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Rock House Canyon near the Santa Rosa Mountains – Anza Borrego

Picking my way through boulders along an eroded jeep road I saw a hot, panting group of people scattered about resting up ahead.  I pulled over the jeep to greet them.  The patriarch explained that he owned the land on the two flats above the canyon, one of which was Jackass Flat.  It is a unique little land holding surrounded by California State Park property.  He remembered coming out here with his granddaddy and climbing the sides of the canyon in a bulldozer for fun.  Oh, those were the days…  I remember doing the same thing with my grandpa except in the dune buggy.  Both the dog and my sister were always falling off the dune buggy.  I think my sister even had to have stitches once.  Ah, yes, those were the days, when parents let their kids get mortally wounded for fun.

I complimented the gentleman on his beautiful land and asked what fun Native American artifacts there may be to see around there.  His wife said, “You have to ask our son A.J.  Where’d A.J. go?”  The man said cryptically, “They’re like gold.  You find them where you find them.”  I loved that answer.  I was however more than a little intrigued about this mysterious know-everything A.J.

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This is not A.J.

Another 1/2 mile down the end of the road I parked at a nice flat camping spot where I was sure to die the prime target of a flash flood.  I spotted a young male hipster wearing a bright green shirt with a cat on it walking around taking photos.  I said to him, “You must be A.J.”  He laughed and confessed that he was.  I told him that I’d met his family and that they credit him with knowing everything about Rock House Canyon.  He laughed again.  He was minding his own business and was content to leave me to mine without asking me any questions so I didn’t bother asking him any.  I appreciated how chill and cool he was.  He made me feel like I was in a trendy coffee shop amongst friendly millennials.  We mutually obeyed the unspoken social contract to live and let live and parted ways.  Me and A.J., we coo’.

I’d read that there were the remnants of a large Native American village on Jackass Flat.  It was late, but I thought I had enough daylight to hike up there and check things out and maybe hike back in the dark.  No biggie.  That’s why god invented flashlights. (If only he’d invent human teleportation. I’ve always wanted that as my superpower.)

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Indian trail

Just before the “Hidden Spring”, the Regal Beagle of bee hangouts, was an indian trail that traversed up the canyon wall.

Have I mentioned about a thousand times how much I hate cholla cactus?  They are so cute and cuddly looking, and they photograph great in the sunset light, but they are little bastards that always manage to stab me in the thighs.  When I come home from hiking in the desert I always look like I’ve been in a medieval mace fight with the Lilliputians from Gulliver’s Travels.

At the top I met Greg and Chris and gale force winds.  Greg and Chris had backpacked from the south across Jackass Flat and were cowboy camping on the edge of the canyon for the night.  I felt really bad for them later that night as the wind rocked my jeep and I was curled up cozy inside it like a bean in a burrito.

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Greg and Chris

The first thing I looked for on the flat was an outcropping of large rocks.  A windy flat = prehistoric people who would have needed a place to get out of it.

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Jackass Flat

I headed straight for the biggest boulders I could see and Bingo! I found a profusion of grinding slicks and mortar holes.

What I was extra curious about was a claim that there may be evidence of solstice rituals on the flat.  The sunset was behind me across the flat so I assumed that sunrise must come beaming down the canyon toward the flat so I worked my way along the edge of the canyon to see if anything lined up in a peculiar way.  Something did line up in a peculiar way.  A huge white boulder stood tallest of all along the ledge and it did seem to point right to the mouth of the canyon toward the East.  Things that make you go “Hmm”.

Behind the white boulder was a pathway of smaller light colored stones leading toward the boulder.  They were kind of messed up and I’m not saying they mean anything.  They could have been placed there by campers to hold down tarps, etc.  But, anyway, I took notice.

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Greg and Chris hadn’t seen the part of the village I’d explored, but over by their campsite were even more exciting things.  They had a couple of deep grinding holes, pottery sherds, and a petroglyph.

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Petroglyph

This petroglyph was it, I knew.  It was an alignment of two rows of cupules carved into the patina of the boulder mimicking the arc of Rock House Canyon and probably also the progression of the solstice sunrise across the petroglyphs.  I added this to my list of about a dozen places I want to wake up in on solstice days to see what’s going on.

I managed to stay up on Jackass Flat until the sun went all the way down and I had a hard time finding the trailhead back down the canyon.  I just prayed I wouldn’t lose the trail and have to pick my way through the cholla back to my jeep.  I held the trail which seemed steeper going down for some reason.

The petrified rivulets of mud not he floor of the canyon looked psychedelic and magical in the starlight.  I got out my GoPro to try to take a long-exposure night photo of the waves.  I hit go and waited.  The picture turned out totally black.  It was a moonless night and I thought that perhaps it was just too dark in the canyon to pick up any ambient light for photography.  It wasn’t until I was down the way a piece that it dawned on me I hadn’t taken off my lens cap.  Ugh.  I’m glad I don’t do this for money.

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