Carey’s Castle and the elusive “cave cache” (Joshua Tree National Park)

Per a press release issued on 2/12/2016 by Joshua Tree National Park, you may also no longer visit Carey’s Castle.

I’ve always been a huge supporter of National Parks, and have encouraged people to get off the beaten track. I’m beginning to think that superintendents like my friend, David Smith would prefer if everyone stay within the confines of Barker Dam and the Cholla Garden.

If the park service would have actually done their job in the first place by better educating visitors in regard to etiquette, both in land stewardship and historical/cultural preservation problems like those cited in the press release would have been easier avoided.

These National Parks are ours as citizens of this nation – not some ranger’s with a weird little hat. I have to admit that the actions of the National Park Service closing off segments of our land because of their shortfalls that they so conveniently blame on “press” and “social media,” has me second guessing my interest in supporting them in any way in the future.

Go see everything that you want to see NOW, before it is closed.

 

The location of Carey’s Castle was at one time one of Joshua Tree National Park’s most highly guarded secrets. The people that had tracked it down, had done whatever they could do to keep others from finding it, and when asked about it, the National Park Service didn’t acknowledge it’s existence.

Much has changed in the internet age, the “castle” is not the secret that it once was. A quick Google search will reveal GPS tracks, and an extensive number of accounts from people who have made the trek to this secret “castle” in the desert.

 

Hiking route to Carey’s Castle.

 

I had never previously attempted the hike to Carey’s Castle, yet it had been on my list of interests. I had heard that in addition to the “castle”, there was a hollowed out boulder that contained a cache of possessions that belonged to the man who built the “castle”. The “cave cache” as we’ll call it, has eluded visitors to the “castle”, either because they are not aware of its existence, or they haven’t been able to locate it. There were no photographs of the “cave cache” online, and mentions of it have been far and few between.

Finding and following the trail is easier than one might imagine, because of the “castle’s” new-found popularity there are plenty of footprints to follow-up the sandy wash. The first mile of the hike leads you across the open desert, before ascending into a series of canyons. Once in the canyons the wash turns into a boulder scramble, and remains that way for a good portion of the remaining 3 1/2 miles. Some obstacles like dry waterfalls, and boulder strung passages that seem impassable, but there is always a way. Don’t expect a simple walk in the park here, this is easily a contestant for a strenuous/difficult rated hike.

You have reached Carey’s Castle when you see a series of rusted metal barrels near a pile of boulders. The outside of the “castle” is picturesque, with its old wooden door and custom stone masonry entrance way. Wooden benches have been installed on the outside, and are inviting after the long, sometimes grueling hike.

 

"Carey's Castle"

“Carey’s Castle”

 

Carey's Castle - Inside the "castle" the frame of a bed, along with shelves with a few scant artifacts remain.

Carey’s Castle – Inside the “castle” the frame of a bed, along with shelves with a few scant artifacts remain.

 

Carey's Castle - Inside the "castle" the frame of a bed, along with shelves with a few scant artifacts remain.

Carey’s Castle – Inside the “castle” the frame of a bed, along with shelves with a few scant artifacts remain.

 

The inside of the “castle” is larger than anticipated. There is ample head room and floor space. A green bed frame, along with a few period relics remain to sort through. It is my understanding that just a few years back there was much more here, but has likely walked off as souvenirs. The stone work that was done to seal the “castle” is impressive, lasting for nearly eighty years.

Evidence of Native American habitation is present, the “castle” ceiling has roughly a dozen small red, black and white pictographs painted on it. Outside of the “castle” there is a mortar stone, which would have been used to grind local vegetation or small animals.

 

Native American Pictographs on the ceiling of Carey's Castle.

Native American Pictographs on the ceiling of Carey’s Castle.

 

Native American Pictographs on the ceiling of Carey's Castle.

Native American Pictographs on the ceiling of Carey’s Castle.

 

Native American Pictographs on the ceiling of Carey's Castle.

Native American Pictographs on the ceiling of Carey’s Castle.

 

Mortar used by Native Americans to ground food.

Mortar used by Native Americans to ground food.

 

So who was this Carey guy, and why did he live under a rock in the middle of the desert?

First off, his name wasn’t Carey, it was Cary. Born Arthur Loyd Cary, in Kansas on July 18, 1914. His family moved to various locations in Colorado, before eventually settling on Granada, Colorado. It was in Granada that Cary spent his most impressionable years, going to high school and meeting his wife, Eleanor Fern Grisham.

Sometime around 1935, Cary and his wife packed their bags and headed for California’s Coachella Valley. Cary, his wife and their child lived in Holtville, where Cary worked as a vegetable truck drive.

In the late 1930’s, Cary was involved with placing a number of mining claims east of Eagle Peak. These claims would come to be known as “Beacon #7″, “Beacon #8″, “Welcome Stranger”, and “Duffie No. 1″. All of these claims were partially owned by Cary, with the exception of the “Welcome Stranger”, which was solely his. The “Welcome Stranger”, better known today as “Cary’s Mine” is located less than a quarter of a mile from the “castle”.

 

The "Welcome Stranger" mine.

The “Welcome Stranger” mine.

 

It can only be assumed, but highly doubtful that Cary was the lonesome, freakish desert wondered that many make him out to be. Cary worked regular jobs throughout the years, as well, having a family at home in Holtville. Cary’s “castle” was likely a place that he built to lie his head down at night during the times that he would spend away from home, mining his claim.

Cary and his wife remained in Holtville well into the 1960’s, Cary was then working as a mechanic and tractor operator. Eventually they relocated to Henderson, Nevada. Cary passed away on April 8, 1976.

 

The elusive "cave cache"

The elusive “cave cache”

 

What about the “cave cache”?

It does exist! It is located in a large hollowed out boulder that is well off the beaten path from the “castle.” Arriving at it, there was no evidence of anyone having been there for sometime. No footprints, no modern trash. A stash of magazines from the early 1930’s – 1940’s was situated in the back, many of which, still intact enough to flip through the pages, and read the articles. Much of Cary’s personal belongings that he had stashed here have become nesting for rats, so I was careful about what I was pulling out and looking at.

The hike to the “castle” and the “cave cache” is rewarding in the sense of both being challenging in terrain, and the mystery and intrigue which surround the sites.

 

Rats have made a mess of Casy's belongings that had been stashed in the cache.

Rats have made a mess of Casy’s belongings that had been stashed in the cache.

 

Inside the box is a stash of old magazines. "The Literary Digest" dated December 10, 1932.

Inside the box is a stash of old magazines. “The Literary Digest” dated December 10, 1932.

 

"The Literary Digest" dated December 10, 1932.

“The Literary Digest” dated December 10, 1932.

 

"The Saturday Evening Post" dated January 13, 1940.

“The Saturday Evening Post” dated January 13, 1940.

 

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

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