I'm trying to get the gazzilion extra pounds off that I put on over the last couple of years, so Josh and I are picking up the after work hikes again. We headed over to the north side of Mission Trails in search of some lesser visited Kumeyaay sites. We started out slowly on Father Junipero Serra road on balmy summer evening. We passed a Ranger led guided tour exploring the flora and fauna of Kumeyaay Lakes before turning down a concrete path that crossed over a stagnant San Diego River. The vibe in the overgrown river grotto felt like a bayou and gave me flashbacks of my recent visit to Tennessee.
We climbed out of the river gorge, passing large stands of blooming Datura and vines heavy with wild cucumber before topping out on a beautiful grass prairie. The atmosphere was thick and heavy as we followed the trail under pastel skies.
At the edge of the prairie was a generic brown trail sign pointing the way to an outcropping of bedrock boulders labeled as grinding rocks. Josh and I diverted from the trail, which was likely a fire road in the recent past, and meandered through the dry brush that filled our socks with stickers and seed pods. Once at the bedrock island, we found a beautiful set of oval morteros which I've learned are called Cuyamaca Ovals.
It seems these oval shaped moretros are primarily found in the Peninsular range and are most frequently located next to prairies and meadows. It is theorized that the type of seed or grass collected here required a back and forth motion to process, resulting in the oblong shape.
Josh and I surveyed the area for a while and chatted about how we take our natural landscapes at face value, thinking they are solely the work of environmental phenomenon. It's only after delving into archaeology that I've discovered that a lot of what we see on trail is not necessarily "natural", but rather, was selectively designed by our predecessors. It is likely that this particular grassland was cultivated, managed and maintained by the Kumeyaay over decades in order to resemble what it does today. I sat quietly for a time while Josh poked around in the brush, and ran my finger along the edge of a stone divot as smooth as silk. I scanned the horizon of this brittle field that'd gone to seed and thought to myself, this is actually a prehistoric garden.
The sun was rapidly retreating behind Fortuna ridge so I snapped out of my musing and followed Josh south to complete our grassland loop traverse.
We descended from the mesa via several steep stairs carved into the hillside and reinforced with wood 2x4's until the trail vanished into Oak Canyon Creek, a tributary of The San Diego River. After slogging through the soft sand of the dry creek bed we met with an overgrown trail that led to the western flank of Old Mission Dam.
After pushing passed low hanging sycamore branches and avoiding baby buffalo gourds under foot, we arrived to the dam. This rocky structure was dreamed up by the Spanish and constructed by the Kumeyaay in order to provide reliable water to the colonies and missions in the area.* Today, it seems it collects more visitor trash than water and Josh and I packed out an abundance of aluminum cans and debris.
Instead of walking across the dam we opted to go around and search for more signs of history in the wash. Just as we were about to cross over the river I noticed several layers of archaeology on the banks. Resting on top of each other in situ was a rusted, gunshot riddled vehicle quarter panel on top of a bedrock boulder speckled with shallow Cuyamaca Ovals. I admired this display in the ambient light of dusk and decided archaeology is not static. Whether we realize it or not, we do not passively observe it, we live it and add to it everyday. Or, I might just be overthinking things...It's advisable to bring a grain of salt on hikes with me these days.
The smell of raw sewage stung my nose as we walked single file over the flume toward an empty parking lot. I wasn't ready for the hike to be over and I meandered through the shoreline boulders looking for more points of interest until it became too dark to see. All in all, we put in a couple miles and successfully worked off some excess calories while giving our existential brains a workout in the process.
It was a great after-work hike.