So, I found the Spoke Wheel Rock Alignment that is on the California list of historic places in Imperial County. Needless to say, it kind of blew my mind and a couple of days and a long journal entry later I still don't know what to make of it. Out of respect for this place and the Tribes who call it home, I feel I should give a disclaimer: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. I am not educated in archaeology at all, nor am I Native American. I'm just an outdoor nerd with a lot of time to google and think about stuff. These are my personal observations, thoughts, feelings and experiences. I have included limited photography of the site so as not to give too much location information. So here we go:
I was completely alone on a windy day and found myself thinking very clear and big thoughts, which is unusual for me. My brain is usually highly self-centered and focused on telling me I suck, so I actually took notice that something was different. I was thinking about society and modern man, about our habits and preferences and how they imitate nature and indigenous practices. For example, and bear with me here, landscaping. Earlier in the week I was driving around San Diego and saw a landscaping company creating a sustainable "scene" on a corner business's front lot. They were meticulously installing boulders, drought tolerant plants and pouring sand into rock-lined risers. When they were all done it looked like a photo I could have taken in the remote reaches of Anza Borrego. I felt disjointed looking at it, torn on whether or not I liked it. As I moved about the city I started to see pieces of the desert everywhere: Graffiti that looked like pictographs, a consignment shop filled with hand made pottery, a gym crowded with people doing things we used to do outside. As I recalled the memory while hiking toward the Spoke Wheel it made me feel sad for us. I thought about all of us sitting in cubicles and shut into cars, focused on progress, money and "the future". All of us taking the long way around to a time that made sense; trying to go back, but pretending it is forward. My heart ached at the realization that it's not just me, we all want to go home but we have no idea where that is. We are led by these instinctual preferences that we no longer know the origins of and we spend money to recreate natural places in unnatural environments. We are on an endless search to find familiarity based on collective memories that whisper to us from deep inside our bones. I don't know what it would have been like to be Kumeyaay or Cahuilla before the Spanish's arrival, but I imagine they didn't sit inside their huts wishing a day of their life would hurry up and end so they would be one day closer to the weekend.
These types of thoughts moved in and out of my head while I focused on my feet and how they sunk in the sand, moving ever further into the desert.
When I arrived to the Alignment, I was surprised by its size, it was much larger than I thought it was going to be. My initial observations noted that the seven spokes are not uniform in size and they seem to mimic the landscape they face. For example, one of the wedges, for lack of a better word, is larger than the rest and points toward a large bajada of similar shape. The bajada it is potentially representing has an abundance of Native American history and I found that intriguing. I let my mind wander freely and at first the feeling I got was that this was a meeting place for several bands of Indians and the wedges accounted for the Bands in those respective areas. I imagined a representative from each Band standing in their corresponding wedge and the size of the wedge was determined by the size of the Band, meaning it was built larger to accommodate more representatives in charge of larger Bands. Then, I tried to get logical about it and found the spokes aligned with directions almost perfectly, like perhaps they were oriented with true north as opposed to magnetic north. It appeared there seemed to be an emphasis on centering large rocks or piles at the head of the spoke that centered between north and northeast. I also noticed many of the spokes lined up to canyon entrances in the distance which lead me to wonder if it was a map of sorts. Since the wheel was situated on the last high point before dropping down to the floor of a vast and open landscape, I wondered if this would help travelers maintain their heading when they lost their vantage point in an area that would not support an established trail. This theory held weight for me when I consulted my map and found the canyon openings the spokes pointed to are also locations of archaeological activity. There were quartz pieces incorporated into the spoke junctions which lead me to think that maybe this was a ceremonial site. Since it's mostly lava rock and granite in this area it appears someone brought the quartz pieces with them especially for this site. Needless to say, there is a lot of information in this geoglyph that fits into a variety of theories.
I have attempted to use my google-fu to learn as much as I can about the Wheel but there is not a lot of information to be found. I learned this area is still a ceremonial site to this day and that the building of wind farms near the Wheel's location desecrated tribal burial sites. From what I've read it seems that many of my initial feelings and observations may be in line with what the site was used for: a gathering of tribes, a ceremonial site and a travel corridor. This area is known as The Valley of the Dead to many tribes including the Kumeyaay, Cahuilla and Quechan, and some hypothesize that since this is an ancient burial ground, perhaps the Wheel was a portal to the afterlife. I read another article that contained environmental statistics for the wind project and it was said that this area is a vortex, not necessarily a hippy-dippy Sedona type vortex (although it may be that too), but rather, that the winds do not move in a uniform direction, they swirl around. This seems fitting for a place with such an intense legacy but not so fitting for a wind farm.
...Aaaaand cue the sarcastic rant portion of this post:
Why we allowed the BLM to approve some corporate bullshit on top of sacred land is beyond me. If we're going to do that to the Kumeyaay we might as well put up some windmills at Fort Rosecrans. I mean, those winds are much more stable and I'm sure my family won't mind it at all when they go visit my grandfather, right? The jet engine like roar of the windmills is totally fitting in a cemetery area and the way the turbines would mar the view of military ships heading out to sea would definitely improve our ability to explain my grandfather's story to younger generations. Of course, if my Gramps gets in the way of construction they could always just exhume him and mail him home to us. That way we can have a ceremony for him 60 years later and re-bury him in the yard. I know that's exactly what I want to do with a loved family member I've never met. What better way to honor his life and his stewardship of our country than to evict him from his final resting place in the name of progress.
|My sister in law introducing my unborn nephew to his great-grandfather at Fort Rosecrans. |
Looks like prime windmill real estate to me.
I know I sound crass but isn't it the same exact thing? Don't get me wrong, I'm 100% for green energy but I think in many instances it makes a hell of a lot more sense to require the installation of solar panels on the top of urban buildings, parking lots and residential homes than it does to build windmills that desecrate sacred sites, stress fragile environments and kill endangered species.
While looking for the location of the Spoke Wheel prior to my actual visit, I found some interesting circles that I wanted to check out. I continued hiking away from the wheel in the general direction of the circle sites and found I was on a well established trail. Seeing as I was way out of the range of the weekend warrior I felt like this may be a legit Indian trail. I scanned my surroundings as I hiked and came upon a few small circles, all oriented with quartz in very specific directions. I also found a few quartz pieces on the side of the trail that looked to have been flaked off as if maybe they were once used as tools. After inspecting them I was sure to return them exactly where I found them.
The trail grew more defined the further I went and I followed as it meandered through tall Ocotillo and lava rocks to the edge of a large cliff. There I found the circle I had seen from the satellite images. It was a huge clearing and what I think is the first sleeping circle I've ever found in the greater Anza Borrego area. The head of the circle was marked by a smaller rock ring and it was oriented almost exactly between east and northeast, the same direction as many of the smaller circles I'd encountered on this hike, and the head marker of the Spoke Wheel.
I was now a few miles away from my truck and had the urge to continue but decided against it when I realized my pants had finally given up. Since the hole was growing bigger with each step I decided to cut my exploration short to avoid hiking back in my underwear. After several cross country trips I am impressed that they lasted this long! I will return to continue hiking that Indian trail next week.
I varied my route on the way back to see if anything else would jump out at me and there were a few smaller collections of rocks that lined up with my compass. I also stumbled upon what I think is a kit fox foot perfectly severed and all by itself.
I noticed an empty water container wedged in a creosote bush which was probably left here by an immigrant. Judging by how brittle the plastic was I'd say it's been here for quite a while. I had a hard time taking it out as every time I'd touch it it would crumble in my hand.
Back at my truck I suddenly realized how hot it was and drank a bunch of water while trying to decide what to do next. I headed to a nearby bathroom to change my pants and look at my map for the next adventure. While sitting in the parking lot a border patrol agent pulled up next to me and made an awkward circle around my truck on his way to the bathroom. Upon his return he asked me if I was out hiking to which I said I was. He told me it was dangerous for me to be out there alone and I told him I was ok. I tried to keep it light and cordial with him but I am pretty gun shy around them now and get really annoyed when they ask me questions or try to scare me. It looked like he was going to chat me up until I left so I expedited the process and bid him farewell and headed to my next destination:
Ancient Lake Cahuilla Fish Traps
I had read a trip report about fish traps in the desert made by the Cahuilla Indians on the shore of what was once Ancient Lake Cahuilla. Since I was in the hot part of the day I decided to spend it driving toward the Coachella Valley in hopes it would be cooler by the time I arrived to the archaeological site. I drove down hwy 86 admiring fields of blossoming onions and passing trucks full to the brim with carrots before stopping at a truck stop and getting some lunch. I consulted my map again and headed out toward Jackson street along the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains that still show the waterline of Lake Cahuilla to this day.
I drove around for a while trying to figure out how to get to the site. I knew it was right there but it seemed to be surrounded by private property and no trespass signs at every access point. Finally I threw caution to the wind and climbed over a section of barbed wire fence that looked like it had been breached before. I figured if I was in the wrong the cops would show up or someone would come out and I'd be walking Spanish back to my truck. I was OK with either scenario. I continued up a sandy wash filled with spent shot gun shells and trash, tapping my poles diligently for snakes as I went. It was really hot and the bugs were fierce which made it difficult to stop and observe my surroundings.
I arrived to the edge of the boulder field that was once the shoreline and started my search for the petroglyphs I had read were in the area. I've never seen petroglyphs before, only pictographs, so I was excited to find them. Many of the boulders were covered in modern petroglyphs, aka graffiti, but under or near the new stuff were large and perfectly designed Cahuilla petroglyphs.
|Below the obvious graffiti is a carving of a snake or serpent in the granite.|
I continued north passed a fence marking the boundary of a large ranch doing my best to stay away from their property and up on the ridge. I was overjoyed when I stumbled upon a digitate anthropomorph carved into what looks like barnacles coating a granite boulder. These are the same type of anthropomophs found in Carrizo Gorge and I find them fascinating. While trying to get a good photo of the art I changed positions several times using caution not to stumble on the rocks and damage the glyphs. While monitoring my footing I noticed bird tracks in the sand and something in my head clicked. The bird tracks look like the digits on the anthropomorphs. All of a sudden my head filled with youtube videos I'd watched of modern Cahuilla and Kumeyaay tribes performing traditional bird songs. The bird songs tell of their creation story and I wondered if these drawings are related to the bird songs. Damn, I really wish I knew what I was talking about! I am really looking forward to taking some classes about this stuff!
While traversing the boulder field I smacked my leg on a rock and opened up the wound on my shin that I got from hiking the Solstice Cave. Blood poured down my leg and the bugs were all over it. I quickened my pace and rounded the bend toward some of the fish traps, where I locked eyes with a very large iguana. I snapped a few photos waiting for him to run away but to my surprise he didn't, instead he sat there looking at me smugly as I passed.
Just passed the iguana I found my first set of fish traps. A little backstory: Ancient Lake Cahuilla was located in the same area as the Salton Sea but it was much larger. Fed by the Sea of Cortez and the Colorado River it had variable tides that would rise and receded daily. These rock ring traps lay just at the high tide line and when the tide would rise, fish would swim toward the shore tending to their fishy business. When the tide receded the fish would find themselves stuck in the rock pools and the Cahuilla Indians would turn them into dinner. The fact that these traps are still here after so many years is a true testament to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of The People. Many of the traps have been destroyed by ranchers, but these remain and are a true marvel to behold.
I was losing the battle with the bugs so I retreated back to my truck. On the way I found more evidence of Ancient Lake Cahuilla, this time marked by seashells in the sand. This is another one of those places I'll have to return to for further exploration.
I took a slow drive back toward Anza Borrego against an epic head wind and managed to dodge a curious border patrol agent at the State Park boundary. I made my way toward the Mountain Palm Springs Campground and set up my home for the night. Even here the bugs were nuts and I thought about the poor PCT'ers with the Sierra mosquitoes. What a fun time they're going to have with that! I tried to read for a while but ended up passing out around 8pm. Through the night I was rocked by gentle winds, and my dreams were filled with Native scenes.