Native Lands

Then and Now…


Archeologists have discovered evidence of human activity in what is now Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (ABDSP)as early as 6000 years ago. Very little is known about these native people except that they hunted with spears and stored their food underground in rock-lined storage units. Their technology did not yet include the bow and arrow or pottery.

When the first Spanish explorers entered this desert, over 200 years ago, the land was home to the Kumeyaay and Cahuilla people.

Archeologists speculate that the Kumeyaay, sometimes referred to as the Kamia or the Southern Digueno, moved from the Colorado River area, between 2000 and 1200 years ago, to the mountains and desert of what is now San Diego and Imperial Counties.

The Cahuilla are thought to have migrated out of the Great Basin 1500 to 1000 years ago to settle in what is now southern Riverside County across the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains to the Borrego Valley.

Although the Kumeyaay and Cahuilla spoke different languages and possessed different ancestry, they were both semi-nomadic peoples who adapted to the desert environment in similar ways, spending winter in the desert lowlands and moving to the higher mountains from late spring through fall.

Throughout ABDSP there are many examples of Native American technology left behind by the Kumeyaay and Cahuilla people. Upon flat-topped boulders and bedrock, you might see evidence of grinding surfaces where plant foods, such as mesquite beans, agave, pine nuts, and grass seeds, were processed. Rounded depressions in the rock are called morteros; basin-shaped indentations are called metates; smooth, flat, shiny surfaces are called slicks. ( courtesy of Rae Schwaderer, ABDSP Archeologist)

Where agave is growing you might see evidence of a roasting pit, an area of darkened soil approximately 13 feet in diameter, as agave was an important source of food. ( courtesy of Rae Schwaderer, ABDSP Archeologist)

And you might even see some Native American rock art in the form of pictographs and petroglyphs. Pictographs are painted or drawn on rock walls while petroglyphs are designs and symbols etched into the rock. Ethnographic science suggests that the shaman, or holy man of the community, may have produced most of the rock art in connection with puberty rites of passages, fertility ceremonies, and weather control.( courtesy of Rae Schwaderer, ABDSP Archeologist)


We circle our way back home to Thousand Palms Oasis through Cahuilla and Anza where descendants of our Native Ancestors live today. And then we wind our way down through the Santa Rosa Mountains where the Cahuilla used to live in the summer to escape the oppressive heat of the Colorado Desert.

So… we pick up 79 just before Warner Springs, a small community in northern San Diego County, named after Juan Jose Warner who received a Mexican land grant of almost 27,000 acres in 1844. Warner’s Ranch served as a way station for refugees on the Southern Emigrant Trail from 1849-1861; was the only trading post serving travelers between New Mexico and Los Angeles; and was a stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach line from 1857-1861.

Southern Emigrant Trail… courtesy of Giles Weaver and Tom Jonas

Butterfield Overland Mail Stagecoach Trail…

Today Warner Springs is a resort and recreational destination featuring a natural hot springs, 4 wineries/vineyards, fine dining, swimming pools, horseback riding, golf, tennis, sky sailing, and a private airport. (

Outside of the town of Aguanga we pick up SR 371 and head east, passing by several horse ranches before entering the Cahuilla Indian Reservation and Anza Valley.

Facilities in Cahuilla have addresses on Highway 371 and use Anza, CA (4 miles east) as their postal code. The Cahuilla Casino opened in 1996 and the Mountain Sky Travel Center, a convenience store and gas station opened in 2015. Both are owned by the Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians of the Cahuilla Reservation. Despite some delay from the coronavirus, a new casino and hotel replaced the original buildings and opened in May of 2020. (

The population of Anza, CA has more than doubled since 2010. Today almost 8,000 people live in this high desert valley nestled in the mountains between Los Angeles, Palm Desert (outside of Palm Springs), and San Diego.

The Cahuilla inhabited the Anza Valley more than 2,000 years ago. Spanish expeditions  brought the first Europeans to this valley as late as 1774. Explorer Juan Bautista de Anza first passed through here in March of 1774, and again in December of 1775. During the early 1800s European settlers included ranchers, miners, and honey producers. From the late 1860s on, Anza was largely settled by families seeking to build ranches under the Homestead Act.

The famous comedy entertainer, Red Skelton (1913-1997), owned a 600-acre ranch In the Anza Valley and lived here until his death. Who knew?  (

Established in 1893, the Ramona Band of Cahuilla is a federally-recognized Tribe situated in Anza, CA. Hugging the base of Thomas Mountain, the Reservation encompasses 560 acres of land that has been developed entirely off-grid. Solar arrays and battery systems, coupled with small-scale wind turbines, provide power to the Tribe’s residential homes and facility buildings. (

Please visit the Tribal website of the Ramona Band of Cahuilla, ramona-nsn.govand scroll down to HISTORY where you can view a 4 minute video from a native Cahuilla woman…  I love it!

I take some quick pics as we pass through Anza…

The Little Red School House of 1914 once painted red? I think so…

Before we know it, we reach 74, nicknamed the Palms to Pines Highway. It’s a scenic drive filled with glorious views and harrowing switchbacks descending from the pine trees into the palm trees of Palm Springs and the surrounding desert cities.

I recommend you take your time and enjoy the scenery. And make sure you stop and stretch your legs at Cahuilla Teewwenet Vista Point before descending into the Coachella Valley.

Cahuilla Teewwenet Vista Point

The rugged lands seen here and along these short trails were the traditional homeland of the Mountain Cahuilla. Their culture is intimately connected to this landscape, a place they have called home for millennia.

All of the information that I am sharing with you at this beautiful vista comes from the plaques along the trail and the incredible woman whose first-hand knowledge is the source of them all.

Katherine Siva Saubel (1920-2011) was a Cahuilla tribal member dedicating her life to preserving her heritage as author, lecturer, museum developer and co-founder of the Malki Museum Press, an academic outlet for current California Native American  research.

The Cahuilla learned to adapt on the desert floor in the heat and on tops of mountains in the cold. Within these environments they created a life that they appreciated and were thankful for, so much so that their culture became an extension of their environment.

“If you don’t have land you have nothing. And this land, to us, the Indian people, doesn’t just mean a piece of land. This is a sacred area. This was given to us by our Creator, to take care of it, to live here in harmony with it, and that’s why we were put here—to protect it.” (Katherine Siva Saubel, 1993)

“…if they went harvesting they never took it all. You didn’t exhaust the supply to the point where you stripped everything.” (Jay Modesto)

Natural Resources

Sugar Bush ( Nakwet) courtesy of Keir Morse

The berries were gathered in the spring and either eaten fresh or dried and ground into flour. The leaves were steeped into a tea to suppress coughs and treat colds.

Pinyon (Tevat) courtesy of Daniel Mayer

Pine nuts were collectively gathered by several clans because the nuts could be plentiful in a certain area one year and scarce the next. A single tree produces a great crop every 5-7 years. Did you know it takes 2 years for a pine cone to develop?

Pine pitch was used as an adhesive to mend pottery and baskets, and to attach arrowheads to shafts.

Buckhorn Cholla (Mutal)

The fruit was eaten fresh in the spring or gathered, dried, and stored. The buds were boiled or roasted on hot stones before eating. Even with the prickly spines, all of the plant was used either as food or as medicine. The ashes from the roasted stems were used to treat cuts and burns.

Mojave Yucca (Hunavet)

The Cahuilla ate the blossoms and roasted the fruit pods and stalks. The roots were mashed to make soap. The leaves produced a strong fiber used to make rope, bowstrings, sandals, baskets, mats, carrying nets, and saddle blankets.

Scrub Oak (Pawish) courtesy of John Doyen

Acorns were one of the most important foods. Just as areas were shared to collect pinyon nuts, acorns were also shared gathering areas.

The acorns from Pawish were shelled, ground into flour, and leached to make it edible. According to, the leaching process was done by digging a shallow sand pit near a creek or stream. The flour was then spread in the bottom of the pit and water was continuously poured over it until it was sweet. This could take several hours. After leaching, the flour was mixed with better-tasting flour from other oak species.

Acorn flour was used to bake Sawish, a flat bread, and was also used to prepare a mush called Wiwish.

Prickly Pear Cactus (Qexe’yily)

The pads of the cactus were harvested in spring and summer, then boiled and roasted before eating. They would also grind the pads raw into a drink. In early fall the fruit was collected and eaten raw or mashed into a sweet beverage.

Desert Agave (Amul)

An abundant plant, Amul was one of their staple foods. A spring harvest festival, called Kewe’t, was celebrated in the spring when the desert agave was gathered. The mature hearts, young stalks, flowers, fruit pods, and seeds were eaten. Cooked agave was also traded for other foods that were not so plentiful.

The fiber was made into carrying nets and sandals. By pulling a thorn off a dried plant with some fiber attached, a ready-made needle and thread could be used to sew other materials together.

Although women mostly gathered and prepared food, cooking agave was a job done by men. It took 3 nights to roast the agave hearts and was a special time for young men and boys to learn ceremonial songs and stories that were passed from generation to generation.

California Juniper (Yuyily)

The berries were eaten fresh, added to other foods as seasoning, or dried and ground into flour.

As a medicine the Yuyily berries were used to make tea or simply chewed to cure colds and fever.

Just beautiful…

Unfortunately, perhaps, we are living on what was once Cahuilla land a long time ago. Fortunately, we do appreciate the way our brothers and sisters lived in harmony with the plants and animals, giving thanks for the use of these natural resources and taking only what was needed. Jeff and I understand we are living on a sacred parcel of the desert in Thousand Palms Oasis. We are honored to be caretakers here and to share the Cahuilla traditions with visitors.

Unfortunately, the world is losing its focus and ability to live in harmony with all of our natural resources. We have taken more than we need and what we have left behind is not enough to replenish the supply.

I wish I had a “fortunately” to add, but I don’t.

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