For years, Corral Canyon Cave has drawn hikers fond of the sweeping views of Malibu Creek State Park. And for years, most visitors respected the environment.
Now, Templeton finds the wilderness he watches over at the center of a surge in vandalism and graffiti, one so grave that the California Department of Parks and Recreation closed the cave to the public earlier this week.
Handling the graffiti used to be manageable, Templeton said. But once a rumor spread on social media that Jim Morrison wrote his music in the cave, the number of visitors spiked. People flocked to take pictures to post on Instagram and add their own touch to the landmark "Jim Morrison Cave." Tagging got out of control.
“It exploded over last summer and graffiti has been increasing ever since,” said California State Parks District Supt. Craig Sap. “People are posting pictures of the cave 30 or 40 times a day.”
Closed for an indefinite period, the cave will be blasted with walnut shells to remove the paint while preserving the rocks. The removal process will cost about $40,000, Sap said.
Adam McLean, who leads fellow hikers through this stretch of the park twice a week, said he supports the decision to close the cave for cleaning. Over the last year, he said, he noticed vandalism getting out of hand.
When Steve Woods first moved to Malibu decades ago, the cave was his secret space — a place where he could come enjoy the park in peace. Woods said he doesn't mind people who want to escape the city, but he's upset by those who desecrate the area. In 2007, a group gathered at the cave sparked a wildfire. About 50 homes were destroyed. His partially burned.
"Every week, we come up here and find more firewood," Woods said.
The recent spate of vandalism, said Templeton, is the most visible example of a tagging problem throughout the state park. Graffiti mars the boulders across from the cave, as well as the rocks that lead to the trail. Tagging and safety concerns led to the closure of the historic Rindge Dam in 2014.
"It's very frustrating for us," Templeton said.
Wednesday morning, as he and fellow ranger Dexter Crowder approached the area, they heard chatter from the cave overhead. A few visitors had made their way into the space and had brought canvas and an easel to paint.
Crowder hunched into the the narrow canal and climbed up to talk to the group. He ducked under the curved ceiling, looking for a spot to stand upright. The four visitors appeared confused and asked why they were being kicked out. Two pushed back that it was a public space they had the right to use.
"Nothing personal," Crowder said as he wrote up a citation. A scantily dressed model wrapped in white cloth reached for her pants.
Fifteen minutes later, the group slowly descended from the cave one at a time, gingerly passing their equipment through its cramped opening.
As they walked away, Templeton asked them to promise to spread the word that the cave is closed.
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