Saturday, June 21, 2014

Las Cuevas de Sueños Perdidos

"Never again!"

This being said with extreme prejudice and four uplifted middle fingers upon our exit from this botanical nightmare. Mike had coaxed me into a drainage that has no name. If it were up to me I'd call it "Don't Go Here Creek". The fact that there was at one time both a hunting cabin and pictographs up there was the sole reason for this unpleasant journey. Sure, you're going to look at the photos here and think that it doesn't look so bad, but then you're also not being plagued by nettles, gnats, horse flies, humidity, poison oak, deadfall trees, and miles of rocky creek bed... all of it compressed into a singular parcel from Hell. Somewhere in there I kept looping the ironic part of the Gilligan's Island theme song, "...a three hour tour. A three hour tour.". I started thinking of Colonel Percy Fawcett, the great Amazon explorer who ultimately disappeared in Brazil, and of the difficulties he described. In short, this one sucked and we are never going back.

The plan was pretty simple, go upstream, climb past a large waterfall, locate the remains of a WWI era hunting cabin, and then find three caves with rock art in them. A quarter of a mile into this mess the complexion of the day changed. No longer was this a broad and open creek bed. Fun time was over. By the time we reached the waterfall I had become convinced that if there were a cabin (or its remains) upstream, then it wasn't the remains of somebody's hunting shack but was in fact the reclusive hermitage of Ted Kazinsky's great-grandfather. I couldn't imagine a time when this narrow gully of brush and trees had been conducive to hunting. I still can't.

The above photos belie the difficulty of the terrain. This photo is more illustrative of what the day was like.
The waterfall. One might imagine this would be a sight when running. Of course that would mean that just getting there would be even that much more difficult.
Looking back downstream, from above the waterfall. With the exception of the first 3rd of a mile, this was the most navigable part of the day.
We finally overcame what came, reaching the cabin site. Scattered about were pieces of rusted roofing, parts of a bed frame, a shovel head, a huge saw, tin boxes and pots and pans. Next to this rusty pile was a flat spot where the cabin had stood, and at the back of this was a low rock wall. Coming in from somewhere up the creek was a rusty water pipe that terminated in a spigot. I could not fathom how all this stuff had been brought here. The site made no sense, and it remains a somewhat baffling mystery to me. There isn't any way a horse, mule, or burro could have gotten up this creek even as far as the waterfall. A five acre flat below the waterfall would have been the only place one could hunt. The creek near the cabin was shallow and broken up by small waterfalls, not the kind of place that one would associate with good fishing (not that we even saw any fish). The site just didn't make a damn bit of sense. The more I ponder the cabin and its location, the more I wish to know the motives of the man who built it.

Roofing materials and other implements.
An old saw.
A pot and fry pan.
A canteen with bullet holes in it.
Next we tried finding these caves that supposedly had rock art. While trying to locate them we came across the remains of yet another Narco pot grow site. This one was northwest of the cabin in thick undergrowth and under a canopy of leaves. We discovered 9-10 cheap sleeping bags, a pellet gun, tools, lots of plastic sheeting, buckets, and of course there were the ubiquitous irrigation hoses. This operation looks to have been abandoned 2-3 years ago. I've arrived at the conclusion that if there's water in the forest, and there isn't a well used trail next to it, there's bound to be evidence of a grow site. I don't know how many of these I've run across but I'm currently trying to think back and mark them on my Google Earth page, just to have a frame of reference for how many are out there.

And now we get to the real motivation for being here, rock art. This site was studied in 1973, and later by an archaeologist named Hyder (1984, 1987). He described three large wind caves in the vicinity of the cabin site. Two of these caves had three or four elements each. The third cave was described as holding as many as forty rock art elements (a lot). These pictograph sites were somewhat unusual in the sense that only about a quarter of them were actually painted, the rest of the art having been drawn in charcoal. So what we were looking for was a vibrant and busy cave with many charcoal drawings and some painted elements. Well, things have changed.

There were a dozen caves in the neighborhood which matched the overall description of what we were searching for. I singled out the three most likely of these and gave each a good looking over. This is a case where the mind doesn't see what it actually sees, only notes the absence of what it expected to see. I looked at each of these caves and called out to Mike, who was searching elsewhere, that these were empty. I did say that one of the caves I'd scoped might possibly have had a charcoal scratch but there sure weren't multiple elements of art there. 

We continued our search. The day got hot. We'd seen one dry hole after another. We'd busted through overgrown brush, thinking these caves might be hidden behind a screen of the stuff. We even left the search area and travelled further upstream a bit on the chance that the pictographs weren't as close to the cabin as implied. We did this for 2-3 hours before I sat down in the shade to rezero my thinking on the day. Mike and I were pretty used up by this point so we just sat there for a bit. Finally I said "What if it's just gone?". Mike just looked at me for a moment. "Seriously," I continued, "this stuff hasn't been seen since the '80s. What if it's just all gone? Most of it was charcoal anyway. I mean, if the charcoal wasn't bound with seed oil it wouldn't last. And the caves around here are eroded wind caves. What if it's all just blown away?"

Mike chewed on that for a bit. I think he said that we should still have been able to see some of the painted elements. I didn't disagree. We sat there some more, swatting flies and chewing. Finally I said, "You know, I hate to say this, but I think maybe I should go back and look at that cave that might possibly have had a charcoal scratch in it. I just can't help thinking that something's not right." Of course this meant another uphill slog in direct sunlight. We headed back uphill and I reached the first of the caves before Mike. After my eyes adjusted to the dimmer light I crawled right up to the walls of this cave. Suddenly I saw the sketchyest sketch of what was probably a star, and nearby was a stick figure man. Eventually we discovered some other elements, but for all intents and purposes this site has effectively blown away with the wind. It was the same story with the other two caves, fragments of fragments. With two sets of eyes we could not find a single flake of the painted pictographs which were supposed to be present. I apologized to Mike for all the troubles my missing these drawings had caused. He was gracious about it, acknowledging that what we'd found wasn't what we thought we were looking for. 

Well, having flipped the bird and said "Never again!" I can rewind the day and say without reservation that this is no place I want to see again. I'm just glad we were able to resolve the rock art question if only for the reason that it won't plague me in the future. I can go to sleep with that particular skeleton safely kicked to the closet. 

Concentric water rings on a creek stone.


  1. More of the voodoo that you do...
    It's too bad that the rock art is all gone, or almost gone. How in the world did the hunter (or whoever he was) get that stuff up there. Do you think maybe there was an easier route, from a different direction?

  2. Interesting find... thanks for sharing.

    Looks like any number of our front/backcountry canyons. Makes one wonder what else is/was out there at one time.

    For as difficult as the traveling was, the creek corridor sure looks like a nice summer time retreat. Nice and green, lush, and still some water lingering about in this driest of years.

  3. To Pat, I still don't have any idea how he got that stuff up above the falls. Coming in from above would be even harder.

    Nick, my camera's not good enough to capture the black flies, horse flies, gnats, no-see-ums, etc..., nor the humidity or nettle stings. The place builds character. This thing takes off along the route to Jameson, and it really is a no-name drainage. -DS

  4. "Don't Go Here Creek" I would have to agree with that assessment. For a bit of additional insight on the cabin the following document can be referenced.

    Apparently it was a hopping place in the early days. If one looks closely at the picture on page 8, they will notice a canteen hanging next to James Ogan and a saw blade below Harb Morris's feet. These may very well be the same items in David's photographs above.

    1) For those of you who feel I may have given second-hand directions to a rock art site, I disagree; essentially there's no rock art left up there.
    2) For those of you who want to visit the site, I would say "have at it" (poison oak, stinging nettles, wet feet, horse flies, narco trash, and sprained ankles included)
    3) David, if I have overstepped with my document reference and comments I apologize, feel free to hit the delete button.

    1. I forgot all about those stories from the Carp old timers. A bunch of those folks mentioned, including the Ogans, have family still in town. Thanks!

  5. Not at all Mike. You were there for all of the "suck" too. -DS

  6. Funny how the world works. I was researching the location of the cabin the last few days as I have a reference that there was RA nearby. Turns out it must have been on your mind as well. Thank for the trip report.

  7. nec aspera terrent no rough scare? what did you really mean?

  8. There are several translations of this saying. "No Fear On Earth" is common, but I like a British version "Difficulties Be Damned". Another version I like is "Difficulties Do Not Deter Us". -DS