State Park
Kumeyaay Rock Art Kumeyaay Pictographs
Photo by Kent Duryee


The first inhabitants of the Anza-Borrego region are lost to us in the mists of time which separate our own era from theirs. There is debate on when the oldest inhabitants of the region occupied the lands east of the Peninsular Ranges of Southern California. Some sources maintain, based on tools found in the desert, that there were people in the region 12,000 years ago at the height of the last ice age. The dating of these tools is not widely accepted, however, and the agreed upon age of this ancient civilization is between 5,000 and 8,000 years. These were nomads who had no actual home but who gathered plants and pursued large game animals, fish and waterfowl. These people left hardly any traces of their passing through the desert.

Beginning 6,000 years ago, however, the record is more complete. There is a rock shelter within the boundaries of the park that provides distinct evidence for this date, and is considered to be the earliest, firmly dated site in the park. At this site are approximately 6,000 years of history contained within uninterrupted layer after layer of evidence of occupation, discovered in 1958 by Professor William J. Wallace of the University of Southern California. The most recent occupation phase unearthed by Professor Wallace dated from about 1,000 years ago and continued into historic time, meaning 1774 in this region, which is when Juan Bautista de Anza led his expedition through the desert on his way to the California coast from Tubac, Arizona. On his arrival at the coast, he would found the settlement of Yerba Buena, now known as San Francisco. In Coyote Canyon in the northern portion of Anza-Borrego State Park, there is a pictograph of a man on horseback and a man carrying a cross which presumably dates to Anza's expedition of that year (Knaak, 38).

Three primary tribes make up the recent pre-historic and historic inhabitants of the Anza-Borrego region. These were the Cahuilla to the north
and east, the Northern Diegue�o to the west and theKumeyaay to the south. The Cahuilla are a Shoshonean tribe with relations to tribes throughout the Great Basin region west of the Rockies. The Kumeyaay are a tribe which inhabited the Peninsular region as far east as the Imperial Valley, south into Mexico and west to San Diego Bay, (Present day nations are used for ease of geographical identification). The Northern Diegue�o's lands stretched from the northern San Diego County coast to the desert lands east of the mountains. It is interesting and telling that the eastern boundaries of the Kumeyaay and Northern Diegue�os and the southwestern border of the Cahuilla met at a point not far from Vallecito in the central portion of the present day Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. (See the map above)

Petroglyphs and pictographs are representational art left behind by these original inhabitants of Anza-Borrego and are more plentiful here than in most other regions of North America. Petroglyphs are forms picked directly into the dark stain of desert varnish which coats the rocks of the desert. When picked through, the light salt and pepper color of the underlying, fresh granite is exposed, thus resulting in a lasting image. Pictographs, on the other hand are made by applying paint to the rock surface. In his book The Forgotten Artist, Manfred Knaak describes the manufacture of this paint:

In preparing red paint, the artist used hematite or red iron oxide and the oil of roasted wild cucumber kernels. The cucumber seeds were ground together with the mineral in a small mortar, with pitch from spruce or pine trees as the binding agent. To make black paint, wild cucumber seeds were roasted and charred on a piece of burning oak bark, then ground and mixed manganese oxide or charcoal. Yellow paint was made from yellow ochre or limonite, and white came from deposits of gypsum and white ash�"(Knaak 37, see Bibliography).

Interpretation of this rock art is always a matter of conjecture, because we have no firm means of translating it. One thing that is certain is that the art revolves around how these original people interpreted their world and their lives. The art no doubt came into play in initiation ceremonies, fertility and marriage ceremonies, astronomical and/or astrological observations, visions and dreams and as historical records.  In his book Field Guide to Rock Art Symbols of the Southwest, Alex Patterson gives possible translations of many types of symbols based on Anthropologic texts and other types of research work.  Part of the reason why we are so utterly unable to grasp the meaning of this art is that with the colonization of the Indians in the mid 1700's, the family structure was uprooted and traditions were broken. European diseases had wreaked havoc on native populations, and so there was an understandable reticence on the part of the Indians to share their cosmology. At the same time, there was a reticence on the part of Europeans to acquire knowledge of the Indian's culture, which was considered at the time to be backward and unremarkable.

Many of these pictures were taken by Don Gennero.  These and many others can be seen on his web site.

Compare this rock panel from near Catavi�a, Baja California, with those from Indian Hill in Anza-Borrego to the right.

Shaman's Cave, Indian Hill, Southern Anza-Borrego.  Both of these panels are believed to have been painted by Kumeyaay artists.

Another pictograph from inside the Shaman's Cave, a small hollow in a large granite mountain, Southern Anza-Borrego.

Believed to have been associated with female fertility rituals, this large yoni is found near the Shaman's Cave, pictured above.

Rock Shelter, Carrizo Gorge region, southern Anza-Borrego

For more information on the three major tribes of the Anza-Borrego region, use the following links:

A good article from the San Diego Union Tribune regarding local rock art, December 24, 2000; 
Rock Art Reveals Desert's Mystery, by Ray Patterson

Phil Constantain has a VERY complete listing of all tribes on his web site. Be prepared.

Important Links to Local Tribes:



Northern Diegueño

For more information on the Kumeyaay Tribe specifically, 
don't miss these sites:
Kumeyaay Traditions
Cuayamaca Rancho State Park (Select "History")