Native Californian Trails

Morteros Trail
Morteros Trail
* Round-trip Distance: 0.4 mile.
* Location: High desert of seasonal Kumeyaay territory.
* Administration: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
* Map: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has recently hosted the excavation of several archaeological sites of early man. The people who lived in the region 10,000 years ago knew a greener Anza-Borrego Desert with wooded hills and lush valleys. The early people hunted now-extinct camels and mammoths. Later, the desert lands were divided between the Cahuilla in the north around present-day Borrego Valley, and the Kumeyaay in the south near Blair Valley. An ancient Native American trail between the Laguna Mountains and the desert passes through Blair Valley.

The Morteros Trail visits an ancient Kumeyaay village site. The Kumeyaay band in Blair Valley used this winter village while traveling to gather seasonal foods. The site can be identified by grinding holes left in boulders where mesquite pods, pine nuts, and chia seeds were ground into flour.

Exit Hwy. 78 at Rd. S2 in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (fee required) 12 miles east of Julian. Follow Rd. S2 about 6 miles southeast to Little Blair Valley Rd. Turn left and go about 3.8 miles to the parking area signed"Morteros Village."

On the Trail
Cooler than the lower desert, Blair Valley has a pinyon and juniper woodland above sandy washes and rocky outcrops. The trail climbs 0.2 mile from the trailhead to a village site that dates back at least 800 years. Bedrock mortars (morteros) and cupules (stones with smaller depressions that were used in rituals) lie along the trail behind a large boulder. Nearby, black-lined pictographs were painted during a boy's initiation ceremony. After exploring the grounds, retrace your steps to the parking area.

After dark, the village might have seemed belittled by the intensity of the stars in the desert night sky. Perhaps because of the optimal viewing conditions here, stars — each considered a spirit — figured often in Southern California rituals and songs. In Kumeyaay culture, too, the Pleiades were once girls, pursued here by Coyote, the nearby bright red star that we call Aldebaran. The Milky Way is regarded by many California cultures as a path of dead spirits. To the southern cultures, the Milky Way is Wanawut, who personifies the sacred chord of life, and is often associated with towish, "the spirit of the dead." Wanawut is sometimes depicted as a stick figure in pictographs from boys' initiation ceremonies.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 26 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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