A few weekends back I had the unique pleasure of taking a hike with my son Luke, son-in-law PJ and nephew-in-law Todd. I did a lot of hiking around California in my youth and have been looking forward to doing some more now that I live here again. Todd is an expert on Native American rock art, in particular the art of the Chumash who lived in the Santa Barbara area. He has taken me on a couple of short excursions before. This was an overnight to see some pretty special work.

It was the first time I have been out with Luke and PJ at the same time, so it was a very special guy’s weekend for me. We camped out and were glad to have Todd to supply all of the necessities that the rest of us forgot to bring. Its not like I go camping every day. We were out of cell phone range, too, so it was unusual in many ways.

The Carisa or Carizzo Plain is a fairly desolate patch of California. There was an attempt to settle it once, a town called California City that failed for lack of water. There has been oil and mineral exploration but nothing economical enough to stick. Luck for us to have it now, largely untouched.

The Plain was the northernmost edge of the Chumash territory which extends down to the Santa Monica mountains in the south. I grew up in the midst of their lands and had some friends with Chumash ancestry. The environment was especially benign until the Spanish arrived, a sad story for someone else to tell. The first Spanish explorer to land in the area wrote something to this effect in his journal: “The savages of this area have such a plenitude of food and such a perfect climate that they have nothing to do but sing and dance. We must save their wretched souls.” Go figure.


The Painted Rock site, which we visited on our second day, may be both the largest and oldest rock painting site in the U. S. There is older art, petroglyphs, chipped in to the rocks of the Southwest. This art is painted with natural pigments. And, according to Todd, the paintings are rapidly fading in our lifetimes.

Painted Rock is a structure with an inner enclosure about 50 feet across where the Chumash and Yokuts from the San Joaquin Valley would gather for trade and ceremony. Within that enclosure is the largest painting that stretches 60 feet across a rock wall. It tells the story of the Sun God arriving in Mexico, a prophecy of legend marking the beginning of a golden age of harmony. The Sun God turned out to be Cortez who conquered Mexico for Spain and brought the Azec Empire to an end. The painting was revised to draw barriers around the Sun God, apparently in hopes of containing his efforts to the south. Sadly this marvelous painting was vandalized by someone with a shotgun in the 1950’s so we can only see pieces of it now.

Paintings at our first site, Sulfer Springs, are in better shape though fading.
You can see pictures from the hike at https://picasaweb.google.com/rwbrown900/Carisa. You have to manually slow down the slide show by clicking on the [+] in the control bar. Google glitch. We are planning a follow-up trip to the Sierra Madre mountains to the south for July. If it happens, I will share our discoveries here.

Safari to the Carisa Plain

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