The Spring of ’76 we were running Outdoor Ed camps for private schools all springs which led to a big discovery. On the north end of camp there were several flat boulders that held metates. (A metate is a grain or seed grinding stone, in this case acorn meal.) There were also holes that had been hollowed out as storage for acorns next to the grinding stones. Some boys from camp were playing where they shouldn’t have been in the ravine where one of the streams flowed through that was quite dense with brush. It was off limits due to rattlesnakes but they went there anyway and made a discovery. They found more metates and they also found pictographs and carving on some of the large stones above the creek.
The next day one of the women from the Cahuilla tribe was coming to visit so we showed her the boys find and it promptly went off limits again while the local tribe came to investigate. They decided that it would be kept secret because it was on protected private land. What we didn’t know was that within a year the camp would close but that is a whole ‘nother tale.
Knowing it was off limits to the greater world didn’t mean it was off limits to the staff and we fascinated as was the D, anthropologist/storyteller/ shaman for the tribe and ran their tribal museum at the time, and she would come up just to visit. She continued to do this through the summer and since she was in her 80’s we asked her to always take one of us with her as they weren’t in an easy place to get to and we were afraid she’d fall. They were down a really steep hillside.
The site consisted of an upright slab with red handprints and drawings of deer in red and other small drawings. This stone was a pretty large slab facing the south into the sun. On a slab facing east was the only carving and it was of a very large snake. And just below that was a sort of cave made by two smaller upright stone and a very large stone that laid across the two small upright stones which made a cave of about 5 ft deep and at one end it was about 2 ½ feet tall and then sloped down lower toward the back. It had been totally blackened from fire on the inside and had a nasty feeling to it. One of those places you instinctively know not to go in but D, our anthropologist from the tribe was totally enthralled with it. G, R and I wanted no part of it and we were her usual escorts. The cave at some point had had a fire in it so intense that it cracked one of the large side rocks that held the stone above.
D had come up to visit and was doing workshops with the girls at the north stones and showing how acorns were ground and prepared for eating and after lunch some of us who were her big fans would get her talking and telling stories. That day, she kept wanting to go down to the cave but none of us were free at the time and wouldn’t be until later and she said she would wait. We shouldn’t have believed her.
That summer the Asst Camp Director, R and I had started reading Carlos Castaneda’s books and they were the topic of much discussion among us and with D who wasn’t sure about them. So we were already primed toward the kind of events that were about to occur.
Around 3 pm I noticed D had disappeared from the stones. I could see that area from Arts and Crafts and got a really intense feeling of something awful happening and took off to find R and G who also had the same feeling and were already moving in the direction of the road and we took off running for the cave and found D almost to the area on the road above. And she told us to come along, she was going with or without us and that we were being stupid. She had decided to go by the creek and climb up from there and so we went with her. We spent some time sitting below the large upright slab talking about the various symbols. D’s theory was that it was a coming of age spot for girls of the tribe that were using the site as a summer camping area. That makes a lot of sense from the size of the handprints on the rock. All seemed normal and I think we all felt like we had been a little nuts for jumping to a conclusion.
We were all looking at the stone when D disappeared around the back side of the cave and crawled in the smaller end. This can’t have been easy because she was elderly and not a small woman but she said she felt compelled to sit inside the cave. Once she had gotten herself in there she started to feel intense pressure on her chest and to have trouble breathing. So she yelled and got our attention and of course we dove for the larger size entrance just behind us. The three of us tried to get her to come out. R even tried to pull her out, he was a fairly big guy and he couldn’t get her to move. She said she couldn’t and wouldn’t move but she thought she was having a heart attack and couldn’t get her breath and that she was having intense feelings of evil from whomever the last man to use it was and that he was really pissed.
While she was relating this to us the three of us found out we could not move. It felt like someone was pinning us to the earth. I remember trying to force myself to my feet so that I could run and I just couldn’t move. It was one of scariest and weird sensations I’ve ever felt. Like my legs had been cemented to the earth. Later G and R said they had felt the same way. I finally broke free and started to run up the hill and down the road for main camp to get help. The other two still couldn’t move not could D.
G and R said it was one of the strangest things they had ever seen. They told me I was off the ground going up the hillside. I don’t remember that, I just remember running like hell and how difficult it seemed to move at first. The farther I got away the easier it was to run. As I reached Main Camp my boss was running to the camp van with the keys to come and get us. They had been eating dinner when she said she felt me yelling for her to come to us. I hadn’t even started to yell at that point I was running too hard.
I jumped in the moving van and we hauled down the road to above the site. Somehow after I broke free D had too and R and G were helping her up the hillside when we got there. I don’t remember how we got the van turned around but we did and hauled ass to camp where we had an ambulance already on the way from the forest station.
They got D down to the hospital to be treated for what everyonewas sure was a heart attack. She had all the symptoms. We got an anxiously awaited phone call from D a few hours later. Could she come back to camp in the morning, the hospital says there is nothing wrong with her??!!
They had told her after she had a completely normal EKG that her heart showed no signs of trauma nor did any of her blood work. So they let her go home and told her to take it easy for a few days so of course she wanted to come back to camp.
I don’t think any of us ever went near the cave after that for the rest of the summer. Not even D wanted to do it. She said she had had enough of whoever had been there before. We’d go see the pictographs and I went and drew them. Still have my sketchbook but no way was I ever going in that cave again.