"Perils of Nyoka" (1942) — Kay Aldridge as Nyoka, at the northern entrance to Tornado's Cave
The landmark Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka," starring Kay Aldridge as "Tarzan" author Edgar Rice Burroughs' heroine Nyoka the Jungle Girl, is featured regularly on this blog and you can read more about it by clicking here. But this time around let me call attention specifically to a short passageway through the rocks below Nyoka Cliff, known to historians and film location buffs as Tornado's Cave.
Tornado's Cave as it appears today (southern entrance)
Seen above is the cave's southern entrance, which is almost always overlooked. This is NOT the angle we usually see in movies and TV shows when the cave appears. I think this entrance, which is smaller than the northern entrance, was just too small to be of much use. Even so, you could get in there from this end if you were so inclined. The cave is easy to find at Iverson if you know where to look, and I'll point it out on a map later in the post.
"Cowboy Holiday" (Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, 1934)
The more common northern entrance is just large enough to fit a horse and rider. I have to confess that until recently I had a slightly embarrassing personal misconception about this cave entrance that got in the way of my properly understanding what I was seeing in the movies. I thought the cave had a three-limbed tree in front of it. Maybe you can already see what gave me that impression, but I'll point it out in the next shot.
It turns out the "three-limbed tree" is an illusion created by a two-limbed tree set against some dark weathering on the large rock that forms much of Tornado's Cave.
This shot from the Columbia serial "Terry and the Pirates" is taken in front of Tornado's Cave and again features the "three-limbed tree" illusion. Incidentally, all of these old movies were filmed decades before historians came along and started calling the rock feature "Tornado's Cave."
Tornado's Cave in recent times — northern entrance
The dark weathering remains evident today, as seen in the above shot from a recent visit to Tornado's Cave. Here it's plain to see that there's no third limb.
Zorro on Tornado
"Zorro Rides Again" (1937): Tornado's Cave with a different Zorro horse, El Rey
Appropriately, the cave does appear in some Zorro productions. In the Republic serial "Zorro Rides Again," John Carroll stars as a descendant of the original Zorro and rides the horse seen here, called "El Rey" in the serial. This shot once again showcases the "third limb."
Poison oak in Iverson's Upper Gorge, near Tornado's Cave
For anyone who's inclined to go check it out in person, please keep in mind a couple of important warnings: One, the site is crawling with poison oak, so be aware of what you're getting into and try not to touch any plants — especially if they're red. But know that the green poison oak will get you too. Last time I was there the area right in front of Tornado's Cave was crawling with the stuff. And two, be wary of rattlesnakes. I spotted a baby one not far from Tornado's Cave on a recent visit — and I've heard the babies are even more poisonous than the adults.