Monday, August 18, 2014

Morteros Trail Village Site - Anza Borrego Desert State Park

This post relates to an ancient Indian habitation site, in the Little Blair Valley area of ABDSP.  For more than a thousand years, the Kumeyaay (ku-may-eye) Indians used this spot on a seasonal basis. Each year, as the weather turned cold, they would migrate down from their summer villages, in the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains. The park openly admits to the existence of this place, but it is infrequently visited because of it's location. We were in the Little Blair Valley all day and didn't see a single person (besides each other). Of course, it was 106-F there today. 

Another day, another road in the middle of nowhere. Actually this road was in pretty good shape, but there were areas of deep sand. It would be very easy to get stuck here.

The hike up the trail on the left was a short one, but well worth the time. 

Very rough country. 

It doesn't take long before you start seeing evidence of a former village.  The right side of the large stone in front, has four mortars on it and the left side of the has many cupules. They may look like small mortars, but they are actually considered the earliest form of Rock Art.

A closer look at the rock. Note the cupules in the upper left part of the photo.

There are also several cupules on the vertical surface of this large rock.

A little further up the trail was this large boulder.

Next to the large boulder is this large rock with many cupules on it. If you look at it from the right angle, it looks like a huge fish (maybe a grouper). The largest cupule looks like the fish's eye.

On the back side of the boulder there are some pictographs.  

Enhanced a bit with DStretch. If you look in the upper right hand corner, you can see that there were two black symbols. The one on the left, is all but invisible now (see previous photo).

This boulder is about thirty feet tall. You can see that the two pieces were attached at one time.

On the other side of the boulder, there are morteros (mortars) on an adjacent rock.

Another mortero. I was also excited about the ice cold water in the jug my wife was carrying.

And another

And so on...

Sorry, I never get tired of them. EVERY time I see a mortar, or any other type of grinding or milling stone. I see (in my mind's eye) female members of the tribe, preparing food. They are also probably making small talk about the events of the day. 

Once past the village site, the trail deteriorates into no trail at all.

The trail is on the right side. Next to the trail is Cholla Cactus. Cholla Cactus is also called "jumping cactus." Cholla Cactus is NOT your friend.

Near the end of the canyon stands this large boulder. 

Once closer to the boulder, a dark black pictograph is visible.

Here is a close up of the symbols. I couldn't find any information on them, but I know that black is the "male" color and the top and bottom symbols appear to be anthropomorphic males. I could be mistaken, but I believe human anatomy was one of the few classes I passed.

On our way back down the trail, there is a rock shelter. There are a few cupules inside, but not much else.

The desert is usually a quite and peaceful place. Not so much, on this trip. This little beauty is a Cicada. I'm sure some of you know much more about them than I do. All I know, is they don't live very long, only show up every once in a while and are VERY loud.

I took this photo once we got back to the trail head. We were camped on top of the most distant mountain, just to the left of the tall Agave stalk. The Indians roasted and ate the agave. More on that subject in a future post. 



  1. We get lots of cicadas here.
    That last marking is still very distinct.
    I never knew to look for those things when I lived in Arizona. Wish I could go back and look now. Although 106 degrees is a bit hot. At least it's a dry heat...

  2. Fantastic places. Its amazing how can people live in those rough conditions. Greetings.

  3. Stunning images again Pat, it may be wilderness but through your lens it's fabulous wilderness and I do appreciate why you enjoy exploring.. We do have Cicadas here and I can confirm they are indeed noisy :)

  4. 106F, remote and rough. i can certainly see why you didn't see anyone else that day!

  5. I don't know how you withstand all the heat and hiking! Glad I can enjoy your photos from my computer in the AC.

  6. Those are sure amazing Pat and so darn big!

  7. Awesome captures as always, Pat!! What a fascinating place! You surely do find the great ones and I'm so glad you share them with us!! It does indeed look hot!! Have a wonderful week!!

  8. Wow---what great photos. BUT--how in the world can you hike in 106 degree weather???? I would DIE.. BUT--since you don't have the humidity we have, maybe it's not too bad....??????

    I would love to hike places where not many people have been --and where there is so much history... I would just stand there and think about the past generations who lived there... Wow--what an opportunity.

    P.S. I had to look up Cupules in the dictionary. Interesting!

  9. I always wanted to go out there after a good rain year when the flowers were all abloom, but never got to. I doubt I'll ever get to see this place because I don't drive long distances anymore so I won't be heading out that way.

  10. It's such a stark, beautiful terrain. Even not being familiar with the fahrenheit scale, I know that's hot.

  11. Alex J. Cavanaugh - There are tons of ancient places in Arizona. The desert is a dry heat, but then again, so is an oven.

    Japy - Thanks Japy! They not only lived there, they thrived.

    PerthDailyPhoto - Thanks Grace! I appreciate the nice words.

    TexWisGirl - Mad dogs and Englishmen. Right?

    Ms. A - Hey there! Nice to see your comment. I stand it by drinking lots of water, keeping my head shaded and taking my time. I'm glad you are enjoying them.

  12. Brian - Thanks so much Brian.

    Sylvia K - Thanks Sylvia! It is a fascinating place and sharing it, is my pleasure.

    Betsy Adams - Thanks Betsy! Starting early in the morning is one way to beat the heat. Thinking about the past in those places is something I also do. Thanks again!

    Kay - Anza Borrego does have some awesome explosions of wild flowers, but you have some that are a lot closer to where you live. I don't ever plan to stop going to the deserts, so I'll keep posting photos for you.

    William Kendall - Stark and beautiful is a perfect description William. Yep, it is hot. If you don't have your wits about you, it can be deadly hot.

  13. What an amazing place, such history if you know what to look for. I also love the desert's barren beauty.

  14. We just returned from hiking some similar terrain in West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. I remembered what I had learned here and it added so much more to our experience!

  15. This looks like amazing territory.

    I'd love to go there, too!


    BTW, my husband thought that picture contest you won was amazing.

    I don't know if I'll see anything like this when I go to Ireland, but I bet we'll find some amazing ancient stone edifices!

  16. The last pictograph is very special and the shot with your wife really puts the size of that boulder in perspective. All those morteros make me wonder about tribal life so long ago, it must have been very difficult, but they managed to survive and flourish. I think it's very cool you do these expeditions and photograph these important images.

  17. Al - It is amazing! I also love the coast and mountains, but for some reason I'm drawn to desert.

    Shelly - Thanks Shelly! I'm glad to hear that you are back and I'll be over directly. Those states also have an amazing amount of cultural treasures.

    Jenny - It is amazing and not too far from Arizona! Tell your husband thanks for me. Oh yeah, your trip to Ireland will be amazing. So much to see.

    Wayne (Woody), whatever - Thanks so much Wayne. I guess if it's all you know, it wasn't thought of as difficult. One thing for sure, they were much hardier than we are today.

  18. What fabulous scenery!

  19. Besides being extremely hot, the desert has a lot to offer visually. Nice shots Pat.

  20. The water your wife was carrying looked good to me too, especially after seeing all of these pictures. That bird is pretty interesting, I've never even heard of it. It's a pretty thing. I love all of your pictures and that amazing things you always seem to find.

  21. Yes, I love this beautiful lonely spectacular place! Wonderful photos!

  22. Pat, amazing photos and landscape.. The boulders, cupules and the pictographs are all cool sights. I am not sure if I could stand the heat. Awesome photos, thanks for sharing your hike!

  23. You always discover and explore such wonderful places. The cupules are fascinating to see.

  24. I'm not surprised you and your wife were the only ones there at 106°F. I guess you don't mind the heat when your having fun exploring.

  25. Thank you for stopping by my blog and for your kind comments. Thought I'd stop over and check out yours! I like your photography a lot. Believe I'll sign on to follow you as well!

  26. Someday I expect to spot the ghost of Edward Abbey in one of these photos.

  27. These rocks formed such fascinating shapes. I see turtle heads, dinosaurs, a fun kiddie these. Thanks for more fun photos, Pat. You're a wonderful tour guide.

  28. Fascinating! I've done a few hikes in the summer heat in ABDSP and it's no joke. In fact, I will only go when temps are more moderate. You're making me pray for winter. Yes, the chollas are mean, but they do catch the light so beautifully and are very photogenic. And like you, I always imagine native populations living in these sites. Great post!

  29. I'd turn into a dry fig under such heat!

  30. Great pictures, as always. I may have to turn on the heat in the house today, it's 38f outside.

    I just replied to your comment on my weed post.

  31. ladyfi - I concur! It is so beautiful.

    Pam - It does get pretty hot. Summer is really the only brutal time. Thanks Pam.

    Baby Sister - Thanks Amanda! That bird is a big insect! Oh yeah, the water was nice and cold. It really hits the spot.

    Leovi - Thanks so much Leovi! I love it also.

    eileeninmd - Thanks! Up to a certain point, I can pretty much ignore the heat. If it's not humid, that is...

    Icy BC - I do my best. There is plenty here to explore. Thanks so much!

    EG CameraGirl - Sometimes I mind it and sometimes I don't. Truly, the more water I drink before and during makes the difference.

  32. Montanagirl - It was my pleasure and thanks to you for the nice words and for signing on.

    Geezers - Now that would be a sight. I'd like to talk to him. I recently ran across a couple of his books in my garage.

    Rawknrobyn - They sure do make some great shapes. I should do a "best of rock shapes" post. Thanks so much Robyn.

    Stickup Artist - You are right about it being no joke. It can be deadly there and often is. Cholla are photogenic, just don't get too close when you tell them that. Thanks!

    DEZMOND - HA! I know just what you mean.

    Should Fish More - Thanks so much! 38 degrees already? Wow! Isn't it a bit early for that?

  33. Great post - as usual - I think I may need to juggle my "conference schedule" for the next 12 months to get to see some places like this!

    (Well, I can always hope!)

    Thanks for the multiple comments - and there is a wordy post on my other blog if you have 10 minutes to spare!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  34. Magnifique reportage ! superbes photos!

  35. Stewart M - I hope you do see some of them. The comments are my pleasure, I'm just sorry that I can't get on enough to keep up. I'm always playing catch-up. I'll check out your other blog.

    Cath HC Photographie - Thank you so much Cath! I appreciate it.

  36. I am listening to cicadas right now. And marveling at your desert adventures yet again.

  37. got 124 grand to play with? 249 acres will amaze you... Makes me want to play the lottery just so I can put some wild things on the land.

    go through the photos - you are in for a surprise

  38. Why do want to drink a lot of water after seeing your photos? Why are you driving me to drink (water)? Great shots. I want to go hiking now! Loved your observations about the milling stones/areas.

  39. What an adventure! 106F is too hot for me but I'd love to go there when it's cooler. I went to Borrego Springs right before I moved but unfortunately I didn't make it to this place. Nice shots!

  40. I get homesick every time I read one of these posts of yours, Pat! I really miss all the treks into the desert my hubby and I would make when we lived in AZ. It is such a pleasure to see the places you and your wife visit! And I thought we were the only ones nutty enough to go into the desert when it was over 100 degrees! Ha!

    Thanks for all the comments on my posts this past weekend. There's one I want to direct you to, though. You commented on the deer portrait on my photoblog. HERE is the story behind that image. You don't need to leave a comment - I just wanted you to see the story. :)


  41. We don't have deserts around here, but when I see these landscapes, stones and trails (not to mention the mortar holes!) I feel we ought to have had at least a tiny one :-)

  42. Sharon Wagner - I'm glad I'm not listening to them! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

    Pasadena Adjacent - Thanks for the link! I already sent for some more information. The surprise was AWESOME! I'd love to have that on my property. Its awesome!

    Bossy Betty - HA! Out there I drink water before, during and after! Thanks so much Betty!

    James - It is always an adventure, but much nicer when it's cooler. Did you eat at Carley's in BS? It is really good. Thanks James...

    ThirtySevenAndCounting - I'm sorry to do that to you. I believe that you miss the desert. We're going to go over to AZ pretty soon. A ton of things to see and do there.
    The multiple comments are my pleasure, I'm always playing catch-up and have to do it that way. I'm off to following the link you left. Thanks Lindy!

  43. Impressive pictogram! Those rocks are awesome, and you got fabulous images!

  44. Honest to god, I did leave a comment here, a week ago, at least. Can't remember what I said, but I do have a story about Anza cholla. Must have been more than a century ago when rain was fairly plentiful and ranchers ran cattle around here. Then everything dried up. The humans moved on and left the cattle behind. The cattle went mad from thirst and tried to get water by eating the cholla. The needles from the cholla sewed their lips together. A ranger told me that story.

  45. Cezar and Leia - Thanks so much! I appreciate it.

    altadenaiker - Wow! I haven't heard this story before. Sad, but still a great story. I wouldn't doubt that it's true.

  46. I'd be excited about the mortars and grindding stones too. What a beautiful place. Neat that you find all these petroglypsh.

  47. Not only are these places beautiful and full of interest, you are very brave to travel this remote and just the two of you.

    re. Stuck Foot Posts - yes. Do join in. It's very small and informal but those who have written Stuck Foot Posts so far have posted really interesting ones. (And I can't think of anyone who writes more interesting posts than you!) The box stays open until the 1st.

  48. I really love every picture. And enjoy reading about what you saw in your mind's eye (with the mortars). I've had the same kind of thoughts, but you said 'em better!

    Isn't it amazing to find these kind of places where you are the only people there.! Pure magic.

    I don't know about chollas not being your friend ... they certainly stick with you through thick and thin ... and forever!!! Ow. I'm hurting here, just thinking about that.

  49. M Pax - To see these things, really makes my day. If we didn't have a bunch of kids and grand kids, I'd press my wife to move out to the desert. At least during the cooler months.

    Lucy Corrander - Thanks Lucy! Other than the drug smugglers (up from Mexico), poisonous creatures, mountain lions, dangerous, sharp thorned plants, incredible isolation and deadly heat, there isn't much to worry about here.

    I haven't had a chance yet, but I'm going to start looking for some "stuck foot" photos. Thanks Lucy!

    Sallie (FullTime-Life) - Thanks so much! I REALLY appreciate what you said. Oh yeah, the isolation of these places is part of the magic. HA! You are right about the Chollas "sticking with you through thick and thin..."

  50. Enjoyed the Boot Camp Stuff,
    in fact enjoyed everything.

  51. Trexor - Thanks for reading some of the old posts and for the nice words. I appreciate it!

  52. 106, but it is dry heat. I always enjoy your photos

  53. You always take me to another, almost alien, place Pat. Thank you.

  54. Fantastic photos Pat! You convey so much about a place through your photography.
    106! Unbelievable!
    I can just picture a family gathered around, so long ago...
    Nice close up of the cicada! I hate bugs in any form, but I gotta admit they are fascinating...from a distance!

  55. sage - Thank you sir! I guess an oven is also dry

    Chrissy Brand - Thanks Chrissy! It is my pleasure.

    Eva Prokop - Thanks Eva! I appreciate the nice words. I also picture the people who lived in these places.

  56. I have read your blog & it was really informative & helpful for us. thanks.

  57. I wouldn't get tired of seeing the mortars and cuppulas either. I be there gleefully tracking them down. I love it when history comes alive and I'm transported to another era.

    I have to admit that it makes me a little sad and angry too to think about why those people aren't there anymore. I went to an extinction exhibition at the NHM last year and there were several classes of animals that became extinct either because humans hunted them for good or they hunted down their sources of food. It reminds me that sometimes extinction is natural and sometimes it isn't.

  58. Mandy Southgate - That is exactly what I love about these places. I couldn't have described it better. You are right about extinction, in this case, it was calculated, criminal and shameful.

  59. How cool. What neat place to photograph.

  60. How cool. What neat place to photograph.


This blog is word verification free.
I love your comments and will do my best to respond to each and every one.