It is somewhat often that I receive requests to go hiking from complete strangers, people who feel as if they know me from the words that I type out across the screen, yet I know them only by a screen name or email address. While I appreciate folks thinking of me, I more often than not find myself declining these invites. It isn’t a matter of being snarky or rude, it is a matter of my comfort level in meeting new people. Those of you that know me, or have met me, may be surprised by that. I’m able to pull off comfortable in social settings relatively easy, while my guts scream at me to run and hide. It is also a matter of personal safety, the idea of traipsing through the wilderness with someone you barely know, is usually not the best idea.
For whatever reason after exchanging a few emails with Jim, it was a different story. He invited me to go on a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, I was planning to be in the vicinity within a few weeks anyway. I figured, why the hell not. Jim promised a short, yet chaotic hike into the park’s backcountry where we would visit a seldom seen Chumash pictograph panel. Maybe the key to getting me to go hiking with you is to offer up some “rock art.”
In the days leading up to the hike we exchanged several emails. Mostly Jim wanting to remind me of daylight savings time (which I had forgotten about – Thanks, Jim!), to wear both long pants, and long sleeves (which I had already planned to), and to warn me about wet conditions, possible rock climbing along the route, and a shit ton of poison oak. In other words, everything that you don’t want to hear before entering the wilderness with someone who you’ve never met!
Never-the-less, the morning of the hike arrived. I dragged my buddy Ryan along despite some strict time restrains that he had that morning because of family obligations. After a little confusion on the meeting place we met up with Jim at the trailhead about 10 minutes late.
Jim was a middle-aged man, tall and skinny. He was wearing blue jeans and a collared polo shirt, he definitely didn’t fit my idea of the stereotypical hiker. But who am I to talk with my blue mohawk, tattoos, and facial piercing? Besides that I brought my buddy Ryan, who looks like he could be rolling with the Bloods or Crips, and slinging mad dope on the street while rocking some Suicidal Tendencies. We were an odd-looking group, but we all shared the same interests in nature, and archaeological wonders.
We set off along a well maintained trail across rolling green hills before soon disappearing into the forest. Somewhere along the way Jim showed us a mortar site just off of the trail complete with two pestles. What a beautiful thing to find sitting just feet away from a busy trail system.
At this point I was thinking to myself, wow…this hike is going to be a cinch. It was soon after that my new buddy Jim began to throw me for a loop. We entered a tight canyon, everything was wet and muddy from the rain two days prior. The canyon had several large sandstone boulder obstacles that wouldn’t have been an issue if the conditions were dry, however with mud caked to the bottom of my shoes every step had to be taken with extra precaution. Once through the short canyon we again entered a grass land, this time with massive, and beautiful oak trees. Along the tops of the mountains a fog hovered giving the impression that we had entered a tropical paradise.
It wasn’t long before the hike turned into a layer of hell. Upon arriving at a sandstone outcropping, Jim explained that the site we were looking for was on the other side. The only problem was that the canyon to get there was an overgrown jungle of poison oak, and satan himself. Jim led the way, ducking, pushing, and crunching his way through a forest of everything that sucks in life. We emerged from forest hell, and soon entered muddy shoes and slippery sandstone cliff hell. Imagine walking along a slanted balancing beam after having just stepped in a fresh steaming pile of dog shit. Yeah, you get the idea.
Approaching the site I asked Jim if anyone had ever given him a trail name, which he replied “no”. I then christened him with the well deserving name of, “Bushwacking Jim.” I think that he liked it, but can’t be too sure. It was definitely a name applied out of endearment for this man’s pure badassery.
The pictograph panel was larger than I imagined. I hadn’t seen any images of it prior, and really didn’t know what to expect. All of the designs were painted in orange ochre, and covered a significant portion of a recession in the rock.
My first impression was that they didn’t look like your typical Chumash designs. The Chumash are the people who have inhabited this area for many several thousands of years. They are known for elaborate and detailed designs, often incorporating images of fish like people, and aquatic animals. There was none of that here, just simple diamond patterned zig-zag lines, and an assortment of shapes. The designs reminded me of panels that are often associated with female puberty rituals in the California desert regions, where the Cahuilla, Serrano, and Chemehuevi each were known to perform these ritual around painting these types of designs on rock.
Could that be what this site was, a Chumash female puberty ritual site? It is known that the Chumash had their own rituals for girls coming of age, and they too incorporated “rock art” into these rituals. I however find it surprising that they would share so closely the imagery of the desert tribes that lived hundreds of miles in land. But I am no expert by any means, simply someone with a passion for photographing, and documenting my findings, occasionally throwing an idea or a concept out there.
We spent about twenty minutes at the site before making our way back the way that we came. I’d like to think that “Bushwacking Jim” will soon come along with me on another journey, as I believe that a good time was had by all.
I now sit here writing this with poison oak blisters on my right hand, left arm, right leg, and a big patch on my back. I’m still trying to figure out how I was compromised in so many locations considering I was well covered. Ah well, it comes with the territory, I can’t think of a time in the last year that I’ve hiked in this region without getting poison oak. Whatever, it is worth it.