A Sacred Footpath

The Trail of the 57 Shrines

Jeff and I have been looking for this trail ever since Harlan told us about it when we first arrived at the Preserve in the fall of 2018. It’s not a marked trail on any of our maps. So, sorry, I will not share how to find this trail, but I will share the experience of walking along the over 500-year-old path of the Native Cahuilla Tribes whose lands we stole.

Harlan would explain to us how to find this trail, but we never did, that is until today when he hiked with us and showed us from a distance where we needed to descend and ascend to connect with a narrow footpath.

It is not obvious where to access this trail and even less obvious as to how to get there. (But, promise me! If you do, PLEASE be respectful. Stay on the trail and do not disturb any rocks or carry out a souvenir! Make this a memorable moment in your life and just take pictures.)

Once we stepped onto the narrow trail, I knew I was walking upon special ground and I felt connected to these indigenous people who learned how to survive and thrive in the desert heat and sand with a minimal supply of water.

As I respectfully moved forward, I so hoped that the sound waves from each step I took composed themselves into a song honoring the Native Cahuilla. You don’t know me and I don’t know you but I am your sister, your daughter, your student. You are my brothers and sisters, my parents, my teachers. (The only other time in my life that I felt this collective consciousness experience was when I landed in Africa and stepped off the plane. I was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. My first thought, that came out of nowhere was, “I am home.“)

Prehistoric Trails in the Colorado Desert

The indigenous people of southeastern California and western Arizona left a lasting legacy of their presence in the form of numerous trails crisscrossing the Colorado desert. Their more modern contemporaries also relied on these same footpaths to travel between permanent settlements for trade and warfare, to travel to seasonal base camps to collect stone and foraging resources, and to travel to temporary campsites along exploitation trails. These ancient Indian trails were also ritual routes leading to sacred sites.

Research conducted in 1987 and 1996 hypothesized that the repeated pounding of feet upon these trails pressed the rocks of the desert pavement into the soil or pushed them aside to reveal the lighter-colored subsoil. A 2003 study, however, suggested the prehistoric trails were deliberately cleared. (scahome.org)



Cleared circles of various sizes are often found along trail segments. In 1966 Malcolm Rogers referred to these clearings as sleeping circles, suggesting that they represented temporary camps. (scahome.org)


Rogers also suggested that the ruins of large circular rock cairns along these trails indicated their existence as shrines, “simple offerings, generally rock, presumably in the belief that they would prevent fatigue, sickness or injury while traveling.”

Andrew Pigniolo, Jackson Underwood, and James Cleland concluded in 1997 that “the religious and spiritual significance of trails, added to the well-recognized importance of desert trails for trade and travel, provides a portrait of trail patterns as an extremely significant heritage resource.” (scahome.org)

Trail Shrines

Rock cairns, circular mounds of stones, petroglyphs, tobacco pipes, broken pottery shards, and shell ornaments have been discovered along these interwoven trails.

our sacred journey

Desert pavement… a stony surface without sand or vegetation covering an expanse of the world’s drylands… (thoughtco.com)

Seeing its presence on a wide desert vista, dark with age, gives a hint of the delicate balance of slow, gentle forces that create desert pavement. It is a sign that the land has been undisturbed for thousands and thousands of years. (Ahem, another reason why staying on established trails is so important!)

You are quite right noticing the rock piles beside the trails…

And yes, some sleeping circles lie ahead (pun intended)…

Desert pavement, footpath, and sleeping circle…



A cactus “tale”… beavertail cactus, that is…

A barrel full of barrel cactus…

Back on the marked trails again… bird’s eye view of Thousand Palms Oasis and Thousand Palms Canyon Road.

And here’s a view of the trail and washes along Bee Mesa…

And this view of Mt. San Jacinto hovering over Palm Springs and the desert cities…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.