Pictograph located at 0.3 miles on `Ehmuu-Morteros Trail
Day Hikers can see the remains of a Kumeyaay settlement on a trail in nearby Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
The Kumeyaay are a native’s people who lived in the desert of what is now the California-Mexico border area. They enjoy a rich history that dates some 12,000 years in the region. By 1875, most were forced onto reservations.
The Kumeyaay were the Cahuilla native peoples’ southern neighbors, occupying the eastern end of what is now the Salton Sea. Their languages belong to the same family, strongly suggesting a common ancestry.
Though distant by road, the celebrated Anza-Borrego park is actually quite close to the Coachella Valley, sitting on the Santa Rosa Mountains’ south side. As the crow flies, the state park is as near to La Quinta as Beaumont is to Palm Springs. Both regions are in the Colorado Desert, a subdivision of the Sonoran Desert. The 0.6-mile round trip `Ehmuu-Morteros Trail is a little higher elevation than Morongo Valley at 2854 feet above sea level.
The mountains serve as an effective barrier to the Anza-Borrego, though, requiring a drive around them. The trip just from Interstate 10 in Indio is about an hour one-way.
To reach the trail, from Indio take Calif. Hwy. 86 south. Near the bottom tip of the Salton Sea, turn right/west onto Calif. Hwy. 78. Next, turn left/south onto the Great Southern Overland Stage Route, which on some maps is shown as Hwy. S2. Once past Shelter Valley, turn right/southeast onto Little Blair Valley Road. This is a dirt road with several cross-crossing roads; you’ll want an aerial map to ensure you don’t take the wrong turn. The trailhead is south of the junction with the Pictographs Trail dirt road.
Heading south from the dirt parking lot, the trail crosses a flat area between hills that the Kumeyaay lived in as recently as a century ago. The settlement here was seasonal.
Dark soil and scattered rocks in the trail’s opening section suggests this area is the remnant of an agave (`Ehmuu in Kumeyaay) roasting pit. Kumeyaay men used to dig deep pits, lining them with rocks and a layer of hot coals. They would then place agave heads, stalks and leaves on the bed of charcoal and cover them with sand. The recipe called for three days of roasting before the agave was dug up and consumed. Today, yucca and cholla cacti (ta`kwits) thriving in this charcoal-enriched soil.
Different types of plants and shrubs can be observed in this area that are not typically found in the lower desert. One example is the juniper tree. Other plants that thrive at higher desert elevations include pinyon pine, agave and yucca. These plants are significant food sources for the Kumeyaay people. Juniper berries, in particular, can be consumed either when ripe or dried and are often used to enhance the flavor of specific dishes.
About 0.15 miles in, watch the rocks for the presence of cupules, which are small grounded out holes. These holes can be found on both vertical and horizontal surfaces of the rock. The purpose of these cupules is unknown, and they could potentially have ritual significance. However, they remain a mystery in the field of archaeology. It is worth noting that cupules can be found in various locations worldwide.
Just beyond the cupules is a Kumeyaay “kitchen” – a food preparation area with distinct depressions in the rocks, varying in depth, size and shape, each serving a specific purpose. These rock stations were used by Kumeyaay women to pound, grind, dry, mix, and make cakes from the abundant wild foods collected in the vicinity.
At 0.3 miles is a pictograph. Utilizing various plants and minerals, the Kumeyaay who lived here created vibrant paintings using predominantly red and black colors. The black paint was derived from charcoal and oil extracted from roasted wild cucumber seeds, while red paint was commonly made from iron oxide. Paintbrushes were crafted from yucca and agave fibers, although fingers and sticks were also utilized for application. Despite numerous interpretations, the true meanings behind these rock art designs remain a mystery, known solely to the original artists.
The pictograph marks the turnaround point.
On the walk back, just before reaching the food preparation area is a short spur to the right. This leads to a rock shelter. The Kumeyaay people utilized natural rock shelters such as this for various purposes, including shelter, food storage, and sweathouses. These rock openings can be found on the hill above the trail. There are small basins or cupules on the floor of this particular shelter.
The entire route is open to the sun, so be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat, as well as bring plenty of water.
- 02 Mysterious cupules – holes ground into rock – can be found along the trail.: Rob Bignell
- Deeper holes were used for grinding and mixing in a food preparation area.: Rob Bignell
- The `Ehmuu-Morteros Trail crosses an area that the Kumeyaay seasonally settled.: Rob Bignell