Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Mystery of the Iron Door Cave

What a title for my post... Sounds like a Hardy Boys book title!! The Iron Door Cave is somewhat of a legend to the locals of Joshua Tree. Tourists and occasional visitors have likely never heard of it and certainly never seen it. I had heard about it, but it was hard for me to believe that such a thing existed in Joshua Tree National Park. According to legend, there is a cave, large enough to stand up and walk around in, within 1/2 mile or so of one of the more popular campgrounds in the park. The cave is reported to have a large, heavy iron door with a lock on the outside. The cave is so well hidden as to be almost impossible to find unless you have the exact coordinates, and the few locals who know about it keep it a closely guarded secret.

The lock on the outside of the iron door would allow for someone to lock something (or someone) inside the cave by sliding a heavy bolt into place. Strange, right? Why not put the lock on the inside? Or use a padlock if you want to lock it from the outside so others can't get in? While people seem to agree that Bill Keys (of Keys Ranch fame... see my Keys Family Graveyard post) was very likely the builder of the cave, there are two urban legends as to why this cave was built. Rumor #1: Bill Keys stored his dynamite here. Bill Keys was, among other things, a miner so this would certainly make sense. Rumor #2, and the more bizarre and disturbing of the legends: Bill Keys had a child with mental illness that he, at least occasionally, kept locked up in the cave. Given the remoteness of the location (no medical facilities for hundreds of miles) and the deplorable way people with mental illness were treated back in the day, this rumor is at least within the realm of possibility. Where these rumors started I have no idea, but I've found three web sites that all share these same two rumors. The web sites say that Bill Keys may in fact have used the cave for both purposes (hopefully not at the same time!).

So let me get to the point. A reader of my blog posted about Iron Door Cave on his blog a while back. I contacted him and asked if he would be kind enough to give me some hints about finding the legendary cave. Heck, just tell me something that would give me better than a "needle in a haystack" chance of finding the cave. To my surprise, he did even better and gave me the exact coordinates! I owe him big time!!
Some beautiful desert scenery on my hike to find the Iron Door Cave.
See the lizard on the rock?
Do you see it?? You have to scramble up some large boulders to get to the back side of this very large boulder to get to the cave. That's something few people would be likely to do. The door color matches the rock pretty closely, so very likely you would walk (climb) right by the cave and never see it! If you look closely, you can see some concrete between the rock joints.
Dropping down over the the rocks guarding the entrance, you can see rock and mortar steps and the heavy iron door. Bill Keys put a lot of work into building this cave!!
The masonry work around the door frame is impressive.
Graffiti, or modern-day pictographs? Either way, the inside of the Iron Door Cave is heavily marked up, which is too bad.
The inside of the cave was very dark, but the cave floor appears to be concrete.
The cave has an opening built into it at the far side. I wonder what it was for? Perhaps simple air exchange, or perhaps to pass things in and out of the cave? Probably a mystery that will never be solved.
View from inside the cave looking out. The slide bolt lock has been removed (probably by the Park Service for safety reasons).


I hope you enjoyed the Iron Door Cave mystery. Makes me wonder how many caves and other mysteries I've walked right by during my hikes in Joshua Tree!!

Linking with Skywatch Friday. Click on the link to check out great skies from around the world!! 
Thanks for stopping by!

39 comments:

  1. Fascinating post and history, thoroughly enjoyed. Your photos captured the mystery of this local tale.

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  2. I love your adventures. This is great.

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  3. What a great place. Good find!

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  4. Good you didn't include the directions or coordinates to this site. Best keep it a secret as much as possible. Good shelter for when they drop the big one.

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  5. What a strange thing to find in the park, and it certainly wouldn't be obvious if you didn't know it was there!

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  6. Great story. Reminded me of AliBaba and the Forty Thieves from the Arabian Nights....

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  7. What an adventure you shared with us. Thanks. Have a great week-end.
    JM, IL

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  8. Very interesting info and great photos! Very much worth the time to enlarge them. The first photo is amazing! You couldn't ask for a better sky. Hard to tell what is myth and what is true. Imagining somebody being locked in there gives me the willies... Great post!

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  9. Thanks for taking us along on your adventure. I was curious to see what the inside of the cave looked like. The sky is especially beautiful in the first picture.

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  10. Wow what a neat story and a very cool find.

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  11. That's very interesting - and kind of creepy - or a whole lot creepy. Seems a lot of people have found it and left their mark - too bad. I was surprised at how much grafitti there is.

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  12. oh wow very very cool - love it!

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  13. What a fascinating and amazing place!

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  14. Awesome, that is just the thing I would have done in looking for the cave. I have to admit it looks more like a cell to keep something or some one in so I'd support your two theories. I look forward to your posts from the desert

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  15. Fascinating history and fabulous shots.

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  16. Hello, it is awesome you found the cave. Neat story! Love the photos, especially the first three. Enjoy your day and the weekend ahead!

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  17. I like creepy...and this is creepy :)

    I wish you a wonderful weekend!

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  18. What an adventure! The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew would be right behind you to solve the mystery of this cave! Great post and photos!

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  19. Nice photography and good to know about mysteries of this Iron Door.

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  20. Engrossing tale, fine shots....kudos..

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  21. So interesting and a little scary! That was a well-hidden cave entrance. I liked all your photos. I'm a bit claustraphobic so I think I'd have enjoyed the hike more than the inside of the cave!

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  22. It does exist. How cool is this?

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  23. Great photos! And: Yes, I enjoyed your Iron Door Cave mystery, too.
    Have a nice weekend!
    Edith from Germany

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  24. Superb shots, wonderful clarity. Maybe pictographs should be thought of as ancient graffiti...:)

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  25. Very interesting! I had never heard of this cave. I use to live in S. Ca.
    Beautiful photos of the surrounding area.

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  26. That is very interesting!
    And yes, it does sound like a Hardy Boys title.
    Have a great week-end!

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  27. I agree with Ruth's comment!!

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  28. I used to read a lot of Hardy Boys books in my young days. I wouldn't want to be locked inside the cave.

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  29. The secrets of the desert. Great.

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  30. I would be my scared self and unable to walk into this cave, but it is certainly a beauty. My spelunking friends would be in heaven. All of your pictures ofd the desert are stunning. What a fabulous place to hike. Your photography is perfection. You showed us so much detail. Thanks for your visit to my blog. genie

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  31. Such a mistery..but I love it. And the Joshua Tree national park is beautiful indeed

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  32. I've never heard of it, but I don't live in Joshua Tree. Very interesting!

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  33. You make me wish I could visit the Joshua Tree area. So much to see and explore. Would take a long time. :)

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  34. Glad you found it and glad you know that it is there, even if the reason it is will always remain a mystery. (shivers)

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  35. My parents live in Joshua Tree. I've camped at the monument with my 9yr old daughter and she loves it, she got her 1st Jr Ranger Badge. Her favorite place is Hidden Valley. My brother told me about the iron door cave, Googled it and found this page. Glad we have a year pass and now have another place to hike. Awesome Blog Bro!

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