Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Forgotten Artist

Josh and I were hoping to get out before it got too hot but we ended up getting a late start and arrived to our destination around 9am. It was already super warm out but we started up the trail anyway to see how far we could get. The Shaman must have been ready to see us, as we had only gone a matter of feet before we stumbled upon signs of Kumeyaay life in the form of cupules and faded pictographs. Excited, we dropped packs in a large cave and began investigating.


With D-Stretch

It always blows my mind how huge and extensive the boulder fields are out here. When you spend so much time looking at maps and satellite images, it's hard to grasp the scale until you're actually here.

It seemed every rock had signs of ceremony drawn on its surface or etched into it. The colors and light inside of the caves was downright painterly and the vibe seemed light and joyful.

I found more of that weird green rock, this time a big hunk of it. I spoke with a geologist about it and she is pretty sure it is soapstone, which makes sense.  The Kumeyaay used soapstone in ceremony and this was most definitely a ceremonial space.

Morteros, grinding slicks and stone tools abounded in every nook and cranny of this area. Potsherds and other types of recognizable artifacts were scant however, and we determined this was likely due to the site being previously excavated and picked over by pothunters.

In a dry creek bed I found the remains of a bighorn sheep or small mule deer, it was hard to tell with what was left.

Before our trip, I had just finished reading "The Forgotten Artists" which has an interesting analysis of rock art in the greater Anza Borrego area. The last image I had looked at was of this lizard type pictograph, so I was over the moon to stumble upon it in a rock shelter on this trip!

We spent a good 3 hours or so poking around and my GPS says we did less than a mile of hiking. This is due to me dropping pack and exploring nearby areas, which shows you just how much stuff there was to see in such a small space.

The rocky mountain seemed to be tiered and each level showed different types of rock art. The lower levels contained all of the pictographs and the upper levels were abundant in petroglyphs, like this yoni and dozens of cupules.

On top of a large boulder were a series of deep score marks in the rock. These did not seem natural so we decided to try and climb up to check them out. My shoes have no tread left on them so I was unable to stick sufficiently to the granite boulder. I gave Josh a good push up the steep boulder face so he could check out the area.

Josh didn't see anything obvious when he entered the cave but the cuts in the rocks were interesting in and of themselves.

We headed deeper into the mountains even though it was about 90 degrees. The hills here are covered in a mineral called Mica. It's the consistency of cellophane and if you can get a slice thin enough it's crystal clear. Google tells me it's used in all sorts of applications like building materials, artists paint, cosmetics and electrical components, to name a few. I like it because it's sparkly and fun to peel apart.

Josh found the remains of some sort of egg inside a cave chamber. Any ideas?

Alas, it became too hot to continue and we retreated to the truck around noon.  

We made it to the truck just before we died of heat stroke, which was good, and did a bit of off-roading before heading up to the cooler temps of the local mountains.  We stopped at the visitor's center in Mount Laguna to use the restroom, as always, and I decided today was the day to do the half mile Kwaaymii trail. How many times have I parked at this trailhead but never took the 20 minutes to actually check it out?!

This old Indian trail climbs to a little butte in the middle of a summer home tract. At the top, the rocks began to change and several bedrock mortars, bowls and slicks came into view.

The area had a weird vibe that I can only describe as confused. I felt kind of lost looking at the terrain and wondered if it was residual energy from the loss of artifacts, being such an accessible trail.

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There was a good network of animal trails criss-crossing the hill. I started down one but having hiked up without poles decided to retreat when the grass occluded my ability to scan for snakes.

The hike down was filled with red rocks, tall grass and beaver tail cactus. Back at street level we passed by a tree marked with an intersting verson of caution tape. This 'killer tree' must be scheduled to be removed as a fall hazard, and the tape around it left modified lyrics to the Queen Song "Killer Queen" stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

She's a killer treeeeeeee
Gun powder - gelatine
Dynamite with a lazer beam
Guaranteed to blow your mind

We took the long way home and cruised around Cuyamaca for a while, Josh snapping photos of abundant mule deer and turkeys that I hope he'll post on his blog soon. 

It feels a bit like limbo right now with it being too hot to hike in the desert and feeling kind of limited in our local mountains. School starts soon so I am looking forward to riding out the hot bits of the summer with school, some bigger mountains and maybe a bit of snorkeling, if I can train myself to embrace the crowds. We'll see how it goes.

Here is the Caltopo of the Kwaaymii trail.


  1. Wish we all had even more respect for this kind of stuff where we didn't share photos on an internet blog.

  2. Btw. That's not soapstone, its meta-volcanic. I wish geologists took more pride in their work.

    1. Thanks for your comments and information, Anonymous. I wish we could discuss geology and archaeological ethics in a less passive aggressive way. I'm always looking to learn from people who are open to productive dialogue. Feel free to email me.