proceed to my campsite. It’s a breeze to get set up since there is already a palapa with built in sink, table, fire-pit, and plenty of room to pitch my tent. This is where it gets good. Just steps from my new abode I find the granite hot tub. I fill it up with hot, natural spring water from a hose provided. The temperature is a perfect and toasty 90 degrees. I strip down, hop in and crack open an ice cold Corona. It’s totally quiet, completely private, and absolutely serene. I am in hog heaven.
After settling in and have time to explore, Guadalupe Canyon has plenty in store. Go off-roading, head up the canyon to gorgeous waterfalls, go hiking in the rocky canyons, or explore caves with ancient Indian petroglyphs… or not. Perhaps you will find that soaking ’til you’re shriveled like a prune in your hot tub and enjoying the solitude of your own private oasis is work enough. This is Baja and anything goes.