I had heard rumors of a beautiful talus cave out east of San Diego in McCain Valley, but never could find any information on where. After many, many hours of searching pictures and google, I finally found the location. This is by far the best cave that I have explored yet in San Diego, much better than the Lawrence Welk Cave. To explore the cave, you WILL need proper climbing gear and ropes. Do not try this if you don't have experience. I highly recommend attending the San Diego Grotto meetings to learn more (http://www.sdgrotto.org/)
I know many people will be upset with me posting the location of the cave here, but I believe in letting people know where these beautiful places are to enjoy them. Please take care of our natural wonders, and there is less and less nowadays.
The McCain Valley is located on the north side of the 8 just before you drop down into the desert and Ocotillo. To get to the cave, go out east on the 8 freeway to the Ribbonwood (Highway 94) exit. Go south a 1/2 mile to highway 80, and go left (east). Continue till you reach McCain Valley Road and go north on it. It is approximately 8.1 miles to you reach Lost Valley Road. Park at the intersection. There is also a pile of rocks at the intersection and just behind the rocks, you will see a fence that marks the start of the trail.
It is 2.5 miles long before you can reach the cave, and the elevation drops on the way down there. There will be no divergences of the trail besides one that veers sharp left. Just stay straight and let the trail wind you around until you begin to come across a beautiful overlook of the desert. When you reach an old corral (pictured below) walk through the corral and immediately to the left you will see an animal trail. Take the animal trail into the bouldered steep canyon side. If you cannot find the trail then follow the watershed into the canyon side.
The cave is very hard to find. The coordinates are N 32.75871 W 116.25183. Once there, it will take some searching around to find the cave. You should see an area that looks similar to the photo below. In between the two trees there is a little area that you can drop down into between the rocks. Follow this little area into the rocks and you should find the cave. The entrance to the cave is very small, and you have to rappel about 35 feet into the cave. Do not attempt this without proper climbing gear, as you will not be able to safely get into or out of the cave. The San Diego Grotto had a member get stuck in the exit and had to have emergency crews come out to rescue him.
Once inside, the formations are fabulous. There are some very interesting rock carvings and color patterns. Look below for a gallery of some more pictures from inside the cave. There is an exit part way down the cave (marked by a small geocache). You can either climb up and go out, or continue on. If you continue, just around the corner you will come to a giant room. There are bolt anchors just to your left side to hook up a rope system to rappel to the bottom. The room is about 60ft deep, and you MUST have an ascender to climb back up the rope to get out.
Overall on my scale of 1-5 of place to explore, I give this a 5. The hike and view is beautiful, the area is pristine; please keep it that way.. Even if you don't end up going to the cave it is a wonderful place to take a nice hike with some great views of the desert. Some of the dangers in the area include: getting lost inside the cave, slipping on rocks and falling rocks, heat exhaustion, snakes and hypothermia. Inside the cave there is no cell phone reception so in an emergency someone needs to make it out to get help.
During the summer, the area can be incredibly hot, so make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. During the winter, if it rains the cave can be extremely dangerous. Water collects and flows through this cave, hence the name Thunder Canyon. DO NOT enter the cave if there is water running through it, you may risk INJURY or DEATH.
As always, please be careful exploring and ALWAYS tell someone where you are going. If you want any more information on this location, don't hesitate to contact me. Patrick@abandonedsandiego.com