Trip West in August 2009 - Don and Terry Investigate Apache Death Cave
We left afternoon of Sunday, August 16th. The drive was uneventful and we arrived that evening at Sayre, Oklahoma, where we took our supper at Denney’s and it was not particularly good food. Oddly enough, both Terry and I enjoy good food but do not care much for bad food. Our luck took a turn for the better when we found Sayre City Park which had RV sites. We were the only ones there and it was only twelve bucks, which included water and electricity. It was hot and by the time we had set up camp, it was dark and we turned on the ac unit in the camper and were soon sawing up some logs.
Next morning we fixed sausage, eggs, toast and coffee for breakfast. We philosophized as to how nice it was to be on the road without a care in the world. Then broke camp and set our sails toward the West. Early that morning we found ourselves at the doorsteps of Harley and Annabelle at the City Meat Market in Erick, Oklahoma. They were eagerly awaiting the arrival of some tourists to provide their route 66 homespun, hippie entertainment. A few minutes after we got there, a group of Norwegian motorcyclists pulled in to the shop. Harley was in rare form and really “rolled out the red carpet” for the group. The dynamic duo from Erick city put on a good show I am sure. They are great entertainers. Terry and I didn’t have much time to spend there, so we bid them adieu and headed west. We wanted to visit the Roger Miller Museum but it was closed.
After passing through Texhoma, we entered Texas and got on the interstate. A short while later we exited into McLean where we visited the Route 66 & Devil’s Rope Museum (combined, world’s only.) If you are a wondering about Devil’s Rope, that’s barbed wire.
We had a good visit, made some photos, bought a few items. We always like to support our Route 66 business friends. Terry called Delbert Trew who lived down the road. Delbert is about the best source in the world for the history of Rt 66 along that stretch and is a world-famous author, historian and speaker. He invited us up to his ranch which is located behind the large Route 66 Rest Stop along the interstate. He’s not far from there but you take a gravel road for about a quarter of a mile. He has a neat old ranch. We visited with him, his wife and another couple who happened to be visiting him at the time. They liked the camper and all had to take a gander at it. Delbert told us that he and his wife had just finished being in a movie that was filmed on his property. He has a small western town built on his ranch and an independent film company had used it for their picture.
We left after about a 20 minute visit and went to the Panhandle Rest Stop (west bound across from the eastbound Route 66 stop.) Then we motored on into Amarillo Town, found the Golden Light Restaurant for one of their famous hamburgers. We visited a flea market and Terry bought a set of cowboy china (tin) for his camping use. Before we left Texas, we stopped by the Bent Door Café in Vega which was undergoing remodeling. The new owner was there and invited us in to examine the place. They had done some work on it but still have a long ways to go. She was enthusiastic and optimistic about plans and we left hoping that they would make it but…. Down the street we stopped at the Midway Café. We wanted to order a piece of pie but it was real busy and we didn’t have time. We took one liberty there. I had Terry take my picture underneath the midway sign.
From there, we drove on to Tucumcari and stopped by the Blue Swallow. Talked with Bill and took some more photos, then moved on. Harley and Annabelle had recommended to us Villanueva State Park in New Mexico as an excellent place for camping. So we made about a thirty mile detour off the interstate and found it in the mountains south of the Santa Fe Trail. Were somewhat disappointed in the park but it was quiet and scenic. The park lay on the side of a stream. Across the stream there were high bluffs. We met a retired couple from Abilene, Texas, who liked to canoe and were on their way north. The lady had taught about 15 years at Bowie Elementary School - the very place I began school back in 1959. She wasn’t old enough to have been teaching at the time I was there but it was one of those ‘small world’ moments. We had pork chops, rice and gravy that evening. We watched part of a western, then went to bed.
Up early the next morning, I walked down to the park’s bathroom facilities and took a shower. We broke camp and headed back to the interstate, stopping to get some java and donuts at a grocery store in Moriarty, I think it was. We also stopped at an old Whiting Bros station. It was undergoing some cosmetic painting at the time and we stopped and talked with two men, one who was apparently the owner.
We made some photos and headed on into Albuquerque. We drove on into town on old Rt 66 and saw many old sites and motels with their colorful and historic neon signs. It took too long and we finally made it through and continued westward.
We stopped at a couple of souvenir “stands” around the Continental Divide.
We traveled through Gallup, stopping a minute or two at the El Rancho, road home to the stars of yesteryear. Terry took a picture of an old Indian sitting with his daughter in front of the hotel. The old man had been dead for several years but his body was mummified and he looked so lifelike. He was such a good photo “specimen” that his family continued to use him as a prop for tourists shots, bringing in a good income in gratuities. Most didn’t even realize he was dead.
On into Arizona we stopped at Stewart’s Petrified Wood and toured the place. We both took turns lifting a large meteorite. Imagine, holding an object that had traversed our ol’ solar system for many, many years. Terry and I both thought, “Makes you think.” They also had some emus and ostriches in large fenced areas that you could feed. One of them almost pecked my head when my back was turned to it while Terry shot a picture. It was a close call, but I made it unscathed.
We traveled on to Holbrook and visited Jim Gray’s place. He has loads of petrified wood and meteorites and a real old alligator - bunch of stuff like a museum. We spent a while there and I was bit by a newborn dinosaur.
After leaving there, we proceeded to Two Guns, the primary objective of our excursion. We had plenty of time to set up camp and fix our beans and cornbread in leisure. Just before darkness set in, we walked over the death cave. We made our way down into the grotto quite easily since we were familiar with its situation. I had the Nikon to document any unusual occurrences and Terry had a digital movie camera to record the entire experience.
As we made our way into the depths of the cave as darkness was befalling the stark desert landscape outside, we both couldn’t help but think of those helpless Apaches and their ponies as they struggled against the smoke and fumes that poured into it from the Navajo conflagration at its entrance. They would have tried every conceivable means to avert their death. They butchered their ponies to try to build a wall in the cave to prevent smoke from penetrating, but to no avail. Oh, the humanity!
About 100 feet inside, we were both overwhelmed with a feeling of terror of an unknown, unexplainable type. As we talked about this, we could only imagine that perhaps there were trapped emanations from the gruesome and unreconciled death experiences of so many in that vault of horror. These emanations were bombarding our alpha and beta waves, thus penetrating into our own subconscious minds and creating similar effects as those felt by the helpless Apaches. Despite the dread we felt, we continued to make our way into the cave until, at about 250 feet, it abruptly narrowed to a small opening which would require crawling to proceed any further. We both had the distinct sense that we were not alone; it was almost as if we were in a crowded room but only silence filled the air. We took several photographs and then set to make our exit. As we re-entered the outside world, now dark and quiet, we were soon relieved of the dread that had filled our souls and were happy to be back on the desert floor. We made our way back to our camp and discussed our experience. We planned to return with investigatory equipment in the future. Then, we sat back in our lawn chairs, looked up into the skies, and watched as the handiwork of God unfolded before our very eyes. As the last western rays of the sun evaporated from the night, the moonless night began a display of unrivalled glory. The stars and planets multiplied before our eyes. The ancient Milky Way was vividly clear as a white belt across the middle sky. The entire night ceiling was teeming with activity, pulsating lights that measured as the sands of the ocean. An occasional airplane would trek across the air lanes as well as the uniformly lit satellites of outer space. Here and there a meteor would enter the atmosphere, thus most likely exterminating itself into vapors in a few brief but brilliant seconds. We sat there maybe two hours, enjoying the exhibition, opining on the universe, God and other subjects. If our chairs had been recliners, we may have slept out under that open sky. However, the comfort of a mattress won out and we went in to retire. We first watched some more of a western that we had started the preceding night.
We arose early the next morning and were in no hurry to leave. We took several more photographs and again scavenged about the grounds for any small momento of our visit. Terry found some coins underneath a rock that had obviously been placed there on purpose. However, the coins were of recent vintage and he decided to replace them, thinking that some Route 66 traveler would return, at some time, and look for them. He thought about leaving a note but didn’t. Finally, we broke camp and were westward ho.
We drove on through Flagstaff, taking an exit on the western side to go on the old route to Parks. After this short but pleasant drive, we headed on to Williams, gateway to the Grand Canyon by train. We stopped at Wild West Junction on route in Williams and had a good time walking around the place. There was a John Wayne Museum display and we decided to visit it. There was no one around and it was locked, so we found a lady and asked her about it. She got a man to act as our tour guide and he showed us the museum and talked about the displays. He talked too much and there wasn’t that much of John’s stuff there but it was mildly interesting. A self-tour with signs would suffice. While we were there, we were inducted into service as deputies to help with some rowdy prisoners. We soon had the situation under control but Terry actually had to enter the cell and sternly threaten the prisoners at gunpoint before they knew we were serious. I wasn’t much help as I had fallen asleep on the jail porch. They nicknamed me “Festus” and called Terry “Matt.” We declined any remuneration for our services and again headed west pulling the trusty camper.
We took the interstate to Seligman and couldn’t help but pulling off and paying a visit to this Route 66 mainstay, home of Angel D. There was a new establishment occupying one of the old buildings on the route - Seligman Sundries. We pulled in and visited for a few minutes. The store was full of old items and souvenirs and had a soda fountain bar. We talked with the owners and Terry gave them one of his Rt 66 mini-books. We drove slowly on through town, then back on the interstate to Kingman.
We drove through Kingman to the old road that wound through the Black Mountains. We stopped at Cool Springs and took some photos of this historic and scenic Rt 66 hot spot. The place sold souvenirs and now called itself a museum, but that’s using the word very loosely. It was unimpressive and a disappointment for such a neat-looking building.
Not far from there was Ed’s Camp where stood the only Saguaro cactus on Route 66. These are the big ones you see in all the pictures with the giant arms waving at you. Anyway, seems that the only Saguaro cactus on Route 66 was a victim of a lightning strike and was dead. Terry snapped a shot of what was left of it.
We then drove on up the mountains to near Oatman and pulled off and parked. We got our treasure hunters out and walked up into the rocks to seek our fortune. After about an hour in the hot sun, we decided to leave the fortune there for later and retreated to the coolness of the Honda Pilot. We had come at the wrong time and vowed to return later and pick up our treasure. So, the day being late, we opted to begin our return trip rather than visit the burros of Oatman. Terry slept as I drove us back to Williams. Arriving in early evening at Williams again, we decided to take a room at a local motel and eat supper in town. I shrewdly bargained the innkeeper down $2 off our lodging cost. We unloaded and headed back to Wild West Junction for some grub. It was closer to grub than we figured. The empty tables were a warning that we ignored. We paid too much for not much, including the service. The Coca-Cola was mostly carbonated water and, after complaining to the owner, it wasn’t much better. He said he would have the man check it next time he was in town. After that, we drove around town and went back to our room. We were able to shower and relax the rest of the evening and got a good night’s sleep.
Next morning we arose early and drove one last time through Williams, stopping for fuel and coffee. The store also had doughnuts and we but a few of them. There was a fellow there that noticed the teardrop and came out to look at it. We got to talking and he was a fellow treasure-seeker. Said he had had some luck and hit a big strike dredging down by the Colorado River. Well, we had to be on our way, so we got back on the interstate and piloted eastward to Flagstaff. We decided to try to cross the San Francisco Mountains and judged we could go up them from the west. We drove about 20 miles down a state highway but finally turned around because it seemed we were not going into the mountains but staying too far west. We did see a lot of birch trees and stopped to get our picture beside them. We finally found a road that led up the mountain to a ski lodge. They still ran the ski lift for rides and we wanted to do that but we got there an hour early. We just didn’t think we had the time to wait.
So we went back to Flagstaff and back on the interstate. We soon came to Twin Arrows and had to stop and “take a peek.” The arrows had been freshly painted. So we spent about a half hour taking pictures and poking around the old trade post. The building was about beyond repair. It was boarded up on the front side but wide open from the back. The lizards, snakes and locusts had the run of the place. While we there, a 66’er stopped by to take some photos.
We got to talking and she was obviously a big 66 fan. She was on her way home to New Mexico from a family reunion and she was making some stops on the old route. We talked for a few minutes and told her about some interesting spots, including just up the road at Two Guns. So we left and were on our way to the Meteor Crater. We past Two Guns to the right but when we got to the Crater exit about five miles up the road, we decided to go back to Two Guns for another look. The lady had arrived by the time we got there and we stopped to advise her of some of the history of the place. We had seen an old bridge to the west of Two Guns and went out that way from Two Guns to find it. The desert out that way was littered with old tin and glass debris. It had apparently been the Two Guns dump. However, with a dry and arid climate, metal is slow to rust. So we saw a lot of old tins and other items. We tried to find a good souvenir but had no luck. The lady did find an old Seven Up bottle and gave it to Terry. She was really interested in the place and wanted to see Apache Cave, so we went back there for a quick visit. She got a free guided tour and learned a lot about the place.
Terry and I decided that, at some point in the future, we will become official tour guides for the western side of Route 66. Anyway, the lady was real excited about the cave and the story. Terry gave her one of his little books. Then Terry and I went on to Meteor Crater. We paid our money and went to the visitor center and outside to see the actual crater. It was really something! Its magnitude was hard to phathom.
We both said that we would not want to have been there when the thing hit. We gazed upon it for about 15 minutes and took photos. Makes you think of the moon and, actually, the Apollo astronauts had used the crater for practice prior to going to the moon. We toured the displays there and both bought a Meteor Crater tee shirt, and then headed on east stopping at the shell that once was Ella’s Frontier Trading Post near Joseph City. We looked around that place for a few minutes. It is nearly beyond repair and, as it sits on a section of old Rt 66 that is now dead ended, I’m sure its days are numbered. Sad, since the old log structure has been around so many years.
We then went into Holbrook and had dinner at Joe and Aggie’s Mexican restaurant. They gave us a free calendar and book of matches. After that it was time to “put the pedal to the metal” as they say and get in some miles before nightfall. So we zoomed through the rest of Arizona and on to Gallup, New Mexico, where we turned south on State 602 for about 20 miles to catch Hwy 53 east to finally arrive around dusk at El Moro National Monument. Here there was a small RV camp that Terry had visited on an earlier trip. The monument was the sandstone wall of the side of a mountain also known as Inscription Rock. Many travelers from America’s early history had left writings on this wall such as signatures, dates and personal stories as they made there way west. There were about six RV spots but only one was taken by the time we arrived and another camper came a little later. There was water but no electricity. It was very calm, quiet and peaceful. After darkness had settled in, we began to notice a faint green light emanating from the ground all around that area. It was not bright at all, only a faint glow. We were puzzled and decided to ask the park ranger about it the next morning. We enjoyed watching the heavens again as we had at Two Guns, only not with such an open view as there. We finished our movie that night and got a good rest. Next morning we inquired about the glowing light at the ranger’s station. He said that the ground was saturated with uranium around there and this light was emitted by the neutron radiation from this element. We had tried to take a photo of the glow but the camera did not pick it up. So we asked him about that too and he said that the uranium emitted radiation in the form of neutron light rather than photon light and camera’s worked on photons but not neutrons. We then asked about radioactivity danger from the uranium. He said that the government was researching that very thing and that was one reason they wanted everybody who visited there to sign their logbook and give address. He also said that we should not let any doctor run x-rays on us for at least 20 years.
We then headed out east down through the Bandera Volcano lands and on to Grants. We traveled through Fidel, Cubero and Laguna on the old route and stopped to view an old dilapidated motel. Terry pulled out an old ammo crate from the ruins. I made some photos and we then jumped in the Honda and went on to Albuquerque.
We decided to take in a flea market or two in the big city and detoured off the interstate on the east side. We found a large one and went in to check it out. There was a lot of stuff and in one booth were some furniture - old western and primitive type pieces. We saw some nice old items and the dealer happened to be there. Terry wheeled and dealed and came out with a an old homemade angular shelf that had the “lodge” motif and a glass and oak bookcase or display case. We saw a neat Totem Pole. The guy was dealing so well on the stuff, I regretted after we left, that I didn’t throw an offer on it. The fellow really enjoyed collecting and selling old furniture pieces that had character. He told the history on most of the things he had. True or not, it sure made that business interesting. He had an old cannon and said it was from the civil war and also had been used by Teddy Roosevelt when he went up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. The rest of the day was spent traveling to McLean, Texas.
We decided to spend the night at the Cactus Inn, a familiar and homey motel on the dusty 66 trail. We checked in; then went down the street to the Red River Steak House for a meal. Afterwards, we returned to our room. We visited briefly with an English couple who were sitting outside their room. The man was strumming a guitar. They said that they were in America “motoring down the route.” We told them about some interesting stops that they should make and Terry gave them one of his little books. Terry and I both thought that the man, about 65, looked familiar but couldn’t figure out why and they didn’t give their names. But later that night, Terry said that it hit him, the man looked like Paul McCartney and I agreed. Next morning when we checked out, the couple was already gone, and I went into the office to return the key. No one was in there at that time and the guest book was set out and open. So I couldn’t help but take a peek and two lines above my entry from the previous night was the signature, “Paul McArthur.” We are almost positive that this was just an alias for the famous Beatle. We wished that we had taken a picture of them. We then got on the road for the home stretch. We wanted to get back home by early afternoon. So we just drove straight and made it to Russellville by 2PM. We were tired but satisfied that we had accomplished our goal of investigating the mystery and wonder of the Apache Death Cave and spread good will during the process.
Until the next adventure, I bid you “Happy Trails” and a healthy dose of Pioneer Moxie --- Don Beck October 1, 2009