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Earl Dorr and the Hidden Underground River of Gold

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Earl Dorr and the Hidden Underground River of Gold

An enormous subterranean treasure.

There it is.

You climb down a rock wall, your lamp the only light in a gigantic canyon covered by millions of tons of rock.

Finally reaching the bottom, you take a breath, dip your hand in the river near your feet, and then hold it up to view gold and black sand dripping between your fingers.

You shout to the world far above that you are the one who has found your way into this hidden world and rediscovered its lost riches.

That is the picture that, since the 1930s, has led people, companies, and corporations to invest great amounts of time, effort, and money- and some unfortunate souls, even their last cent and last breath – so far, without success.

According to legend, this unusual world lies behind the rubble left behind by a dynamite blast about 250 miles from Los Angeles.

Immense underground canyons plunge into the earth, split by subterranean rivers with rock shelves sifting out rich deposits of gold some believe to have been left under a mountain in the Mojave Desert named Kokoweef.

Earl Dorr

Earl Dorr is the one man around whom this story orbits.

It was his hand that found its way into and out of the mountain and lit the fuse that hid the treasure.

To me, he’s Uncle Earl. He’s really my great uncle, but everyone in the family calls him Uncle Earl.

The rest of the world knows him as Earl Dorr: the man behind the legend – an extraordinary story of gold discovery and loss.

The first thing you might notice is that I wrote “underground canyons”, not caverns. That’s how Earl’s nephew Ray Dorr, the only living writer on the subject who actually met and knew Earl, always describes the place.

Earl described walking through the large halls for days.

According to the legend, this underground world is enormous: miles in length, a half mile deep, 300 feet wide, and it even features a 500 foot long stalactite in one section.

A river with black sands, rich with gold on its edges, rises and falls like it’s breathing.


The Formation of Kokoweef

Earl’s drawing and his story show that the canyon walls are basement rock.

According to Ray, in one geologist’s report, at one time the Kokoweef area was a flat ocean bottom. Then, a mass of basement rock pushed up a big chunk of ocean bottom rock. Together, they form Kokoweef.

One-half is nearly solid basement rock, the other half is ocean bottom full of caverns. The ocean bottom is tilted up on edge so that the caverns that were once horizontal now plunge deeply vertical.

There has been speculation about the formation of the site, just how much gold might be there, how a person might get ahold of those riches, and much more.

In fact, the decades of interest in this story have generated a lot of reporting and conjecture available in many websites, magazines, and television programs.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

earl drawing

The Basic Story

For those readers who are unfamiliar with this treasure tale, here is the basic story.

Earl P. Dorr was shown a fairly large opening in Kokoweef Mountain, sometimes called Dorr Peak, by several local Native Americans.

He worked his way down into a vast network of large spaces underground. He then returned to the surface, headed to town, and persuaded a mining engineer named Morton to go back underground with him.

They spent several days wandering in great subterranean halls and witnessing a river, with a water level that rose and fell, and contained rich deposits of gold in black sand.

However, the mining engineer became ill, and Earl had to haul him out of the earth. Luckily, Earl was a very strong man and was able to get Morton out.

The Destruction of the Opening

Having just left the opening with the engineer, Earl noticed two other men in the area.

At this point, the basic story divides into two versions found throughout treasure discussions. In the more sensational one, the two men entered the opening and Earl dynamited it behind them, sealing his own secret along with their doom.

In the other version that receives far less attention, because it’s not as electrifying, Earl still dynamited the opening to keep the treasure for himself, but didn’t kill anyone in the process.

These two stories merge again at the end.

Earl managed to get Morton to town; however, Morton eventually died. Gold samples that they had brought back were assayed at $2,415 per yard: a mighty hefty sum.

The story wraps up with Earl spending the rest of his life trying to get back into these great treasure halls and, perhaps ironically, dying from injuries resulting from a dynamite blast.

In the end, Earl left a sealed entrance, a sworn statement from 1934 that was published in the California Mining Journal in 1940 and, inside the mountain, the letters “D-O-R-R” scorched with his miner’s lamp on a cave wall.

earl dorr

Much Attention Paid to This Story

Many people from around the world have studied, and continue studying, this tale.

Ray Dorr’s September 1967 Argosy article “Hollow Mountain Filled with Gold” seems to be the main point of reference for most of the current interest in Earl’s story.

Information and diagrams from this article are used in many of the articles on the subject and are sometimes cited, sometimes not.

A tremendous amount of writing, digging, presenting, discussion, and even some filming by a variety of people has followed. Only a very few of these include:

River of Gold or Touch of Fever?” September 11, 2006 Los Angeles Times by staff reporter Ashley Powers.

Sworn Statement of E.P. Dorr at

“The Search for America’s Great Treasures” video with Phillip Michael Thomas

I won’t take up space listing them all, but a quick Google search will reveal many, many more. The writers, filmmakers, and commenters range from treasure hunters, prospectors, miners, scientists, and spelunkers to government or space-alien conspiracy theorists.

Over the years, searchers from individuals unfortunately sinking their last dime into the ground to a major company dropping a small fortune into drilling the earth have sought fortune or fame from this legend.

Many Different Ideas

Treasure stories are notorious for creating misinformation. The same is true for this one.

There is good information available and, like any topic, many different ideas and “facts” are available as well. The mystery of the unknown and the potentially lucrative nature of treasure tales seem to multiply this effect.

This can twist even the simplest of information.

For example, some Kokoweef fans were insisting his nephew, Ray, had passed away without realizing that it was the unfortunate death of another man in a different state who had the same name.

Like all tales of hidden wealth, it takes a lot of effort to isolate the truth.

As for me, I won’t tell you that I can give you all of the answers to the Uncle Earl’s tale, but I can add a bit to the pile for your consideration.

And, If All of That Hasn’t Grabbed Your Interest…

Add to the story a former member of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, and friend of Earl’s who had a falling out in their friendship, but still believed Earl’s story.

There is also speculation by others about all of the water from the area draining through these underground spaces to eventually pour into the ocean, such as in the Sea of Cortez.

There is also the claim that Clive Cussler purportedly references the basic story (with changes) in his novel Inca Gold. And, if you figure the supposed $2,415 per yard in 1934 to even a dollar value of $16.60 in 2011, that equates to $40,089 a yard: a very, very lucrative treasure if truly there ever were.

Kind of interesting.

At least, it’s a good tale to eat up some hours on a nice evening by the fire. I bet you wouldn’t mind my bending your ear a little more about this particular story… maybe with something that you haven’t come across before?

In Two Weeks: What You Don’t Know About Earl Dorr and His Treasure

© Mark Dorr, All Rights Reserved
Photo references:
–> via Willard Dorr
–> Ray Dorr
–> BrassTackThinking

Information references:
–> Ray Dorr

Originally published on

  • Richard Turner

    Earl Dorr? A pun on El Dorado?

  • Richard,

    Regarding Earl being a pun on El Dorado…

    If you mean the the lost city of gold that the conquistadores and Sir Walter Raleigh searched for in many places in South America-nope.

    If you just mean that his name sounds kind of like El Dorado, I suppose Earl would have had a good grin at that one. No, that really was his name.

    Thanks for writing in.

  • neotoma

    By now, I assume you know that the name ‘E.P.Dorr’  and a date that I seem to recall was in the 1930’s is smoked with a carbide lamp, on the wall of the ‘Broken Rock Room’ in the Cave of the Winding Stair in the Providence Range some miles south of Kokoweef. I know because I saw it there in the 1960’s. As I recall, Dorr and Jack Mitchell were not unknown to each other. Whether they were drinking buddies or not, I can’t say. I was also around when Wallace and a family named Johnson (Johnston?) were busy blasting hell out of Crystal Cave on Kokoweef, trying to find their way into the key section of passage. It was also about the time that Emmet J. Culligan of water softener fame was tring to find his way into the caves, as well as attempting to jump extant claims in the area.

  • neotoma – this is excellent background/history regarding the area and efforts to get to the cavern. This is fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  • trimmer

    Fascinating story and I can’t wait to get my hands in that river of gold. Has anybody been able to get through to the lower chambers yet?

  • trimmer

    Fascinating story and I can’t wait to get my hands in that river of gold. Has anybody been able to get through to the lower chambers yet?

  • trimmer

    Fascinating story and I can’t wait to get my hands in that river of gold. Has anybody been able to get through to the lower chambers yet?

  • Hey Trimmer – from what we’ve heard, and from what Mark Dorr has mentioned about the story, it doesn’t appear that anyone has ever re-discovered the lower chambers that Earl told stories about.

  • Ryan,

    That’s correct. As far as anyone knows, the chamber is still waiting to be rediscovered.

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Top Secret Editors

Ryan is the founder of Top Secret Writers. He is an IT analyst, blogger, journalist, and a researcher for the truth behind strange stories.
Lori is TSW's editor. Freelance writer and editor for over 17 years, she loves to read and loves fringe science and conspiracy theory.

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Gabrielle is a journalist who finds strange stories the media misses, and enlightens readers about news they never knew existed.
Sally is TSW’s health/environmental expert. As a blogger/organic gardener, she’s investigates critical environmental issues.
Mark Dorr grew up the son of a treasure hunter. His experiences led to working internationally in some surprising situations!
Mark R. Whittington, from Houston, Texas, frequently writes on space, science, political commentary and political culture.

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