17 October 2014

Vulture Caves in the Sespe Mountains, California

"A correspondent of the Ventura Free Press tells the following strange story:

'The writer has for the last few years offered a liberal reward for a set of vulture eggs, and numerous have been the attempts of both hunter and urchin to procure them with the common result, they were unable to find where they nest. Believing that the Pacific condor nests somewhere in the Sespe mountains, I determined to make the grand effort if possible to obtain the eggs. After considerable search I finally discovered the locality where three birds bring forth their young. High up in one of the deep dark gorges that put into the turbulent Sespe, a few miles above Devil's Gate, on the west side of the stream, at an altitude of over four thousand feet, the home of the vulture was discovered with all its strange and peculiar features. Climbing up the rocky gorge to a point where a perpendicular wall of rock fifty feet high stopped my further progress, and following along the base of the rocky cliff a few yards, I observed a cluster of pine trees that grew near the base of the cliff; and, seeing one that shot above the projecting rock some sixty feet, being full of limbs that projected at right angles from the trunk, I determined to climb the tree and, if possible, get on top of the great rocky shelf that, like a terrace, extended for hundreds of feet around the rocky bluff. With but little exertion I climbed to a point parallel to the rocky shelf, and by careful attention walked out on one of the projecting limbs six or eight feet and stepped upon the terrace. Here I found a rocky shelf some ten feet wide, and extending far along the bluff and back to an overhanging wall, arranged in something after the manner of the Cliff Dwellers of Arizona, to which were excavated chambers, large enough for a person to comfortably pass in, being on an average ten feet deep. On the floor of the caverns lie scattered around a very Golgatha of bones, while near the back I observed a pile of sticks, grass and other debris resembling a wood rat's nest, about three feet high, culminating in an uniformly pointed hillock. Taking a dry stick that lay near by, I proceeded to tear down this pile, believing that I had found at last a vulture's nest, and that the birds had covered up the eggs before departing in the morning. Having denuded the pile a few inches I came to the heads of half decomposed carcasses of numerous small animals, in which I recognized the head of a pig, sheep, several jack rabbits, and other small varmints. The stench was so great that I was compelled to retreat. I entered a second chamber, where I found a similar pile, and pursuing my further investigations, I entered a fourth one, containing one of these peculiar nests, in which I observed a hole at the base, about six inches in diameter, and at the point of thrusting a stick into the hole, out came a most miserable looking creature remaining for a moment and then darting back again, it once more appeared at the hole, completely filing it up, and this time I discovered that I was gazing upon a young Vulture and that these piles were in reality Vultures' nests, the sole object of my perilous adventures. Stepping 'round into the second chamber, I began to tear down one of these heaps believing that I would find the eggs somewhere within the ghastly pile. Just them casting my eyes upward, I beheld far to the northward the old bird sailing high in the cloudless vault, and with renewed vigor I hastily demolished the pile, and when about one-third of the top had been torn off, consisting of partially decomposed carcasses of small animals, to my horror and surprise, there lay, half buried in the heap, protruding from beneath, torn and lacerated, the hand and forearm of some human being, sufficiently intact, not to be mistaken as to its identity. Appalled at this ghastly sight, and again looking to the northward I beheld the old birds approaching the caverns. Knowing as I did that they would swoop down in a few minutes, I sprang to the edge of the rock, seized a protruding limb, and rapidly descended to the foot of the tree, just in time, for that moment, like a great avalanche, with the velocity of lightning they came, shaking the very earth I stood upon. Simultaneously they alighted upon the projecting shelf, where with their great wings still out-stretched, they seemed to know at once that some daring intruder had ventured to enter their hone of death and desolation. Quickly wending my way down the mountain side I finally reached my gun and outfit, an casting a look in the direction of the cave, I beheld that there were unmistakable indications of turmoil in the camp. The great birds attacking each other for a moment in their imperial altitude, them alighting upon the over-hanging rock, but too far distant for the range of my rifle. Hurriedly retracing my steps down the dismal and rocky stream, with the horrible and strange discoveries ever vividly before my eyes, it was not until I was past the Devil's Gate, where I halted, that I once more regained my normal condition of mind, determining that at some future day I would again visit the Vulture Caves of the Sespe."

May 20, 1886. Vulture caves in the Sespe. Los Angeles Herald 25(66): 6.