Indian Cave aka. “Hidden Cave” Pictographs (Joshua Tree National Park) {REBOOT}

Indian Cave - Inside the cave there are multiple panels of well protected, and vibrant red/orange pictographs.
Indian Cave - The outside of "Hidden Cave" is covered by a stack of rocks.

Indian Cave – The outside of “Hidden Cave” is covered by a stack of rocks.

 

Since relocating to Joshua Tree, there has been one site that I had wanted to visit more than any other, that being Indian Cave (CA-RIV-92), better known as “Hidden Cave”. I had first seen pictures of the ancient cave dwelling a few years back, and my interest had been piqued ever since. One thing that you have to understand in regard to the world of “rock art,” archaeologists, and park employees are not permitted to publicly acknowledge the existence of sites that have not been made public (which is a majority of them). Also fellow rock art hunters/explorers are usually very tight-lipped when it comes to sharing information on these sites, especially their locations. This makes tracking them down VERY difficult, a lot of research, and hunting can go into finding a site.

The only information that I had to go on in my search for Indian Cave, were some photographs of the outside of the cave, and the panel of pictographs on the inside. I was aware that the site was in plain site, and likely was associated with a higher profile area in the park. With these few details, I spent the better part of six months in search for the cave. In my search, I had managed to find some other sites that I hadn’t previous been aware of, but Indian Cave continuously lived up to its nickname, “Hidden Cave,” and it sure felt like it didn’t want to be found.

Indian Cave - Removing the rocks reveals an entrance that is large enough to crawl into.

Indian Cave – Removing the rocks reveals an entrance that is large enough to crawl into.

 

Indian Cave - Looking back out from the inside of the cave. Pictographs can be seen along the edge of the cave entrance.

Indian Cave – Looking back out from the inside of the cave. Pictographs can be seen along the edge of the cave entrance.

 

I had spoken with several associates about this site, trying to see if anyone could point me in the right direction. I found that most of them were not familiar with the site, and those that were hadn’t located it either. Then one morning I receive a message, “I think I figured out your hidden cave, you drive by it all the time.” I punched the coordinates into Google Earth, and sure enough, there it was, right along a stretch of road that I travel weekly. I’ve often looked at the area wondering if it was possible, but never bothered to check because I felt that it was just too high-profile.

The next morning I hopped into my vehicle and traveled out to the suspected location. Within 10 minutes of parking,  I was crawling through the boulders. I recognized the area from the photographs that I had previously seen. I finally noticed some small red pictographs in a cave shelter, and I thought to myself,  “I’m hot on the trail!” I crawled around more, and found myself under an overhang with nearly a dozen faded red pictographs. I didn’t see a cave however, so I double backed and finally saw something that I had missed, a pile of stones stacked up against the base of a large granite boulder.

 

Indian Cave - Inside the cave there are multiple panels of well protected, and vibrant red/orange pictographs.

Indian Cave – Inside the cave there are multiple panels of well protected, and vibrant red/orange pictographs.

 

Indian Cave - An amazing display of pictographs.

Indian Cave – An amazing display of pictographs.

 

Indian Cave - Pictographs along the side of the entrance.

Indian Cave – Pictographs along the side of the entrance.

 

Knowing the park service and their tricks to keep people from finding cultural sites, I knew that something had to be hidden behind those rocks. I carefully removed the stone pile, placing them to the side. A large crawl space was revealed, and I knew this had to be it! I crawled inside the hollowed out boulder, turned on my lantern, and my mind was BLOWN!  Adorning the walls of the cave were dozens of bright red pictographs!

Archeologists documented this site in 1975, long after the park became a National Monument, and then later a National Park. It is likely that the site wasn’t discovered until after the park service developed the area for recreational use. In many cases, sites like these would be protected by developing in areas that have less or no cultural resources.

During the 1975 study of Indian Cave, it was concluded that this was not a long-term village site, but rather a seasonal occupation area. This conclusion was based on there being little signs of long-term habitation.

 

Indian Cave - In the back of the cave, there are several additional pictograph designs.

Indian Cave – In the back of the cave, there are several additional pictograph designs.

 

Indian Cave - ...and on the ceiling.

Indian Cave – …and on the ceiling.

 

The three panels of pictographs that make up the entirety of the site contain zoomorphic, circle, and diamond elements, intersecting straight lines, and groups of straight or curved lines. Research indicates one black rectilinear shape, however I examined multiple designs in black pigment. It is possible that some of the black designs are vandalism, but I doubt it based on the other otherwise pristine condition. They have been identified as Southern California Rectilinear Abstract style, and could be associated with Chingishnish puberty ceremonies, which began taking place after 1770.

For having now visited Indian Cave, I feel that this a very spiritual and special place. Despite it’s very public location, the magic in the cave is still there, whatever kind of magic that may be. Upon leaving I rebuilt the stone wall, attempting to make it even more sturdy than what it was when I found it.

If you happen to find Indian Cave, please leave it as you’ve found it. Take only pictures, and leave no trace.

 

UPDATE – It has been a year since I first visited the cave, so I decided that it was time to pay a return visit. I was never very satisfied with the images that I had captured last year, and decided to reshoot the pictographs and their surroundings (the new images are what you are now seeing on this page). I am very excited to report that the cave, and the pictographs are still in the same condition that they were in when I first visited. The stone wall that encloses the cave entrance is still being maintained by those that are lucky to find it. There is good karma, and good feelings abound at “Hidden Cave”.

Indian Cave - Opposite of Indian Cave, there is also this shelter, which contains several pictographs.

Indian Cave – Opposite of Indian Cave, there is also this shelter, which contains several pictographs.

 

Indian Cave - A high concentration of smoke damage in the rock shelter.

Indian Cave – A high concentration of smoke damage in the rock shelter.

 

Indian Cave - Pictographs under the rock shelter. They are very hard to make out, and identify.

Indian Cave – Pictographs under the rock shelter. They are very hard to make out, and identify.

 

Indian Cave - Circular pictographs in red. There also appears to be some white designs, unless it is climbers chalk.

Indian Cave – Circular pictographs in red. There also appears to be some white designs, unless it is climbing chalk.

 

Indian Cave - Anthropomorphic (human) figure on the right.

Indian Cave – Anthropomorphic (human) figure on the right.

 

 

 

 

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.

  • pat

    I’m exited just seeing the photos! That is so awesome. I’m hoping to be back there in about a week. I need to go through a bunch of photos to see if I can get a jump on finding this fantastic spot. Congratulations!
    BTW, the books are here! Love ’em!

  • pat

    Well, I’ve been here for a few days and so far, had no luck with this one. It was darn cold there yesterday. When we left in the late afternoon it was 28 degrees!

    • deathvalleyjim

      It really is in plain site, look where you would least suspect it to be.

  • Texazona

    Incredible pictographs.

    Please be cautious with providing location details for this and other spots, vandalism is becoming a significant problem as I’m sure you’re aware. It’s hard to know how best to protect these sites, but obscurity and education on the importance of these priceless cultural treasures is a good start.

    Love the website btw!

  • pat

    Nice update! I just realized thatI never updated my comment. As you already know, I finally found this spot. I’d have to say that is my favorite place in the park.

  • Desert Slueth

    This weekend I had the unimaginable pleasure of laying in this cave and soaking it all in. Thank you, Jim. My wife enjoyed it as well. I took pictures made the area look as natural as possible. I also removed the FRESH orange peels that were left inside.

  • Alex Lopez Gurrola

    Heading there this weekend with hopes of finding this sacred spot! Any tips would be appreciated. I know places like this are sacred and the location is kept secret for a reason. Vandalism and litter is a major problem in our parks system. I simply want to see this amazing place with my own eyes. Any hints of its general location would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Alex

  • booksaremyfriends

    We found it! Thanks to your post and some digging on line we got to it in a half hour :) It. Was. Awesome!