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  • Writer's pictureKandy Thietten

Two Guns And the Apache Death Cavea

In Winslow, AZ is Meteor Crater, a massive hole where the earth was struck by a meteorite. I've never seen any kind of evidence of meteorites striking Earth, so we made the giant hole in the ground our next destination. On the way there, we passed the remains of an old building that caught my interest, but we had another destination already and we missed the turn off, so we kept driving. As soon as we pulled into the Meteor Crater parking lot, Abe thought he recognized it from Tim And Fin, a YouTube channel he watched about full time RVers. They had shown up only to discover that there was a fee to see the crater, and they left. Just in case Abe was wrong, we walked up to the large brick building that you had to go through to get to the crater - the crater was surrounded by barbed wire topped chain link fence to prevent entry from anywhere other than through the building. Once we got in we asked about the cost and sure enough, it was $20 per person. Neither of us was at all interested in paying $40 to see a giant hole in the ground so we turned around for the short drive back to the ruins we'd passed.


On the way, I did some searching on the internet and discovered that the building had been part of the city of Two Guns, which was built above the Apache Death Cave. I read in another place that the story of the cave is a myth, but the story told about the Apache Death Cave is this:


A long time ago, an Apache tribe attacked a group of Navajos, slaughtering every man, woman, and child. Everyone except for 3 girls whom they took captive. When the other Navajos heard about the slaughter, they hunted for the Apache tribe so they could avenge their fellow Navajos and rescue the 3 kidnapped girls, but they lost the Apache trail. Soon after, they heard about another tribe that had also been slaughtered, and they knew that the Apaches had been there, so they set off to find them. Looking around above Canyon Diablo, one of the Navajos noticed hot air wafting out of the ground, and they realized that it was coming from a cave below, where the Apaches had built a fire. They saw two guards and killed them both, then they came across another Apache, whom they captured. They asked the captured man about the tribe below, and he informed them that there were 46 men and their horses in the cave underground, and told them where the cave entrance was. After obtaining the information, the Navajos promised that they would not kill their captive. Then they asked about the three girls and what had become of them. The Apache told them that the girls were dead. Upon hearing this news, the Navajos killed their captive. They then gathered large bundles of grass, laid them at the cave entrance, and set fire to them. When the Apaches saw the smoke and knew that they were trapped, they killed all of their horses, stacking the bodies against the entrance to stop the smoke, but it didn't work. The Apaches soon suffocated to death in the thick smoke, singing death chants as they died.


Of course, if you are at all interested in history, look up Two Guns Arizona. It has an incredible story.

We arrived at Two Guns, and I was instantly enthralled. We crossed the Canyon Diablo Bridge, with it's huge cracks in the crumbling siderails that were far from reassuring that the bridge was structurally sound, to get to the building I had seen, climbing over fallen stones as we looked around. The building was fascinating, but I REALLY wanted to get to the Apache Death Cave, so I started looking across the canyon to see if I could find it. We came across two other explorers, and they told us that there was an entire town to the west. I still wanted to see the cave more than anything, so we wandered around the area, climbing into the canyon to try to spot the entrance in the canyon walls. We walked around, making our way through dry weeds that scratched up Abe's bare legs. I had jeans on instead of shorts so they didn't bother me. I was worried about ticks and rattlesnakes, but neither of us saw either one. The Atlas Obscura website where I had read about the cave had shown a picture of the building we'd seen, so I made my way in the direction of the building thinking that maybe the picture was because the cave was near it, but I didn't see a cave entrance even when I was right below it, so we turned around. Maybe it was further down the canyon. We made our way down the sandy center that serves as a streambed when it rains until we realized that our way up was blocked by brambles on one side, and unclimbable rocks on the other. Eventually, we got to a spot with a faint trail leading up the north side, the side closest to the road, so we clambered up it. When we got to the top, we were met by stone walls. We were at the town!


I've never seen anything like it! There were small enclosures in the back of the buildings with chicken wire on top. I thought maybe they were chicken coups, but some later reading let me know that we were at the back of an old zoo where they'd kept mountain lions and other desert creatures. There was one spot built into the wall behind the mountain lion cages that was about two feet wide, two feet tall, and five or six feet long, with a wood framed opening on the house side, and several stone shelves built into it. It looked just big enough for a person to hide out in. I wish I knew what it had been used for. There were several spots in the walls where there were holes instead of the solid rock. Abe and I spent hours exploring and making wild guesses at what things were.

There was one building that was easy to figure out...the outhouse. Two doorways were on the front, a couple feet apart, and on the back wall was a long bench with broken boards across it. Half a circle was still visible on the right side, where the seat hole had been. There was no sign of the wall that must have stood between the seats at one time to keep the two sides separate.


The old buildings from the 1920s and 1930s ranged from a ring of stones in the ground to full walls and roofs. One was a cylindrical two-story building with a staircase circling up the outside. We climbed it, careful to avoid the loose rocks and holes, and arrived at the second floor with the northern half of the wall missing. I stayed near the edges, worried that the boards holding the stone and dirt floor would be decayed and ready to fall with too much weight. Some later reading about the town and a concrete pad out front with holes that could have fit gas pumps led us to believe that it used to be a gas station.


We eventually decided to continue our search for the Apache Death Cave. Abe looked it up and found a video online that showed the entrance. I was correct when we arrived - the entrance was next to the first building that we'd seen. But instead of being behind it in the canyon wall, the entrance was in front of the building. We carefully made our way around a deep crevice in the ground until we arrived at a large hole with a wooden bridge of sorts leading down into the mouth.

We clambered down the bridge and over rocks, and turned a corner that led to a hallway. To the left, there was a wall that had been built by the townspeople and I was able to crawl through an opening that led into a good size room of maybe ten feet by ten feet. The air in the cave was cool, and if it hadn't been hot outside I would have been wishing I had a jacket. As it was, I enjoyed the reprieve from the heat. In my mind's eye I could see shelves on the walls stacked with the townspeoples' meats, dairy products, and produce, where the cold air would keep it fresh for a long time. If the wall hadn't been there, that room would have been large enough to hold several Apache men and horses.


We continued walking down the hall, looking up at one point to see a small, furry bat clinging to the ceiling. I saw a hole in the rock large enough for me to climb through to the right, so I shimmied through it, and into the room on the other side. It wasn't huge, but it was big enough for me to comfortably stand up and walk around in. I followed it back until it started getting smaller, and eventually I was on my hands and knees crawling through a tunnel. I never went anywhere too small. If it got tight, I stopped. No way was I going to get myself stuck in a cave in the middle of nowhere. It finally narrowed to a small hole, but it looked like it opened up to another room on the other side. I think I could have made it, but it would have been tight, so I reluctantly turned around and made my way back to the main hall to meet Abe. We continued on, and came to a HUGE room. With all of the rooms in the cave, I have no doubt that 46 men and their horses could have fit. We kept travelling back until I came to a crevice where there was only about a foot between the huge stone walls. I left Abe nervously waiting while I walked sideways between the walls. I could hear the anxiety in his voice as I got out of site and farther and farther away from him, but I couldn't help myself. I had to keep going. I came across another small passage perpendicular to the one that I was in, but it was only big enough for a small child. How many children hid from angry parents to avoid a whipping? Or played and chased each other through the narrow passages, maybe finding other rooms on the other side? Soon, the passage I was in narrowed to where I would have had to squeeze myself in, so I turned around and went back to my very relieved husband. We finally decided it was time to leave, so we worked our way slowly back to the entrance, looking at some other rooms with walls that had been built by settlers, and other small holes. When we emerged back into the heat of the Arizona desert, I was covered in dust, and overwhelmed with excitement and amazement.

For the next stop, we drove to the old abandoned gas station that remains from the latest attempt to revive Two Guns. The building was covered in an amalgam of poorly painted graffiti from bored teenagers and spray painted art. There was nothing left inside the building, but it was disappointing to smell that the now plumbing free bathrooms are still being used as urinals. That aside, it was a very cool building to look through.

Behind the gas station was a dirt road that led past two enormous, spray painted metal water tanks.Kindly, the original artwork of a cowboy on each water tank was left mostly untouched by the vandals who decided to decorate them.

To the right of the water tanks was an abandoned RV park and swimming pool. I didn't realize it was an RV park until I saw the fifty or so power boxes lined up in neat rows in front of and beside the frame and few remaining walls of a wooden building.

There was another building that had toppled over, and was now just a pile of wood and metal on a concrete foundation. The remains of a hotel. In front of the hotel was a long empty swimming pool, along with the small structure that had been changing rooms and bathrooms. It, too, was completely covered with graffiti, very little of which could be classified as art. The bright, cheerful colors of spray paint were a stark contrast to the dark, angry words.

Two Guns and the Apache Death Cave was easily the best stop on our trip so far, and it's going to be a very hard one to beat. Sadly, the property has been bought by a developer who plans on turning it into a resort this year. I'm afraid that everything I had the good fortune to be able to explore today will be either destroyed or inaccessible by the end of the year. Here is a picture of the proposed resort.

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tedrickwa
Apr 11, 2021

Wow some masterful driving with amazing site seeing but the writing makes it come alive for me, Your mom would be so proud of you Kandy. Love you both😊 TR

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Kandy Thietten
Kandy Thietten
Apr 11, 2021
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Thank you so much. Love you too 🥲

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