Trek Date: November 10, 2014
I first heard of Iron Door Cave back in the late 1970s. Camping at Jumbo Rocks with some high school friends, we met a group of rock climbers who told us about "IDC." So the following day, we headed over to Hidden Valley campground to see if we could find it.
We had no idea as to where to look, so we asked a Ranger if he knew where "IDC" was. He didn't know what we were talking about until we explained that we had heard about a giant boulder in Hidden Valley that had a cave underneath it, and an iron door at the opening.
"Oh, Iron Door Cave," he said. "Just head out in that direction (he pointed), a ways past the last campsites. Look for a big round boulder." And so we headed out.
We eventually found it and walked down the narrow passage to examine the cave. At that time, the iron door still had a metal bar which could be slid to the right to keep the door closed. If someone was locked inside, there would be no way to get out. That was interesting.
Once through the door, the room inside is open enough to stand up in. A small air vent was also present, either to let air in or perhaps smoke out, if someone built a small fire inside. It was a pretty cool place to find and became a spot we would show friends when we would make a trip to the park. Although as time passed, we couldn't always remember exactly where it was.
As it had been many, many years since I last visited Iron Door Cave, it was on my list of places to revisit and write about. And that day finally arrived. I had finished exploring a couple of old mine sites and it was still early in the afternoon. I admit I was a bit tired, so instead of hiking to another distant destination, I decided to stop at Hidden Valley to see if I could remember my way to Iron Door Cave.
It was Veteran's Day weekend and all the campsites were full, so I parked at the Intersection Rock parking area and headed towards the northern end of the campground. Past the last campsites, I wandered through a little valley, looking for a "big, round boulder." Well, let me tell you, there are a lot of big round boulders out there. But luck was with me and my memory led me directly to the right boulder. Ok, there were a couple impostors that tricked me, but the third rock I checked was the one.
It looked just like I remembered it, although someone (most likely the park service), had removed the iron bar which could have trapped people inside. I walked down the few steps and went inside. I closed the door. It was dark. And creepy. And unfortunately, my flashlight revealed a lot of graffiti.
The real mystery of Iron Door Cave is who built it and why. What was it used for?
There are two stories. One relates that a local rancher installed the iron door, creating a prison cell where he kept his "deranged" son locked up. Another claims that Bill Keys built the enclosure to store dynamite. Some believe it could be a combination of the two stories. My guess is that it was used to store something of importance, something that needed to be kept safe from animals and weather. The iron bar was probably used to keep the door from blowing open during storms. Regardless of who made it or what it was used for, it's one of the many mysteries that J Tree holds. You never know what you'll discover in the desert and that's a good reason to go see what you can find.
There are a lot of mysteries to be found at J Tree; the Wonderland holds many secrets.