Published May 23, 2002

At least a dozen Native American villages existed in the Cuyamaca Mountains until about a century and a half ago. These were the mountain villages or summer camps of the Kumeyaay tribe, who divided their time between the Laguna and Cuyamaca Mountains and the present Anza-Borrego Desert. Some of the same habitation sites are occupied by present-day camping or picnicking sites, and near those areas you can often find on slabs or large boulders of granite clusters of morteros, or mortar holes, used for the milling of acorns and other seeds. Some of Cuyamaca's village sites are a little more isolated, reachable only by trail. One such place, marked by a large cluster of morteros, lies a short distance from Paso Picacho Campground by way of a short section of the West Side Trail. Pine- and oak-shaded Paso Picacho, at elevation 4870 feet, is one of the two large camping areas within Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, 12 miles north of Interstate 8 via Highway 79.

The morteros are only a few minutes' walk away. From the fire station outside the campground entrance, walk uphill on the paved (but closed to vehicle traffic) fire road leading toward the summit of Cuyamaca Peak. Beyond the gate that blocks vehicle traffic on the fire road, a sign marks the beginning of the West Side Trail -- a trail roughly paralleling Highway 79. You can also reach the start of the West Side Trail from the back (south side) of the campground. After about 0.2 mile on the West Side Trail, you emerge from the forest cover and skirt the north edge of a meadow. Look for a complex of about 30 morteros near the trail. There are others nearby.

With a modest leap of imagination, it's not too difficult to picture a typical scene on a summer's day 200 years ago: Indian women grinding acorn meal, children squalling nearby, the men off hunting small game, or perhaps fashioning stone tools or arrowheads. Collectors long ago carried off any small artifacts left behind, but the well-worn pits in the granite remain as reminders of an epoch that ended only a few generations ago.

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