Monument to a Lost Spelunker: Why Nutty Putty Cave Closed

In the vast landscape of Utah’s West Desert, there are countless expansive cave networks popular with spelunkers of all ages and expertise. Nutty Putty Cave is one such cave.

It is a labyrinth of tight, twisting tunnels that was a challenge for all who entered its walls. It was a popular location for adventure seekers until 2009 when the tragic story of John Edward Jones took place deep within the cave. 

The now-sealed entrance to the Nutty Putty Cave system. How Stuff Works.

The Allure of Nutty Putty Cave

Nutty Putty Cave is located near Utah Lake. It was long a popular spot for Boy Scout outings and college students exploring outdoor activities in their spare time.

It was famous for its intricate passages and narrow tunnels, challenging at times for even experienced spelunkers. It is so perilous that before 2009, there were four separate rescue missions into the cave.

In 2004 two Boy Scouts got trapped within just one week of each other. This would result in the cave being closed until early 2009. It was a danger to anyone who was not an expert, yet hundreds loved to roam its tunnels. 

A Thanksgiving Adventure

In November 2009, during the Thanksgiving holiday, John traveled to Utah during the holidays with his family to explore the caves. He had grown up making trips to the area and adventuring through the underground caverns.

He decided to visit Utah during his break from medical school to once again explore the caves. He said farewell to his pregnant wife and one-year-old daughter and departed on an adventure that, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, he would not return from. 

John Edward Jones and his wife

The Perilous Descent

At around 8 pm on November 24, John and some friends entered through the narrow hole that served as an entrance to the tunnel. As the group explored the cave’s narrow tunnels, John found himself in front of a particularly narrow passage that he believed was the famous section known as the Birth Canal.

It was called this because it was a very tight space you had to slide your body through and as you emerged. The image was similar to a baby being birthed.

John lowered himself head first into the confined space which was barely wide enough for an average-sized person, let alone John who was six feet tall and 200 lbs.

Despite his efforts to back himself out of the space, John became stuck upside down in the narrow passage. His body was wedged in a way that made extraction nearly impossible.

Each time he tried to breathe in to pull himself out, he slid further down. Breathing back out stuck him further until he was unable to be removed from the hole. 

Photo illustration showing the map of Nutty Putty cave. John Jones’ body is stuck in uncharted territory near Ed’s Push in the Nutty Putty cave.

Desperate Attempts to Rescue

John’s brother was the first to find him stuck. He found his way out of the cave as fast as possible, although John was stuck at the end of over 400 feet of tunnel.

By the time rescuers were able to reach him after midnight, he had already been stuck for three and a half hours. Emergency responders, cave experts, and volunteers gathered to orchestrate a complex and perilous rescue mission.

The lengthy depth into the tunnel, the nature of the clay that made up the caves, and the fact John was upside down all complicated the procedure for rescuing him. 

The teams set up an intricate pulley system designed to remove John from the hole, but as they went to tug him out, the system failed. Rescuers believe somewhere along the route of pulleys, one must have been pulled from the wall due to the structural integrity of the clay wall.

Once the system had failed there was no further hope for rescuing John. Remaining suspended upside down, he was putting a massive strain on his heart as it attempted to pump blood away from his brain. His life was on a timer.

With the pulley system broken, there was not enough time to construct another solution before John passed away, although they kept brainstorming new ideas. For nearly 28 hours rescuers did everything they could to save John’s life.

Sadly, he was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest just after midnight on November 25.

The Aftermath and Closure

In the wake of his death, authorities needed to determine the best course of action for recovering John’s body and keeping future spelunkers safe. After closely analyzing their options, they realized that it would be nearly impossible to recover the body.

In order to prevent a similar tragedy from ever occurring again, they decided to close the cave. Instead of putting up a gate, which people had broken through before, they decided to fully collapse the entrance to the cave and fill it with cement.

This would deny all access to the cave and make it John Edward Jones’ tomb. This was a difficult decision, as the cave was popular and they were abandoning a man’s body.

But, ultimately everyone recognized that it was necessary to prevent any further harm from befalling anyone in the cave.

Conclusion: A Tragic Chapter in Cave Exploration

The Nutty Putty Cave incident stands as a depressing chapter in the history of cave exploration and a reminder of the true dangers of spelunking.

John Edward Jones’s passion for adventure led him into the depths of an underground world that he did not fully understand. This was a decision that ultimately cost him his life.

The subsequent decision to seal the cave, while contentious, emphasized the need to prioritize safety and environmental conservation over personal desires. As the sealed entrance to Nutty Putty Cave serves as a permanent memorial to John Edward Jones, it also serves as a reminder to those who venture into the unknown.


Abel. “Edward Jones: The Harrowing Tale of the Nutty Putty Cave Tragedy.” Medium, October 21, 2023.

Whitehurst, Lindsay. “Nutty Putty: ‘We’re going to get you out’.” The Salt Lake Tribune, August 20, 2019.

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