Monday, February 20, 2017

10 of 52 - Indian Hill

I'm on this archaeology kick lately and wanted to see if I could find the Indian Hill pictographs in Anza Borrego. I headed out on the 4x4 road on a beautiful day. Check out these desert mountains, guys! Everything is so green!!

After a relatively easy 4x4 trek with a couple of challenging parts, I arrived at the train tracks and the ruins of The Impossible Railroad's worker's quarters. The empty water tank made an ominous hum as the wind entered through the spigot hole and exited out the top.

I drove along the tracks and passed a good sized trestle before arriving at a hill that was not something I wanted to try by myself in my semi-stock 4runner. I need the exercise anyway, right? So I parked and headed out from here to walk along the tracks. 

See what I mean? Those holes were super deep and would get me stuck for sure. I later saw there was a way around but I'm glad I walked anyway.

I walked right down the center of the tracks, which is totally illegal but I figured I'd try my luck anyway. I wasn't going far, what are the chances someone would see me? No sooner than I had this thought did a helicopter fly by and circle back coming level with me on the tracks. I stopped and waved like a dork and then figured I should probably get off the private property in case they radioed back for ground assistance. 
I'm not sure who the helicopter belonged to, but if I had to guess I'd say border patrol as this area is frequently used by immigrants. There were several water barrels near the tracks as well, so maybe I tripped a sensor or something. No one ever showed up to check me out, that I saw anyway, but it was a weird experience none the less.

The trail diverted from the tracks and headed south down a large sandy wash. I didn't really know where I was going so I just maintained my cross country direction toward Indian Hill as it's labeled on the map.

Even though this is a preserve area and is closed to traffic, there were many fresh tire tracks in the sand. It's a bummer when people disregard closed areas because they are driving over things like this potsherd and further destroying them, even when they don't mean to. There were many interesting artifacts and bones in the dirt as I continued on my zig-zaggy route toward the boulder field surrounding Indian Hill 

I arrived to the general area I was shooting for, and since my brief research online about this hike told me that Indian Hill proper is not the true location of the pictographs, I started my exploration from the first rock I came upon.
I sort of followed my nose, and remembered from Blair Valley's interpretive guide on the mortero trail that the small patterned holes ground into the side of the rocks are a ceremonial thing, likely a puberty rite. I don't really know anything about this stuff, just what I find on the internet so I just follow my gut. Bear with me if I get some stuff wrong, I'm planning to take some archaeology and anthropology classes next semester.

The boulders were already telling stories through their rock shelters, caves and interesting geological formations.

Here are the holes I was telling you about, I'm not sure if some are natural or if it was all a Kumeyaay ceremonial thing but it sure vibes like history to me!

At last my suspicions are confirmed with the first mortero of the day, and a big one at that.

I poked my head inside every nook and cranny around Indian Hill looking for pictographs but did not see any.

I was followed most of the day by a ruby throated humming bird, which has been Josh's totem for a while. I am irritated with Josh right now, so when I would see her I would hollar at her "go home Josh!" But of course, she wouldn't, she would only persist. Here I stumbled upon a nest in the boulders, I'm sure it belongs to her. 

See her on top of the boulder? GO HOME JOSH!

I stopped for  break in the shade and noticed an interesting formation in the rocks. It looked too much like female anatomy to be completely natural so I snapped a picture. I found later that this is in fact a yoni, which is a fertility symbol commonly used by the Kumeyaay.

I followed the signs until I was climbing straight up the soft sand and boulder strewn face of Indian Hill. I made it to a shoulder off the summit before the boulders got large enough that I had to weigh the desire to summit against the likelihood that I would get myself cliffed out. I opted to descend just shy of the top down a steep saddle.

Once back on solid ground I looked for the next clue that would lead me to the pictographs. I walked into a rock grotto and saw a massive shit skidding down a big boulder. Yikes, I thought, someone needs more fiber and probably some water.

While the fresh shit was gross, it actually directed my attention to a boulder with another yoni on it and I started up that hill looking for more artifacts.

The higher I climbed the more I saw, which egged me onward in the direction of another set of boulders. These rocks also had morteros and an abundance of caves.

This cave has some soot markings from a fire....hmmm....I'm getting closer...on to the next bend...

Another set of yoni! This time a set of three over top of a cave that was only big enough to lay down inside of. Perhaps there was some hanky-panky going on here back in the day?

I headed toward a boulder that was substantially larger than my apartment and was elated to see it was a dwelling, and not a small one either. This shelter is massive!

I admired the soot lined ceiling and cooled off for a bit before heading out to continue exploring.

Shortly after leaving the shelter I heard some people talking in the distance. I looked over my shoulder and saw two men heading toward me. I turned and waved, and they waved back asking me if this was the "elusive Indian Hill." I told them I thought it was, but I hadn't found any pictographs yet just some petroglyphs and we decided to head in opposite directions to better our chances of finding anything.

Finally! Tucked up above me in the rocks I spotted my first pictograph. It is large, as you can see by my hand which I ever so carefully placed next to it for scale.

I stepped out of the semi-sheltered area and noticed more mortreros. I think I've hit the jackpot now!

Just a few feet over from the first set of drawings, I spotted it; the jackpot of all jackpots, The Blue Sun cave. 

I climbed up to it and knelt down in awe of the amount of drawings, their size and the amazing shape they were in. I took what I imagine is the same position as the artist, laying down on my back looking comfortably up at the array of images and felt super happy.
My foot in the air next to the largest one for scale. Perhaps this is a lizard?

This is my favorite of the bunch. It looks like bighorn sheep to me. What do you see?

Some of them are faded and I'm planning to download a program soon that will let me enhance my photos to see what they are.

This is the epitome of a happy place for me. I felt very blessed to be laying in that cave at that moment! I listened to the birds and the wind in the trees and tried to imagine I was the artist 1500 or so years ago.

My meditation was broken by the sounds of the hikers I had met earlier. I got up to make way for them to experience the awesomeness of the cave and shimmied over to another area. One of the gentlemen spotted me and asked if I had seen the other images, to which I said yes and pointed him in the direction of the Blue Sun Cave. He was thrilled and climbed up to the ledge. He stayed there for a bit and followed me into the other chambers of the cave where we chatted for a while about the area.

His name was Mark and his friend's name was Bill and they reminded me so much of my boss and friend Richard. I really enjoyed talking to them and secretly wanted to give them a hug but I resisted because, well, that would be weird. 

We parted ways with a smile and after a bit more exploring I set out across the desert back toward my truck. As I walked along the tracks a huge jack rabbit leaped from the bushes and scared the snot out of me but then posed for a picture so I forgave him. 

I'm not going to post a gps track on this one as its much more fun to hunt it out, and to hopefully protect the exact location from anyone who doesn't want to work for it. All in all I did about 6 miles of cross country awesomeness and had a really amazing day.


  1. This is incredible. Adding it to my list.

    1. I'm still on a high from it weeks later. What an amazing place!! Let me know when you go, I want to go with you!!

  2. This is so cool! What a fun hunt. Gotta say what you saw as a sheep I immediately saw as a lobster. Pretty sure those aren't running around the desert though...(maybe a scorpion? that's like a desert lobster, right?) Also, I love that you waved to the helicopter. :D

    1. They were nomadic and lived by the ocean most of the time so a lobster could totally be accurate! I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall of the helicopter, I can just imagine them radioing back, "its just some dorky hiker chick" as they changed course.

  3. I'm going to head out here maybe next weekend!it was fun to follow your hunt for the pictographs!