Beachcombing Venice, Italy


We wandered Venice, Italy threading our way through the narrow canyon-like alleyways of urban stonework. We knew not where we were but on the island.

A visitor doesn’t have to concern herself with getting lost on a small island as she would in a major continental city, and the insular containment offers a sense of security and freedom to roam without worry.

And so we did wander without any idea where we were headed or where we’d end up, the uncertainty and unfamiliarity an invigorating elixir of emotion.

To the outskirts of town, the edge of the island, past boarded up beachside buildings, the garden nooks overrun in rank windblown seed sprouts, fences netted over in spindly vines.

See the beach on low tide. The darkened oily-looking and algae-covered cobblestones and the easy ripple of seawater lapping the Venetian shoreline.

Onto the rubbly beach we stepped, picking our way over the exposed stony seafloor, human egrets stepping measuredly across the rounded rocks, heads angled downward, eyes scanning nooks and crannies for quarry, ready to strike out with a hand and snatch up what treasure might be found, the objet trou.

Therein the gravel filter of the seashore held a collection of hundreds of years worth of urban debris. A circular-shaped blob of clear glass stamped with a company or makers’ name and a date of 1812. It appeared to have once been attached to a handblown bottle, perhaps old fine wine, I mused.

A small water-worn vessel covered in a fine coating of slime. I bent, grabbed and held aloft the fine piece of vintage ceramic. Wiping the mossy growth away I could see the organically inspired curvilinear letters composing the phrase, “Drink Love.” Judging by the shape of the handicraft and the font I supposed the piece to be about one hundred years old, dating back to the era of Art Nouveau.

Those were the souvenirs for the trip, with sentimental value and backstory, thus better than anything bought in one of the many storefront tourist traps in town, as beautiful and grand as much of the work may be, such as Murano glass.

And there the objects rest. The hodgepodge. Scattered across the tops of shelves, piled in an old hand-hewn sandstone bowl and jumbled in a little wire and glass case. Each  piece tells a story. Pages in the novel of a life. Lifted from a dusty garage shelf each item starts the play of a memory of some moment had somewhere some years ago.

Were it not for the found object there may well be no recall of that moment of life. Were I to throw it out the memory would fade and disappear. Gone as if it never happened. I hold on to the object to hold on to my life.

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Ko’onzi Indian Village Ruins

Looking toward the Ko’onzi village site, the salt flats of Saline Valley visible in the distance beneath the snow-capped peaks of the Inyo Range.

“Saline Valley, Inyo County, California, is one of the most remarkable places in the state. . . .It is simply an immense basin, say twelve by twenty-five miles in size, surrounded on all sides by great mountains. At its lowest point of depression is found some 1,200 acres of pure salt–millions of tons of it, glistening like crusted snow. Bordering on this, on all sides except the west, comes miles square of sandy, dusty lands, caustic with alkali, borax or similar deposits.”

Dallas Daily Herald (1882)

Saline Valley lies several hours drive from the nearest basic services and conveniences of civilization. Even today in 2017, even in the nation’s most populace state, this place is remote and desolate like few others.

The dirt road leading through the basin was horrendous at the time of our crossing, the washboards nearly debilitating in places, forcing a driver to slow to a crawl even in a 4×4 truck. and I drove the dirt road into light snow showers and through an icy and treacherous narrow mountain pass to reach the valley, at one point having but mere inches to spare from plummeting some 80 feet into a canyon, when barely making it around a boulder that had rolled down onto the icy road. Mere inches to spare, I say.

Driving through the pass our view was short and narrow and cropped by the landscape and closed in beneath a low ceiling of cloud cover. One of the most remarkable experiences occurred as we rolled out of the pass. The hills broke open and Saline Valley suddenly fell out before us, a tremendous long view over the flats, a massive basin of open space that seemed to pull the breath from my lungs, to pull my body its way.

After the short views within the pass, the sudden long view over the valley was stunning (in the true sense of the word which is too often misused). It was as if I was enclosed in a room at the top of a skyscraper standing beside a door, which was suddenly opened to reveal that I was standing on the edge of the 100th floor overlooking a city far below stretching to the horizon. The sensation was not vertigo, but something akin to it.

On the edge of this salty basin, beneath ten thousand foot peaks, lies the Ko’onzi site. Here the ruins of single family shelters can still be seen in the form of circular-shaped stone footings. Nearby the rocks are decorated with petroglyphs, and a large erratic boulder beside the adjacent creek is dotted with mortars and painted with bighorn sheep pictographs rendered in ocher hues.

Mortar stone with a view of the lake.

The indigenous place-name for Saline Valley was (is) Ko’, which means “deep place.” The people were called Ko’onzi.

The following describes and explains a bit about these environs and the people that once lived there, as excerpted from Julian H. Steward’s book, “Basin-Plateau Aboriginal Sociopolitical Groups” (1938):

“SALINE VALLEY–This district had an extraordinary range of life zones.

The deep valley floor, 1,200 feet, is in the Lower Sonoran Zone. It is mild in winter and almost unbearably hot in summer. It supports a little mesquite, but has few edible seed annuals, the majority of its sparse flora being extremely xerophytic and unfit for human consumption.

The bordering mountains, especially to the north and south, are in the Upper Sonoran and Transitional zones, where cooler temperatures make summer living possible and where greater precipitation supports many flowering annuals, which supply the greater part of plant foods. Pine nuts are also abundant in these mountains.

The high and massive Inyo Range which bounds Saline Valley on the west is too precipitous to be readily inhabitable but affords the greatest range of life zones. Better watered than ranges to the east, it supports many square miles of pine-nut trees. Its crest, however, extends above 10,000 feet into the Canadian and even Hudsonian zones, thus capturing greater precipitation, supporting a variety of flora, and feeding the one stream that reaches the valley floor. The vast area of the range and the greater vegetation maintained in turn many deer, which are largely lacking in ranges to the east, and large numbers of mountain sheep.

This remarkable variety of habitat zones and of species of both plants and animals within a comparatively small area enabled the Saline Valley people to maintain existence securely if not abundantly without having to exploit an inconveniently large area. …

The stone footings of two circular-shaped shelters.

Two other ruins, the large white mortar boulder barely seen in the distance frame left.

The main village and division of the district was Saline Valley, Ko’ (deep place, descriptive of Saline Valley, which is very deep), elevation 1,200 feet. The people were called Ko’onzi. The village lay in the midst of a barren, infertile expanse of valley at the mouth of Hunter’s Canyon, where the stream maintains some mesquite and a few other edible plants.

Its inhabitants exploited the surrounding mountains, especially the Inyo Range to the west, where deer and pine nuts could be had. …

The Ko’ villagers obtained mesquite from the vicinity of their winter village. Other wild seeds, such as sand grass, grew in certain parts of the valley, but most seeds occurred surrounding mountains. Often they went into the Sigai country and other parts of the mountains separating Saline and Death Valleys.

Game, distinctly of secondary importance in Shoshoni economy but requiring considerable time of hunters, occurred largely to the north and west. Deer were procured in the Inyo Mountains, and antelope [pronghorn] in the lower ranges north of Saline Valley. …

Other foods were procured in various places but did not as a rule require extensive travel. Rats, mice, chuckwallas, rabbits, and birds could be hunted in all parts of the territory. Occasionally, however, trips were made, probably by single families, to Owens Lake for larvae or duck hunting.

Saline Valley yields great quantities of salt which was traded for goods or shell money to Owens Valley Paiute, who in turn often traded it across the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Rabbit drives were held in connection with fall festivals. Usually people from throughout the district assembled for them. Sometimes, however, individuals took part in drives in the Koso Mountain or Death Valley districts.

BD said the Ko’ village as he remembered it about 50 or 60 years ago [circa 1888 or 1878] comprised five families or camps whose heads were as follows:

(1.) Caesar, the chief, (2) Caesar’s father, who had been chief before him, (3) Walkin, (4) Tom Hunter, the other chief, (5) Patu’ku. If, as in Fish Lake Valley, the average family consisted of 6 persons, the total population was not over 30 individuals.

Trace remnants of a shelter ruin.

In later years of the historic period, long after the arrival of American explorers, the Ko’onzi were known for farming in Saline Valley.

While perusing old newspaper articles I happened across the following single sentence presumably describing the K’onzi.

The article was originally published on January 26, 1889 in the Pullman Herald out of Washington state.

“The Indians of Saline Valley, California, are raising fine fig, apple, pear and peach trees.”

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Parks Management Company’s Red Rock Racket

Red Rock, Santa Ynez River, Santa Barbara County

“The writer’s duty to speak the truthespecially unpopular truth. Especially truth that offends the powerful, the rich, the well-established, the traditional, the mythic, the sentimental. To attack, when the time makes it necessary, the sacred cows of his society. And I mean all sacred cows.”

Edward Abbey, “A Writer’s Credo”

“Virtually no article of faith, ideology, or institution—be this sacred or profane, this worldly or otherworldly—escapes his scrutiny.”

—Max Oelschlaeger on Henry David Thoreau, “The Idea of Wilderness” 

I do not take kindly to being lied to. I do not accept without offense being misled. I greatly resent being treated like an uninformed, uneducated dolt to be taken advantage of and fleeced at will.

And that is how scores of people visiting the Santa Ynez River have been treated by the Parks Management Company.

The offense is greatly compounded when such deceitful practices are pursued in partnership with the federal government. The government is supposed to be an advocate and representative of the people, not an accomplice in corporate malfeasance.

Parks Management Company now tends a kiosk at First Crossing at the Santa Ynez River, where Paradise Road ends and Forest Route 5N18 or “River Road” begins and leads to the Red Rock Trailhead.

There are several improved day-use sites along River Road on the way to the Red Rock Trailhead that offer people picnic tables, BBQ grills and toilets. But there are many more unimproved areas along the road where people can pull over and park to swim or hike or picnic or space out and day dream or recreate as they so wish.

The Forest Service has granted a contract to Parks Management Company as a concessionaire to operate certain and select areas of the Lower Santa Ynez Recreation Area and charge recreationists a fee to use the sites. These sites are limited to improved day-use areas.

I do not object to this system, necessarily.

I am not opposed, necessarily, to private companies partnering with the government to manage recreation sites in the National Forest.

I am not opposed, necessarily, to paying fees to use day-use sites and campgrounds.

My fierce objection comes in response to the manner in which this system is being carried out. It is being operated in a deceitful manner that keeps the public uninformed and unaware, and it takes advantage of people financially.

This is no small matter.

When, on numerous occasions, I have arrived at the aforementioned kiosk at First Crossing, an employee of Parks Management Company has demanded that I pay a day-use fee. They have never asked if I am using the sites under their management or not. They just demand money.

There is one rather huge problem: Parks Management Company has no legal authority to demand such payment.

As per the Forest Service, the Special Use Permit granted to Parks Management Company pertains to “campground and recreation site operations” and to “the operation and maintenance of government-owned recreation facilities located on the Forest” and covers “campgrounds, trailheads, and day use or picnic areas, as well as providing the important maintenance and upgrades to these sites.”

The sites covered by the Special Use Permit are clearly defined and quite limited.

In point of fact, the Special Use Permit does not cover the vast overwhelming majority of the land above First Crossing.

Yet Parks Management Company is acting in a manner as though anything beyond First Crossing is a fee area the public cannot access without payment.

Clearly, unimproved dirt patches along a paved road do not meet the definition of being a campground or facility, and it also seems reasonable to presume based on the words of the Forest Service that these areas are also not what is meant by “recreation sites,” for the entire forest is a recreation site and the Special Use Permit does not pertain to the entire forest.

Proof of this is also found in the answer that comes from the mouth of Parks Management Company employees every time I say, “I’m not using any day-use areas. I’m just driving up the road to park in a dirt pullout to go for a swim.”

At this point the employee inevitably steps aside and waves me through without further incident.

Not once have I ever stopped at the kiosk and had any employee kindly inform me that I am not legally required to pay any fee of any kind to merely drive up the road or to park in a pullout and go swimming or hiking or to access the vast overwhelming majority of the forest above First Crossing which falls outside the bounds of Parks Management Company’s contract with the Forest Service.

Why has this never happened?

Not one single time.

Why is it routine policy for Parks Management Company to demand money from people who may not necessarily be legally obligated to pay anything whatsoever to the company?

There is a phrase for this sort of behavior. It’s called a lie of omission or what is known in technical parlance as exclusionary detailing.

That people do not have to pay Parks Management Company to drive River Road is a rather large and important detail that the company never, in my experience, mentions.

This is outrageous!

It’s a shameful exploitative act that they are perpetrating.

The Dude does not abide.

Why has there been no outcry from forest visitors?

It leaves me wondering . . . Am I the only one that cares about the rules around here?!

I recently had a conversation regarding this issue with a Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputy at First Crossing.

I asked the deputy upon what legal basis Parks Management Company is justified in demanding citizens pay a day-use fee when not using day-use sites.

I opined that the company should be responsible for making sure people that use the day-use sites pay the appropriate fees, rather than being allowed to block access to the entire Lower Santa Ynez Recreation Area and demand payment from everybody regardless whether they’re using improved day-use sites and facilities or not.

It’s akin to setting up a road block on a long road leading to a pay-to-use campground and demanding a person pay that fee before driving the road whether they’re camping or not.

The deputy kindly ignored the question and did not answer. I asked several more times in various ways. The deputy would not answer, but would dodge and weave around the point at issue and talk of other tangential matters.

It was a civil and pleasant conversation, and it appeared he understood the point I was making. It was also plainly evident he did not want to say anything that might reflect badly on Parks Management Company.

In the end the deputy finally said that he was granting Parks Management Company some leeway, as they were new to the business here on the Santa Ynez River and still in the process of figuring out how to effectively manage the area.

(To clarify, the deputy did not mean that he was granting the company leeway to act in a manner beyond their scope of legal authority. He seemed to be speaking generally about not leveling too harsh a judgment on the fledgling company which took over management duties in November of 2016.)

Well that’s not good enough.

If Parks Management Company cannot or will not justly manage the sites covered in their Special Use Permit without abusing their authority as they currently are, then the company should have their permit revoked.

Unsuspecting recreationists misled by Parks Management Company in their pursuit of profit should not foot the bill for the company’s incompetence while they flounder about trying to figure out how to handle the duties they signed up to carry out.

If there is leeway to be granted, then the bias should be in favor of the tax paying public rather than a corporation trying to make a buck.

Mariposa lily growing along the Santa Ynez River.

“It was a glorious game. Theft robbed of the stigma of theft, crime altruistically committed—what is more gratifying?

John Steinbeck, “Tortilla Flat”

What does Parks Management Company have to say about this apparent abuse?

They must have made a killing charging all the people I saw along the river not using day-use sites on all those many busy summer days I was there.

What does the Forest Service have to say about this apparent abuse?

Can individuals also freely and without consequence act in a manner not in accordance with and outside the bounds of any special permits they may obtain from the Forest Service?

Or should we expect unequal treatment under the law?

The Forest Service asserts that they are “building the capacity for Parks Management Company to better deliver the high-quality services the public has come to expect from their recreation experience on the Forest.”

Good intentions are irrelevant.

It is a rather odd practice, to put it mildly and politely, to force people to pay a fee for services they do not use and are not legally obligated to pay!

What ever purported good intentions there may be in striving to provide people with quality recreational opportunities, it does not justify the manner in which the management company is acting nor erase the problem.

And it is a glaring problem that must be addressed.

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The Lost Treasure of San Roque Canyon (1895)

“There were three Santa Barbara boys who started aviation careers with their kite-flying. They were the Loughead brothers, Victor, Malcolm, and Allan, whose mother, Flora Haines Loughead, was a writer for the Independent, one of Santa Barbara’s three newspapers at the turn of the century. The name Loughead was pronounced “Lockheed.”

Walker A. Tompkins, It Happened In Old Santa Barbara (1976)

The following story written by Flora Haines Loughead recounts a folktale about hidden treasure in San Roque Canyon.

Two of her sons, Allan and Malcolm, founded Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company in Santa Barbara in 1916. The company name would later be changed to Lockheed.

The San Francisco Morning Call originally published the story of lost treasure in 1895.

A Hidden Treasure: Many Have Searched For It In Vain
Flora Haines Loughead

From the beginning of civilization, when people commenced to find that they had a past and to sift their legendary lore and decipher the crude records of their barbaric forefathers, nothing has taken so strong a hold upon the human race as the tales of hidden treasure that have been handed down from generation to generation.

Doubtless the old Egyptians searched for tombs and records of forgotten peoples with as keen a zest as modern explorers, under the cloak of science, pierce the Pyramids and open the sarcophagi of the Upper Nile; and there is little doubt that the races which come after us will be possessed of an ardor no less vigorous in defining the boundaries of our ruined cities and despoiling our tombs.

California is rich in tales of buried treasure, but they are mostly of a vague and unsatisfactory sort, which will not stand investigation, and can usually be traced to the barroom utterances of some dissipated miner or to the shameless fabrications of some unscrupulous citizen.

It seems to be left to Santa Barbara, which already has the best of everything in the way of climate, scenery, products and people, to lay just claim to several of the most enticing and authentic tales of hidden treasure that one often hears.

I came across the first of these while exploring a canyon some ten miles out from town, variously known as Gatos (wildcat) and Lewis Canyon, and which contains several miles from where the wagon road terminates some interesting prehistoric traces in the shape of Indian paintings on the face of two sheer cliffs, through which the tiny stream, moving with gigantic force during the winter torrents, has slowly through the ages carved its way. There is a cave high up on the face of one of these cliffs, and in this cave, no less than the strange inscriptions, was one of the objective points of our party.

“Perhaps you’ll find the old priest’s lost treasure,” was the quickening remark of a rancher who was gravely contributing directions four our guidance and who evidently had little respect for people who led by no more dignified motives than the desire to unravel the lost history of a prehistoric race. “They say it’s hidden in a cave somewhere along this range,” he added tentatively.

This led to queries and explanations. His knowledge was vague but beguiling. Sometime during the early occupation of the mission there had been a great treasure concealed for the purpose of safety, in a cave in the mountains, and the secret of its hiding place had been lost.

We reached the cliffs, but not the cave, which was thirty-five feet in the air, in the face of a straight rock, having no ladder and no means of constructing any save from timbers too heavy for our exploring party to handle. If the treasure is still there it awaits the discovery of some enterprising individual who has the courage to follow the windings of Lewis Creek nearly to the crest of the range, with the aid of ropes, scaling several falls and slippery ledges high in the air, and who then still has sufficient courage and enterprise reserved to fell a couple of sycamores and construct a ladder that will lift him to this opening.

Again and again, sometimes from old Mexicans, whose scant knowledge of English and my own scant knowledge of Spanish made conversation difficult; sometimes from prosaic ranchmen, who regarded all energy as misapplied that is directed outside of a barley field or a kitchen, vague references to this fascinating tale again came to us. It is not until I came across a German, who has his home in San Roque Canyon, that the story was spread before me, full and complete, to the last detail.

“Very early in this century,” my German acquaintance began, “about the year 1808, the Santa Barbara mission, at that time very wealthy and with great stores of gold and  precious jewels, as well as church ornaments worth a pile, was endangered by pirates, who at that time threatened the port. The priests decided to move these treasures to a place of safe keeping. Now you can see for yourself that if they had merely sent them off in somebody’s safe keeping they would have been easily traced. So they determined to make believe they had another purpose when they carried off the jewels. They put up an adobe building here in this canyon, where there were many Indians. I will show you the foundation of this chapel. But they pretended it was a dairy they were building, and they brought along all their cattle and pastured them here. If the pirates had guessed they had the treasure here it was a good place to defend it, you bet!”

We had been walking slowly up the canyon, and my informant turned and with a significant wave of his hand bade me take in the situation. He evidently was an authority upon military matters, as well as upon all other subjects. The place seemed fitted by nature for an impregnable fortress, with its narrow, rocky walls and its slight eminence, commanding the only approach from the valley. He showed me the half-obliterated foundation of the old chapel, or dairy as he would have me believe, which was easily traced, indicating the former existence of an quadrangle building, probably some sixty feet in width and perhaps 150 feet in length.

“Here they had the treasure safely housed,” he went on. But one night one of the very young fathersnot one of the old ones as some sayone Father Pedro, he got sick and they didn’t know it. You see, it was one of those kind of fevers that come on with a little twist in the brain. And he got to worrying over the treasure, and fearing that the pirates might find it there. And one night he got up when the others were asleep and he gathered it all together, and he went out in the night somewhere up in the hills and he hid it away. And the next morning he was very sick, and the very next night he died; he died without telling one of them where he had put the treasure.”

There was an impressive pause. The story, told in that solitary place, amid the wild hills with their tangle of chaparral, their stately oaks and their maze of rocky fastnesses, carried conviction with it.

“They hunted for it a long time. Of course they hunted for it. It was the wealth of the Mission. Without it they were poor,” the German went on. “They went all over and over the hills. They dug up the ground in all directions. They hunted in the rocks and caves. They hunted for fifty years. They never found it.”

“And have they given up hunting now?”

“Iwouldn’t say so. Sometimes on moonlit nights I see people with spades on their shoulders,” in a voice of mystery. “But you speak of it to the priests at the Mission and not one word will they say about it to admit or deny. If you want to hear about it you go these old half-Indians. They know all about it. I learn much from my mother-in-law. She is half Mexican, half Indian. She is old, and she remembers the talk about it when she was a child and everybody knew about it. There is scarcely a Spanish man in this town who has not dug for it. And Americans, they come too, all the time. I tell them, “Go ahead.” You find any treasure you are welcome to it. You can see the holes about here where they have been digging.

There were certainly a great many holes bearing the marks of a spade or shovel. Some of them, in our immediate vicinity, looked as if they might have been opened that morning. Yet the canyon was deserted, and in all the times we have visited it we had never so far encountered a soul besides the German. A sudden suspicion awoke.

“And you? Why don’t you try to find it yourself when you have a little time to spare? It would be a fine thing to come across such wealth in these hard times.”

This sympathetic inquiry encouraged him.

“Oh, meI have dug a hole now and then, when I had nothing else to do,” he said with affected indifference.

“And what is your theory?” Do you think the treasure is hidden in the ground or in a cave or in a tree?”

“In the rocks,” he said firmly, “notwithstanding the evidence of the freshly turned sod.”

“You see it stands to reason,” he went on with warmth, “that the sick priest could not have dug a hole deep enough to hide the treasure that knight. And if he had, the chances are they would have found the place as soon as they found the treasure was gone. He couldn’t have gone very far, and he couldn’t of done much work. If he had gone all the way on the ground they could have followed his steps. I believe he put it in the rocks.

In this arm of the San Roque, which is locally known as Tebbetts Canyon, named after an old newspaper man who once had his residence there, the rocks and ledges and boulders belong for the most part to what might be called a cave formation, and which is traceable in every gulch and canyon in the Santa Ynez Range. It is a soft sandstone, which seems to have been interspersed in its formation by nature with soft nodules, which wear away, leaving frequent hollows and cells. Sometimes whole ledges are honeycombed in this peculiar fashion, and where the soft spots are exposed to weather or the wash of water caverns from eight to thirty feet result. Aside from this, ledges in this vicinity have enormous fissures.

There were probably a thousand caves and fissures in which a man or band of men might have found shelter within a quarter of a mile of the foundations of the old mission building. There are a hundred thousand were a small treasure might be securely hidden from sight. Some of these holes and caverns are inaccessible, unless a man chose to risk his life in the climb and descent; yet there is the possibility that one in the delirium of fever might have reached them and found his way down again without injury.

But my informant’s confidence was at full tide, and he reached a momentum where not all his prudent resolves of secrecy could interrupt it.

“Do you think that some treasure was hidden without some sign to find it again?” he demanded, earnestly.

“I tell you, wherever that it is hidden, there are marks to find it by. I’ve been hunting for those marks. They may be on trees or on rocks. Come with me and I will show you what I found.”

He led the way a hundred yards up the beautiful canyon, twice crossing a crystal brook as it came tumbling down from the heights above. He finally stopped in a glade of oaks, under a noble tree.

“Look there!” he said.

Deeply marked in the gnarled trunk at a height of some six feet was a large cross with a square base, the whole some four feet high and three or more feet across.

“And look here again!”

On a tree some twenty feet away was the rude outline of a tomahawk, almost obliterated by time and growth.

“Now, it may be,” said the Dutchman, “that if one would dig beneath these in a direct line between them he would come upon that treasure. I dug a little, as you see, but maybe I didn’t dig deep enough. And, perhaps, if one should cut down this tree,” indicating the tree with the cross, they’d find it was hollow at one time, but the bark closed around the hole, and something may be inside of it; or perhaps it is high up, where the big limb joined the trunk. What I think is this: Somewhere else there was a third sign; perhaps it is on a rock, and is washed so it doesn’t show plain after all these years; perhaps it was on another tree, that was burned down when fires swept this gulch. If anybody can find that third sign, and draws a line between the three, the place where those lines intersect they may dig, and they will find the treasure.”

He said this with great conviction, and one could not but wonder how many weary hours or days he has spent in hunting for this third sign. But there was that about the cross on the tree that it made it well worth regarding; so deep had it been cut in the gnarled trunk, so many years had the bark grown and striven to cover the ugly wound.

“One might think that it had been put there two or three hundred years ago,” said our guide, eyeing the tree with cool interest.

“I myself can scarcely see how it had time to grow so much since 1808. I am only a tenant here, and I can’t cut down a tree unless it is dead. If I could cut that down, we could count the layers of bark and tell to a year just when that was made.”

He said this with an air of triumph in his scientific lore and a little impatience that it be necessary to take such a painstaking step to perfect his stores of exact knowledge. But a more important thought was taking shape in another mind. Was it possible that this man, in his search for a treasure of gold and jewels, had stumbled across another much more important discovery? The scar, as he had rightly said, bore the evidence of centuries of growth above it. Can it be that here, in a Santa Barbara canyon, we have a new and indisputable evidence of the existence of the prehistoric cross, antedating the introduction of the Christian religion, which, discovered in Mexico half a century ago, caused such a wrangle among theologians?

The object is certainly well worth investigation. Before another fire, which has raged around it the past summer, shall have swept this ancient landmark from the face of the earth, this tree should certainly be felled, and a cross-section made through the deeply graven cross, with a view of ascertaining the exact number of layers of bark above it. That it has been made by the hand of man, its exact lines and elaborate delineation place beyond a question of doubt.

In this same canyon, not many rods away, there is another arboreal curiosity that may well claim the consideration of thoughtful minds. This is a great oak which has one enormous limb, apparently of a different species, growing out of it at a height of some ten feet from the ground, and which has plainly been grafted by artificial means, the line of the cutting and the swell beyond it being distinctly visible. This, too, it would seem, by its prodigious growth, to have been the work of a century or more ago. What could be the object of such elaborate task, performed on this hardwood tree in this lonely uninhabited canyon?

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Desert Pictograph Boulder

The thermometer bounces between 108 and 111 degrees as I drive into the Mojave Desert on a recent June afternoon.

Several days earlier in 115 degree heat, not all that far away, a middle-aged man had left a tour bus in Death Valley National Park to take a few photos. An hour later he was found dead just several hundred yards from the bus. (Mammoth Times)

The conditions outside my thin panes of glass are deadly serious, yet have been described as “relatively moderate” compared to times past.

Moderate, they say.

These moderate conditions have existed for about the last 6,000 years. Prior to this, about 8,000 years ago and earlier for some time, the climate was one of “extreme aridity.”

Atacama I suppose.

Obsidian projectile points found at the place I’m driving to have been roughly dated to about 4,200 to 7,100 years ago. While it is unclear if human occupation at this particular site occurred this long ago, the evidence suggests that it is not unlikely.

At 110 degrees the Mojave is hellish. It seems like a great day to experience a desert site to gain some modicum of understanding about how it felt to exist here in ancient times. Yet funnily enough, the land today may well be more hospitable than it was during those times.

The gravel flat and resting stone beneath the huge painted boulder.

Here amid the barren desert mountains the granite monolith sits, a dominant feature before a hill of jumbled boulders. It is not lost in the jumble but stands apart, visually dominating, beckoning upon first sight, an attractive destination seen from the surrounding wastes.

I walk up in the brutal mid-afternoon sun seeking refuge in the shelter of its shadow. In the hottest hours of the day the shadow covers a smooth, sloping granite outcrop that appears at first sight to be a great resting place.

Sure enough a large polished slick is evident on the surface of the outcrop where people have been lounging for a very long time. Laying down and pressing a sweaty hot back against the cool shady slick of granite no doubt provides a much welcome respite from the brutal desert swelter.

I notice my five year old son sits exactly at this resting spot without any word from me.

No doubt the stone has taken on greater patina in modern times from the rumps of many visitors through the years, but it seems readily evident that people have been lounging there for much longer.

There is a striking connection made between humans separated by 5,000 years of time and wildly different cultures as my son sits to rest. For all the differences between the peoples in ways and means, the little boy of today is naturally drawn by the same brain to the same spot for the same reason as the ancient people had been.

A portion of the boulder’s painted wall that’s aside the gravel flat.

This polished resting stone is fronted by a small gravel flat which runs up against the painted wall of the looming monolith. To one side of the flat lies a large tabletop slab with several shallow, well-polished grinding slicks worn into the granite. From the gravel flat one enjoys long views of the surrounding land. Thousands of obsidian shards litter the area everywhere, lithic scatter cast off by the hands of ancient craftsmen fashioning stone tools.

The pictographs are rendered in hues of red, white and black. Several rock shelters are found nearby the painted boulder wherein scores of arrowheads have been recovered by scholars. Items of interest found in the area include cordage, basketry, ceramics, stone artifacts and human remains.

The components of nature come together here in remarkable form to create an exceptional place for a human to spend time in a harsh land. This was quickly evident to me as I walked up. It’s no wonder ancient people made it their own. I would have as well.

Standing on the gravel flat before the painted wall I am stunned to discover a remarkable acoustical phenomenon that I had not noticed on a previous visit several years ago.

When I speak my voice booms back at me in a deeper tone that seems amplified. I don’t want to make too much of this occurrence or hype it, but I was taken aback. Surely this meant something to somebody at sometime.

There is without question a naturally occurring acoustics here due to the manner in which the rocks are shaped and sit together on the land and it noticeably alters the human voice as noted.

As I experiment with the phenomenon for a moment I notice that it seems to be limited to a rather small area whereupon one can notice the effect. This spot is located beside the resting stone, which must play some role in the acoustics, and in front of the large pictograph panel on the boulder.

I have no doubt the ancient people that were here knew of this phenomenon, but I wonder if it played any notable role in their lives. Who now could possibly know?

Ungulates of some sort, perhaps deer.

Some remarkably different looking ungulates compared to the predominant form given bighorn sheep in pictographs and petroglyphs in this region. The long curved horns extending over their back makes them resemble ibex more than sheep, though ibex are not California natives.

Something that appears to be anthropomorphic figures.

Several well-polished, shallow grinding slicks.

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