"Zorro's Black Whip" (1944): Tornado's Mine
A movie set on the old Iverson Ranch that has been largely overlooked is an old fake mine entrance that once stood in the Iverson Gorge. I call it Tornado's Mine, because it was built at the southern end of a cave that film historians know as Tornado's Cave. The mine entrance had one of its most high-profile appearances in the Republic serial "Zorro's Black Whip," as seen above.
"Perils of Nyoka" (1942): Tornado's Cave (northern entrance)
The northern entrance to Tornado's Cave is much more widely documented than the southern entrance. I've blogged previously about Tornado's Cave, focusing mainly on its north end — seen above in the Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka." For a detailed look at this screen shot and additional views of Tornado's Cave, please click here to read my earlier blog entry.
The Tornado's Mine location in modern times
The mine entrance is long gone now, along with virtually all of the manmade sets that once proliferated at the Iverson Movie Ranch. That is, most of it is gone — but I'm getting ahead of myself. The above shot taken on a recent visit to the Iverson Gorge shows the mine location as it appears today.
Zorro riding Tornado, or Toronado
Tornado's Cave is named after Zorro's horse, Tornado, often called Toronado. By extension, Tornado's Mine also gets its name from the horse. I understand that in real life Tornado, or Toronado, was played during the heyday of Zorro by a champion gelding named Diamond Decorator. Whether there's a connection between "Zorro's Black Whip" and the naming of the cave is unclear, but it appears to be purely coincidence that Tornado's Mine makes one of its primary appearances in the Zorro serial.
"Laramie" TV series (1960): Tornado's Mine
One reason the southern entrance to Tornado's Cave didn't appear to get much airtime may have been because, throughout much of the filming era in the Iverson Gorge, the entrance was covered up by the fake mine entrance. In other words, the area may have in fact been filmed, but because of the mine, it wasn't recognizable. In some form, the mine entrance was in place for a couple of decades, if not longer. I've spotted it as far back as the early 1940s, and more recently I found it in a 1960 episode of the TV show "Laramie," as seen above.
The mine entrance appears to have gone through some remodeling over the years, and it's possible the whole thing was torn down and rebuilt a time or two. The "doorway" in particular looks different in various productions. The "Laramie" shots are from the episode "Saddle and Spur," which premiered March 29, 1960, on NBC.
One cool thing about the "Laramie" episode is that it includes this wider shot, which really nails down the location of the mine. Tornado's Mine was a close neighbor of Lone Ranger Rock, which can be seen near the bottom left corner of the frame.
Split Roof by clicking here. This may be the first time I've mentioned Bust of Kennedy, which I tend not to talk about out of respect for the former president. But from certain angles, the rock formation really does look like JFK — to me, at least.
"Have Gun — Will Travel" (1958)
Tornado's Mine also appears in an episode of "Have Gun — Will Travel" titled "A Snare for Murder," above. The episode aired during season two of the CBS Western, premiering Nov. 22, 1958 — five years, to the day, before the JFK assassination ... coincidence?
"Triple Justice" (1940)
Here's another view of the Tornado's Mine Rocks, from the RKO B-Western "Triple Justice," starring George O'Brien and Virginia Vale. The mine itself is not visible here, but Nyoka Cliff can be seen in the background.
Tornado's Mine: The site as it appears today
Here's a view of the site of Tornado's Mine on a recent visit to the location, and this is where I think it gets really interesting. We don't have to guess where the mine entrance was positioned, because remnants of it remain at the site — still attached to the rocks.
Piece of the mine entrance — still in position and still upright
It seems that whoever's job it was to demolish the set had the foresight — or more likely, was just lazy enough — to leave behind a few scraps so historians could come along decades later and rediscover it. Thank you!