In The Desert
Content including photographs are Copyright © 2011 - Present - Don & Linda Gilmore
Author - Dave Taylor
Avid Hiker - Amateur Historian
The Guys let me talk them into hiking out to Smugglers Cave, and the weather couldn't have been better for it. Scott and Jon, farthest right and second to the right, I've known for decades, Manuel, second to the left, almost as long, but then there's Phong Phan, Dead Center, here-to known as The Kid. I have long johns older than him. Good Kid, though. The game plan was to get to Smugglers Cave, and then see how much further we could go without beating ourselves up. East of Smugglers Cave is yet another cave that has been called Smugglers, the Elliott Mine on Tahe' Peak, the Marshals Cabin and Moon Valley.
From Smugglers Cave to the In-Ko-Pah County Park Off-ramp on Interstate 8, it's a mile as the crow flies, and another mile to the Mexican Border, but in that space, you time travel to the wildest days of the Wild West, as far removed from high speed travel or high tech anything as possible.
Take note of the road. This section was built to get to a communications tower on top of the hill. This area must have washed out all the time, because someone laid down fencing, then poured cement over it. It's worked for all the years we've dragged our four-bys up this road. See how we're all leaning so far forward? It's just that steep.
In past days we've taken long-suffering 4x4s back into this area, thumping the snot out of the most hardened desert wheels. There's one spot where my butt tightens just thinking about, where you roll over a boulder as you tip toward the sheer drop-off to work down into the valley above Valley of the Moon. There seems to be a dirge of four-bys in our clan these days, so we walked in where once we would have ridden.
We've been hearing how disappointing the desert flowers are in Borrego Springs and the Canebrake area, but there's no shortage of flowers here. Jon nearly smoked the shutter on his camera, taking nearly four hundred pix on this simple little hike, which is why there's a slide show at the end of this Day Trip article.
At the Trailhead. The area that Smugglers Cave is in, behind us, is the Jacumba Mountains Wilderness Area, managed by the BLM. What we call In-Ko-Pah is the area wedged in between Interstate 8 and the Mexican Border, in what is the precipice of the Jacumbas before you plunge down into the Yuha Desert, a descent from 4000 to 1000 feet in roughly three miles.
You have to make a sharp drop to the trail that gets you to Smugglers cave, heading due east. Before this was declared a Wilderness Area, people used to do this with a vehicle, I just can't imagine how. I'm pointing out some Mormon Tea, something Manuel is curious about.
Smugglers Cave is at the far eastern end of this valley. It's in the middle of the photo.
I searched every single issue of Desert Magazine, and while it doesn't seem possible, I found but one article about Smugglers Cave. And it was a contest, January 1940, page 36. If anyone knows anything more about Smugglers Cave, let me know. The article mentions Tursa de la Toba, a bandit that apparently operated roughly up to 1911, who stored supplies in this cave. According to Manuel, he doesn't even think its Spanish. Once again, if you know where I might find out more about this bandit, I'd be interested. If you look closely at this picture from the Desert Magazine article, someone has painted a skull-and-crossbones on the boulder that makes up most of the cave.
I was once researching a totally unrelated subject at the San Diego History Library in Balboa Park when I ran across an article written by a man that contended that when he was a thirteen-year old boy, he had held the reins of the horses of a posse that had tracked three banditos to the cave. Pinned down, wounded, out of water, food, and almost out of ammunition, the three bandits, when the sun rose the next day, instead of surrendering, chose to do what we would call today a Butch Cassidy/Sundance Kid type of charge into the withering fire of the posse.
Here's how it looks today. Its funny, but Jon, Scott and I agreed that the cave seemed a whole lot larger than we remembered it.
At least I thought that's what I'd read, but in subsequent attempts to find said article, or substantiate the story, I have found zilch zippo nada. The BLM web site claims that a single bandit had been tracked here after the infamous Gaskil Brother's Store raid of 1875, and was shot dead in front of it, a famous drawing done of the scene later on, but at the San Diego Historical Society's site's version of the Gaskil incident, there's no mention of Smugglers Cave, the gang coming from and retreating to nearby Tecate, which makes a whole lot more sense. These look like bullet holes to me, and they're on a rock just outside the cave facing back in. There's also a single motrero nearby.
Jon has Eagle Eyes. He spotted this metal orb just outside the cave. My first thought was a musket ball, but it was steel, a ball bearing.
Jon eternally brings up the rear. Besides spotting pottery shards, ball bearings and brass, he then takes a dozen pictures of it. Not a hundred yards from Smugglers Cave he spotted a horned toad. I must admit I haven't seen any for years, and this one shot across the road in front of Jon and then struck a pose for Jon to take a good shot, but sixteen pix? Are kidding Jon? It's a damned Horny Toad.
A picture of Jon taking a picture of the Horny Toad.
The trail from Smugglers Cave to what I call the Faux Smugglers Cave parallels the wash that the Marshals Cabin is in, so as we walked along the trail, we kept side-tracking to the east looking for a trail down to where the Cabin once stood. We didn't find one, though. It's down there somewhere, around the bend or behind us somewhere. Its green year-round, a spring not listed on the topo map just south of where the cabin used to stand.
Along the trail I spotted tailings, and when I checked it out, I found what must have been a very serious dig.
Because of the labyrinthine approach to this cave, there's no way to get a decent shot of the entrance to the Faux Smugglers Cave. Jon crawled up on a rock to the east and took this picture down into the cave, which doesn't show you a third of its size to the left and below the boulder Jon is shooting from. And yes, that's The Kid eating again. If we took a picture every time he dined, it would have to run like the flower slideshow.
There's been some serious seismic activity around here. Those boulders we're leaning against used to be on top of the boulder to the left. Before, you could have set up a tent and still have room for your horses. I know I've seen an ancient USGS topo map that listed both the accepted Smugglers Cave and this cave as Smugglers Cave, and I remember there being a water source nearby. On the modern USGS map a structure is marked where I remember near where the water was supposed to be.
The water source and cabin have been gone since before my wife and I started exploring this area twenty-some-odd years ago. Since the drawing from shortly after the bandito incident is clearly of the other Smugglers Cave, that makes it the Official Smugglers Cave, but this one, completely hidden from view and if you didn't know what you were looking for you'd never find, and that before the roof caved in it was three times larger than the Official Smugglers Cave and is still larger and more smuggler-ey like, if I were a smuggler, this would be my cave. I'd set up a cistern or something. It has its own fireplace, for Pete's sake. That's new though, built since we found the cave before the end of the century.
The plan now was to get up to the Elliott Mine and at least look down into Moon Valley.
Continue to Page 2
Page [ 2 ]
Once you reach the road in the Valley Above The Valley of the Moon, it's a straight shot east. We actually saw vehicles, although it appeared no one was camping back there.
Dave Taylor has offered us a complete article on Tursa de la Toba, a forgotten General turned bandit, What happened to him? Read the article below