Thursday, April 20, 2017

21 of 52 - Cahuilla Rockhouse Dwellings

Josh played hooky from work and decided to accompany me up Rockhouse Canyon near Clark Valley to find shelters built by the Cahuilla Indians at the base of the Santa Rosa mountains. Driving out Rockhouse Canyon Road feels like it takes forever. The road is rutted and rocky and generally uncomfortable to drive. We bounced our way out as far as we could until the road turned to shit and that is where we parked in a turn out opting to hike the last couple of miles to the canyon entrance. The hike toward the mouth of the canyon was fun albeit warm, and we saw lots of cool flora and fauna.

Photo by Josh Breslow

The hiking was easy enough, up a recently flooded and subsequently concreted wash. We observed all sorts of animal prints immortalized in the mud. The most defined prints appeared to be those of a small cougar or a very large bobcat who uses this area frequently. With a spring nearby, and all of the nooks and crannies in the rocks and canyon tributaries we could see the appeal.

Photo By: Josh Breslow

A few miles into our hike we arrived to Hidden Spring which was buzzing with life having been recently recharged from our wet winter. This would be a great place to put a trailcam as the signs of animal life were as abundant as the humans scarce.

Near the spring Josh spotted some Coyote scat with an intact lizard in it. Fun Fact: Coyotes bodies will adapt to their surroundings and their digestion will respond to their nutritional needs. In lean times they will absorb more of the food they eat, while in times of plenty much of what they eat will come out the other end undigested. Coyotes bodies also respond to changes in their pack size. When the pack is threatened Beta couples will breed (as opposed to just the Alphas), female pups will go into estrus sooner and litter sizes will increase. Coyotes are really fascinating creatures and like most predators, will reach homeostasis with their environment if allowed to do so. If your city is using vector control methods on coyote populations they are actually exacerbating the issue, not helping it. As always, the best way to manage wild animal populations is to deny them access to food/trash and keep pets and livestock in secure locations. Here is more information on how to coexist with coyotes.

Now, back to the hike: It was a warm day and the tighter the walls of the canyon closed the hotter it became. We took breaks in shady spots as we found them and tried to fight the swarming gnats but eventually conceded and donned our head nets. While resting on a rock I spotted a glasses case on the ground and packed it out, wondering how long it had been there since there weren't any human footprints as far as we could see. The heat was taking a toll on me and I tried to replenish my fluids and strength but everything I ate and drank made me feel nauseous. I seem to always get nauseous while hiking though so I just shrugged it off and continued on.


We followed the canyon deeper and deeper and watched as the boulders became larger and more river like. The granite became slick and reminded us both of the lower Kern River. Soon we found ourselves at the base of a tall waterfall and followed a well worn animal path up the side of the rocky canyon walls to circumvent it.


At the top of the falls we found some relatively modern petroglyphs amidst a variety of interesting geology.


At last we neared the end of the canyon as the day rapidly waned. On our final bend before Rockhouse Valley we stumbled upon a tent sitting awkwardly in the middle of the trail. We announced ourselves but there was no answer and no footprints or recent signs of occupation. We briefly poked around and found a fire pit and a cardboard box for a water filter. The camp gave us both kind of  a creepy feeling so we didn't stick around too long.


I was pooped by the time we reached the shelters and snapped a few quick pictures before sitting down to try to eat. The hike was a lot longer than I had anticipated and we had already clocked a bit under 9 miles. The rock houses all have fireplaces and one had a bench but I'm not sure if it was original or just built by visitors. The Santa Rosa Mountains made a gorgeous backdrop and I could see the appeal of this location for the Cahuilla People. I really wished we had made this a backpacking trip though, so I could explore the area further without the rush to hike back before dark.





It was after 4pm when we left to hike back to the truck and we knew even if we rushed we were still going to hike out in the dark. The goal now was to get out of the narrow portion of the canyon before we lost all of our light. With only one way in and out we knew we'd meet animals head on if they were around, especially by the spring. My stomach was really upset now and I knew I just had to suck it up and haul ass because the meltdown was imminent. On our way passed the tent Josh peaked inside and saw an old emergency blanket and a bag of trail mix. It seemed kind of weird so we dropped a waypoint in our gps just in case.
Photo By: Josh Breslow

Not far into our return trip the physical meltdown began and everything looked warped, like a really shaky youtube video with a stabilizing filter on it. I eventually threw up what felt like everything I'd drank and ate over the course of the entire day and immediately felt better. I hoped I could ride the calm stomach all the way back to the truck but my relief was short lived. We started back down the wash and had our first crepuscular wildlife encounter when Josh almost stepped on a baby rattle snake. Look how tiny his rattle is!
Photo By: Josh Breslow

We made it to the spring just just as the day turned to twilight and Josh spotted a trekking pole up in the rocks. So, that means we found a glasses case, tent and supplies and now a trekking pole and no footprints or cars at the trailhead. Whats up with that?! I didn't have the brain power to devote to it at that moment but figured I'd let a ranger know, if I didn't die on the way to the truck.

We heard some rocks fall around the bend from the spring and that signaled us to boogie our way out of there, lest we meet that cougar.  My stomach hurt really bad and all my muscles were cramping up so I was pretty sure I was hyponutremic, meaning my electrolytes were off from drinking more than a gallon of water during the day and not eating enough salty food. I eat a diuretic type diet anyway which means I need to watch my electrolytes on the regular so it was stupid of me to not bring supplements for a long and hot desert hike, but hindsight is always 20/20.

We made it back to the truck around 8pm just as the moon was cresting Villager Peak and I had Josh drive us out. We had to stop for me to be sick several times and the entire body muscle cramps made me contemplate going to the hospital. I'll spare you the details but it was scary and no fun at all! Josh had always joked he wanted to hike me until I barfed, because I told him I do that from time to time being a fat girl, but I think he got more than what he bargained for on this trip! I managed to lay in the back and stabilize a bit with some 7up over the course of the drive home and lived to hike another day, vowing to always have electrolyte tabs in my pack. I look forward to doing this hike again as a backpacking trip or at least with a super duper early start on a cool day.
Photo By: Josh Breslow

All together we did about 17 miles! That mileage would qualify as a good day on the PCT! Even though I got sick I think it's safe to say I have my hiking legs back and that makes me super happy. 

No GPS track on this one, I don't like to show tracks to archaeological sites, no matter how remote or well known they may be but I'm sure you can use your google-fu to find it though. :-)



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