What is a soul mate? In the book Eat Pray Love the lovable character Richard From Texas said, “A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake.”
A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake.
Yup. That’s it exactly. One can meet many soul mates at various times in their lives. I know I have and I hope they keep coming. On this trip I acquired another. (Maybe two, we’ll see.) They are always unexpected, never what I’m looking for, but exactly what I need at the time. So goes the luck of the solo traveler.
This trip was all about following the story of Tahquitz the evil Cahuilla shaman. I am fascinated with sociopaths and narcissists. The world has put me in the way of many of these people. I’ve experienced them up close and it is no picnic, but I can’t seem to stay away from them, they are by definition highly attractive. So as to not be totally decimated by them over and over again, I’ve studied and become something of an armchair expert on the pathologically self absorbed. Unfortunately, education is no totem against their terrible allure. It is with this morbid fascination with human evil that I found myself drawn to Tahquitz Canyon in the Colorado Desert, Palm Springs, California, to see if I could feel the dark energy cast on the land 2,000 years ago by Tahquitz the evil shaman.
The Shaman Tahquitz (pronounced “tah-kwits”) was a Cahuilla Indian who was thought to be a divine creation. He possessed extraordinarily strong powers, far beyond those of your garden variety shaman. There are stories of his telekinesis and inability to feel pain. He may have been a decent fellow at one time, but he became deranged and far from using his extraordinary powers for good he began to harm the Cahuilla people. Chief Algoot determined that Tahquitz had become a demon in human form and must be banished from the village in the foothills to a hidden cave high on barren San Jacinto Mountain. My personal aside to this tale is that the Mountain Cahuilla lived quite happily up there in the mountains near what came to be known as Tahquitz Peak. They had abundant water and food and I imagine they were doing quite a bit better in that regard than the Pass Cahuilla down near the desert floor where Tahquitz came from. If the Mountain Cahuilla knew that Chief Algoot had sent a sociopathic lunatic to live in their midst and on top of it all called their territory “barren”, I imagine they were pretty cranky about it. Rude.
Anyway, Tahquitz didn’t like being banished one bit. He threw a big temper tantrum and cursed the land, leaving the once lush Tahquitz Valley putrid and shriveled. He also captured fair maidens and hid them away in his cave and took to cannibalizing the Cahuilla tribesmen who came up the valley to leave provisions for Tahquitz. Ultimately Algoot did vanquish the human Tahquitz, but not his spirit which is still seen today as a green ball of light that travels along the mountaintops to and from his evil lair.
On a Sunday I had plans to meet my Naturalist friend Sama and hike around exploring the wilderness near Idyllwild, a town whose mountain landmark is Tahquitz Peak, so I thought, what the heck, I’ll spend Saturday exploring Tahquitz Canyon and work my way up to Tahquitz’s peak the next day. Then the coincidences started throwing delightful fireballs at my path telling me to walk a different way.
It was a sizzling 110+ degrees as I hiked the belly of Tahquitz Canyon. The canyon is on Agua Cliente Band of Cahuilla Indians tribal land at the base of Mt. San Jacinto. It is a former Cahuilla village site that was supported by a perennial creek and at the head of the lower canyon is a gorgeous waterfall grotto. The waterfall was running, but full view of it is obscured by a huge boulder.
I wanted to get behind the boulder for a full look around inside the grotto so I waded into the thick, mossy, pool of tadpole water at the base of the falls. Within 4 feet of dry ground the pool had already plunged me in up to the tops of my thighs.
The waterfall was only a trickle on this day, but I imagine that during the rains it must rage because the pool it has cut at its base is plunging and deep. I thought that maybe I could climb up on and over the boulder for a look into the grotto, but the boulder has been slickened to the smoothness of a marble and I couldn’t get any traction. I almost fell over trying to scramble it. I took it as a sign that Tahquitz did not want me approaching his waterfall. I apologized to the waterfall for being so presumptuous and backed off.
It was so hot that my pants were dry again within 15 minutes of walking. I thought they would smell like frog swamp, but they didn’t. There’s a testimony for air drying laundry in the sun.
There are a few archaeological remnants of human occupation in the canyon that visitors are encouraged to explore and many more that aren’t mentioned by the visitor’s center. I escaped the heat for a little bit in a lovely capacious rock shelter on the side of the canyon.
And there was another “rock shelter” lower in the canyon that would have been more of the back wall of a brush hut. They know this was used for a shelter because some of the oldest artifacts in the canyon (dating 1,000 to 1,600 years ago) were found here.
I saw one pictograph painted higher in the canyon near the first rock shelter.
And there is a large panel lower in the canyon that is called “Sacred Rock”.
Unfortunately, the images are in really bad shape. Here are some close-ups of a few of the images that actually look like something.
Personally, I found this rock to be sacred because it was the only shady spot available in the mouth of the canyon and I wanted to sit down to cool off. Unfortunately, Tahquitz was at his tricks again. A swarm of wasps hectored me every time I sat down. I could stand in front of Sacred Rock, no problem, but the second I would sit down they would attack. Rude. I’d already been out in the canyon for several hours, it was the heat of the day, and as much as I wanted to poke around some more and enjoy the place, I just needed to get out of the heat.
Entering the visitor’s center a Tribal Ranger greeted me. We chatted a bit as I perused the bookshelf. He asked if I was interested in plants. I said, “I’m more interested in archaeology, but I’m on my way to meet my friend who’s a naturalist.” He said, “Well I wrote this book,” and he pointed to a book called, “Plants of the Cahuilla Indians” by Robert James Hepburn.
This book turns out to be one of the best books I’ve ever seen for identifying local plants and classifying their uses. Furthermore, the author, this unassuming looking Ranger standing before me, turns out to be an exciting adventurer and survivalist who in previous decades had purchased a portion of the treacherous and inaccessible higher reaches of Tahquitz Canyon, built a cabin out of materials that he carried on his back, and lived there for many years studying the wilderness and more or less living off the land. He was called “Mountain Bob” and something of a desert celebrity who could only be visited in his canyon home by intrepid climbers or by helicopter. On top of simply being an amazing individual, he wrote a book that would be a perfect accompaniment to my hiking adventure the next day with my naturalist friend. This was coincidence number 1.
Coincidence number 2 started with me just being a show-off. I wanted to keep this fascinating guy talking to me so I started blah blah blahing about something random that I thought might make me sound interesting. Without context or preface I randomly said to Mountain Bob, “I have a theory that if Europeans had never come to the Southwest, today it would look a lot like ancient cities in the middle east. I mean look at the stone and stucco ancient middle eastern cities, they look like New Mexico.” Mountain Bob opened his book to the page that introduces the author, pointed to a paragraph and said, “This is me.” The words that popped out at me were “A Bible translator…” I had just accidentally brought up this guy’s favorite topic! It turns out that Mountain Bob speaks four ancient languages spends all his free time studying ancient middle eastern cultures. We spent the next several minutes discussing the great pyramids and the controversial, possibly erroneous timeline of ancient Egypt. He referred me to some fascinating books and documentaries which I have since enjoyed and have brought up randomly in conversation with other people which has lead to other enlightening conversations and the forging of other new friendships. Apparently, it is a principle that lucky things are thrown in the path of the solo traveler. That’s what Sama was about to drill into me by being the second soulmate I’ve met this year.
The next morning I woke up in the back of my jeep on top of Black Mountain and drove down into Idyllwild to meet Sama. I recently spent an intense week in Idyllwild taking a Wilderness First Responder course. This is where I met Sama. She is a world traveler, a trained wildlife tracker, a Naturalist by profession, and an hilarious conversationalist. We hit it off in the WFR class, but didn’t have much time to socialize or explore Idyllwild given that we were intensely studying medicine 24 hours a day (or what felt like 24 hours a day). We met again on this day to do those fun things we hadn’t time for before, namely hike around Tahquitz Peak.
I had a bee in my bonnet that I was still on the Tahquitz hunting trail, but one thing and another prevented a hike to the peak which would have taken all day. First, that we were trying to get on the entirely wrong trail and that we would need a permit to hike that trail anyway, which we didn’t have. I was trying so hard not to be frustrated that my plan to capture Tahquitz’s soul was going awry, but I took it as another sign that I was not supposed to be chasing evil ghosts. Instead I was supposed to be focusing on these inspiring living naturalists that were already part of this journey. Instead of going up the mountain, Sama and I went down along a drainage to study the bounteous plants of the mountain Cahuilla.
Armed with Mountain Bob’s book we were such nerds, geeking out on various plants and animal tracks. We learned that Manzanita can be used to make a tea to treat diarreah. We harvested some leaves to try it later at the coffee shop.
Sama showed me the correct way to grind an acorn.
All the time we were talking, talking, talking. And all the time we kept saying things that the other was thinking on the most coincidental topics you would not expect two strangers to have in common. This happened to me once earlier this year. When I was hiking alone in Arizona, I crossed paths with only one person the whole day, and it turned out that the things I had in common with that person and the insights I learned from talking to him were so powerful that it blasted me off the trajectory I was on and totally rebooted my whole life. That’s what was happening again with Sama. Our life experiences and the issues I’d been ruminating on recently were, shockingly, the exact experiences that Sama had already recently experienced. The things I learned from talking with her gave clarity to the new path I had started since the last soul mate I met and gave me even more focus. The things I had in common with Sama were coincidence number 3.
After plant hunting we went pictograph hunting. We climbed around in the rocks and looked for “spiritual feeling” lookouts above an old village site where we thought we would paint pictographs if we were Cahuilla. Mostly we were just goofing off. What we ended up doing is relaxing on a boulder that was naturally cut like a chair meditating on a picture perfect view of Tahquitz Peak – that monument that the mountain spirits had kept me from exploring in favor of watching magical Sama make Dragonflies land on her stick and catch lizards by the neck with a long piece of grass. This girl is my hero.
At the very end of the day we happened upon a Ranger who had just gotten off work (coincidence number 4) and asked him where we could find some pictographs. He told us where there was a fenced enclosure around a rock with a huge panel right inside the campground. We drove over there to check them out. As soon as we got out of the car the Ranger pulled up in his golf cart and asked us if we would like to go inside the gate to look at them close up. Um, “Yes please!” We offered him a bag of frosted animal cookies and he unlocked the gate for us. We enjoyed our V.I.P. access to the beautiful panel of fairly well preserved pictographs. We didn’t find the ones in the wild that we were looking for, but we were running out of time. Instead of going away unsuccessful, the nice ranger appeared and gave us the best show in the land.
We ended a perfect day of surprising fun and exploration at the coffee shop where we obtained a cup of hot water to make our Manzanita tea and eat the rest of our cheese. We accepted that the combination of the two would probably keep us from going to the bathroom for a while, but it was worth it.
How do you tell the difference between something good and something that is evil? In the words of St. Ignatius, “…some thoughts left him sad while others made him happy, and little by little he came to perceive the different spirits that were moving him; one coming from the devil, and the other coming from God.” ~The Autobiography of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
…some thoughts left him sad while others made him happy, and little by little he came to perceive the different spirits that were moving him; one coming from the devil, the other coming from God.
~The Autobiography of St Ignatius of Loyola
I believe that the good spirits of the Cahuilla people prevented me from fulfilling my plan to seek out the evil Shaman Tahquitz. Instead they put beautiful earth-loving people in my path to take me on a more life-affirming journey. I made a good new friend and soulmate in Sama, and since Mountain Bob gave me his phone number and email address I plan to connect with him again soon and see what more wonder can come from that relationship. Forget about mean old dead evil Tahquitz. Who needs him and his death spells? In life he rotted away in his own bubble of self obsession, alone, unloved and eventually executed for his misdeeds. There’s nothing good to mine from bedding down with guys like that, dead or alive. The Naturalists showed me brighter paths on that hot weekend in Cahuilla country. They pushed the blooms of nature my way. They led me to commune with gentler things. And the rightness of their leadership was confirmed by meaningful coincidences along the way. The naturalists won. Darkness is no match for light. I’m glad I sometimes have the good sense to follow the right one.