Sunday, May 28, 2017

Cosmic Steatite

 It's a lucky thing that Josh works for UCSD, as it gives me access to all sorts of library resources for archaeology. I have been looking for places to explore in the higher elevation areas of the Kumeyaay territory and stumbled upon a report about soapstone and its uses in Native culture. It discusses a small cluster of soapstone boulders that the Kumeyaay used to make a variety of sacred objects. After only reading a small excerpt of the report my curiosity was piqued and I set out from the trailhead to find this point of interest.

I listened to lizards and squirrels rustling in the bushes until the trail popped out of the dense brush into an open meadow. I just love the colors here. In the fall it's all golds and reds, and now in late spring it shimmers in shades of teal and green that inspire me to make quilts in the same color schemes.

After a series of trails and roads, I began to see small stands of what I thought may be soapstone. I consulted the survey and realized that Nature had done quite a bit of rearranging topographically since 1983 when the report was written. I think I located the site known as Gwendolyn but it was far too damaging to both myself and the brush to attempt to access it.

Eventually I came to a cluster of boulders on the actual trail and noticed some interesting pock marks and gouges. This triggered my Indian juju sensors and I started to poke around. I noticed I was on an actual shoulder of the mountain, as opposed to the forced crest the road had been constructed on. I peeked onto the uphill side where I saw a mortero on a large boulder. I realized I had arrived to the site named World's View which the report says was used by Shamans to make sacred tools and amulets.

The general synopsis I gathered about this area is that Shaman's would chunk out pieces of the soapstone to make ceremonial tools such as the bowls used to grind Datura also known as Toloache for male initiation ceremonies. The mortero in this rock is said to have been created in the process of extracting soapstone powder which was painted on the faces of young boys during their vision quest. Shamans would also construct warming stones, which are pretty much what they sound like; stones that could be heated up and placed on the skin to relieve pain, for example, between the legs of women in labor, or placed on her belly for relief from menstrual cramps. Soapstone was also used to make bow shaft straighteners and jewelry and it is speculated that items constructed out of soapstone were used in ceremony, as opposed to general everyday use.

Intermingled with the prehistoric markings on the boulders are modern day scars from artisans in their pursuit of soapstone for arts and crafts, as well as fallout from the construction of the road itself.

The report also spoke of a trail shrine consisting of two small boulders side by side that created a pocket which was filled with stones not indigenous to the area. It is a tradition in many Native American cultures to place stones in a pile on the side of trails as either an offering for a safe journey or as a sort of trail register showing who had passed through. I am not sure if I ever found the shrine, and if I did I wasn't sure what I was looking at, but I think it's worth mentioning for others to take care not to disturb natural features as you never know what is significant in the backcountry. There was quite a bit of erosion on the shoulder below World's View and since cross country travel is frowned upon in this area, I didn't want to get too crazy tromping around.

In the distance I could see a network of trails climbing the hills and I wondered if these used to be Indian trails going from the meadow dwelling site to a dwelling sites on the mesa. I'd really like to hike these trails to see where they go but I'll need to do more research to see if state regulations will allow it. I miss the desert and all its freedoms for cross country travel! C'mon fall and winter!

In my search for the trail shrine I wandered all the way down to the bottom of the canyon and thought about where I wanted to go next. A nice lady passed me with her horse and I realized I must have looked like a total weirdo staring off into the dense brush from the edge of the road, craning to see anything of interest and thinking about the topography. It was getting really hot under the afternoon sun so I decided to go back the way I'd come in the interest of preserving water. I was drinking much more than I anticipated and had already consumed about half a gallon.

I climbed back out of the valley slowly, my head pounding from the heat. I knew I was close to a water source so I sacrificed some of my water to wet my shirt and head in order to try and cool myself down. I was struggling a bit under the intense sun on the shadeless trail and tried to mentally embrace the elements and how I was feeling while hiking. When I finally arrived to the water source I sat in the shade and watched a deer graze while eating salty snacks and cameling up. I inspected my feet and found I'd gotten two new hotspots on the inside arch from the mud turned sand that I'd picked up in the morning while tromping through the creek. Everything made me feel an overwhelming sense of longing for the PCT, which I know sounds dumb, but man, I missed blisters and heat and feeling like shit and laying disheveled in public places. Isn't that weird?! Everything I hated on the trail I now long for. Who knew. I don't know if I'm going to make it to 2020 to go back.

I arrived to my truck in the early afternoon and headed to Josh's where we watched documentaries and ate pizza. 

The next day I thought I'd head to another Kumeyaay sacred space; 
Stonewall Peak.

 As I made my way across another overgrown trail, a red tailed hawk circled overhead. Every time she'd cry a gang of turkeys would respond with a cacophony of gobbles from the tall grass and it made me giggle. I love being able to experience those types of exchanges. I feel like they are the experiences that make life more than just an existence. In a digital world, it's nice to have some quality moments that require physical attendance to experience.

Some physical experiences I could do without though; it was so freakin' buggy I even had to wear my headnet for a while! I stopped to wipe the sweat from my face and was startled to see a rattlesnake slither passed my toes into the tall grass without so much as a tiny rattle. I was struggling again on this hike and feeling a little down so decided to call it a day at the trail junction to Little Stonewall, halfway up the backside of big Stonewall peak. I headed home to nurse my new blisters and do some more research for next weeks adventures.

While it may not have been the most exciting adventure, I still got in about ten miles and am happy.


  1. I'm really liking what I see on your blog.
    I'm very familiar with this site. I don't know which way you come from to enter the park. If it is through Julian, next time make a stop at the Julian Pioneer Museum. It's the old building on the right, about 100 yards before you turn right on main street. Anyway, there are several soapstone items that came from the Gwendolyn and/or World View sites! They are in a case towards the back of the main room of the museum. The museum had no idea where those pieces originally came from. I've had a blog post pretty much ready for about a year, but haven't gotten around to it yet. Sorry about the long comment!

    1. Hi Patt, I’m sorry for the delay. I just saw this comment. I will check out the pioneer museum, for sure! I look forward to reading your post about this place!

  2. No problem! I'm headed down that way next Monday for a couple of weeks. I think I'm going to do the Soapstone hike again before I post anything about it. I also never saw anything that looked like a trail shrine to me either. I'm hoping that I just missed it.