“The Blue Sun Cave” (Anza Borrego State Park)

"The Blue Sun Cave" - Close up of the sunbursts and various other designs.
"The Blue Sun Cave" - The hike to Indian Hill is across one mile of wide open desert.

“The Blue Sun Cave” – The hike to Indian Hill is across one mile of wide open desert.

 

“The Blue Sun Cave” was on my radar for the better part of two years, however I hadn’t managed to fit Anza Borrego into my busy schedule.  Shame on me for that, because I have been missing out on a gorgeous section of the California desert region. When the opportunity presented itself on a scorching Saturday in May, my wife and I ventured into what was the unknown to us.

Our day started on a grand note, along Highway 78, near Grapevine Canyon we ran over a large screw. It embedded itself in the tire of my Jeep Wrangler. The low tire alert came on, so I pulled over to check it out. Upon opening the door, I could hear the tire hissing. I changed the tire in haste, and we got back on our merry way.

After a few stops and route finding errors we arrived at the wash that we had to hike to get to Indian Hill, the granite boulder pile that hides the mysterious, “Blue Sun Cave.”  The temperature was reading 107 when we emerged from the Jeep, it was a minimum of a mile hike in. The length not a problem, this would be a short hike compared to some of our excursions. The concern was the open desert with no shade, and the extreme temperatures. The temperature would reach 114 as we made our way to Indian Hill.

"The Blue Sun Cave" - A rock shelter/overhang that contains smoke damage.

“The Blue Sun Cave” – A rockshelter/overhang that contains smoke damage.

 

"The Blue Sun Cave" - An impressive selection of mortars available for your grinding needs.

“The Blue Sun Cave” – An impressive selection of mortars available for your grinding needs.

 

"The Blue Sun Cave" - These people had no shortage of places to grind berries, nuts, and even small animals.

“The Blue Sun Cave” – These people had no shortage of places to grind berries, nuts, and even small animals.

 

We approached Indian Hill, and was first drawn to a large granite knob. Approaching the knob we could see a massive overhang, very low to the ground.  We ducked down, crawled under the overhang, and found a blackened ceiling. This would be the first sign that we were on the right path. The ceiling was blackened by ancient fires from the Kumeyaay and Northern Dieguino tribes that once inhabited the most extreme southwestern United States, and the Baja peninsula of Mexico.

Rounding the corner of the overhang revealed a bedrock mortar stone, and in the backside of the overhang, several nicely pitted mortars. I get as excited over habitation sites as I do about rock art sites, every habitation site has it’s own story, it’s own people with their own challenges.

I try to imagine the people who lived here over several thousand years, some as far back as 6,000 years ago!  I image the scenes being similar to those we see on National Geographic, with their coverage of South American or New Guinea tribes that have had little to no communication with the outside world. In many ways, a better place…and better time, a time when your family was close. You hunted next to your brother, your father, your grandfather.  A time when nobody thought about what was going on around the globe, they didn’t even know a world existed beyond their travels.  No cell phones, no mindless dribble on the television, and no having to worry about the $200,000 mortgage.  Our advancing culture has seriously destroyed existence as it once was, some might say for better, I prefer to think for the worst. Yes, I live in a house, and embrace technology (sometimes), because this is the time I live in. Try living on public land for an extended period, you’ll likely have the government believing you are a terrorist, then they’ll hunt you down and kill you.

Enough of my digression…

After searching around the granite knob we ventured off, and around Indian Hill. I had a good feeling that we were on the right track, and within minutes I was standing on yet another bedrock with several mortars. I’ve seen locations with numerous mortars before, but the volume of them here was boggling my mind. This was obviously not a small camp, this was the site of a village.

"The Blue Sun Cave" - The orange anthropomorphic design that was staring down at me.

“The Blue Sun Cave” – The orange anthropomorphic design that was staring down at me.

 

"The Blue Sun Cave" - Holy crap, those are some impressive mortars and metates!

“The Blue Sun Cave” – Holy crap, those are some impressive mortars and metates!

 

I was looking high and low among the outcropping, when finally I saw what appeared to be an orange anthropomorphic design staring down at me from twenty feet above. I wasn’t sure if this was “The Blue Sun Cave,” that I had been searching for, but I was ecstatic to find pictographs. Taking a few steps backward would reveal that it was indeed the site that I had longed to see, neatly tucked away in the corner of the jumble was a small cave, I could see several pictographs painted on the walls.

I climbed up the boulders, and received quite the surprise when I turned around to find yet another boulder covered with mortars and metates.  I have never seen anything like it before! The amount of time that it would have taken to grind this stone down to this level would likely have taken several lifetimes.  It was Native American craftsmanship at it’s finest, a hand-built kitchen of the past. I envisioned a little old woman with tired and cracked faces sitting on the stone grinding away, preparing food for the hungry men when they returned from their hunting and gathering expedition.

When I reached the top, before even approaching the cave, I sat my pack down, and helped guide my wife up. We approached the cave together, sharing in the first up close encounter. We both sat and stared, looking, exploring the many designs with our eyes and mind. This was the most color that we have encountered in one place. A total of six colors made up the vibrant panels, including: orange, red, black, yellow, white, and blue.  Several sun designs decorate the walls, many utilizing multiple colors. The cave received its modern name from the blue and orange sun, the blue pigment is extreme rarity, so rare that I’ve only found a few other references to blue pictographs anywhere in the world.

"The Blue Sun Cave"

“The Blue Sun Cave”

 

"The Blue Sun Cave"

“The Blue Sun Cave”

 

"The Blue Sun Cave" - Close up of the sunbursts and various other designs.

“The Blue Sun Cave” – Close up of the sunbursts and various other designs.

 

"The Blue Sun Cave" - The "Dragonfly panel"

“The Blue Sun Cave” – The “Dragonfly panel”

 

"The Blue Sun Cave"

“The Blue Sun Cave”

 

Archeologists have identified two styles of rock art in the cave, they are:

La Rumorosa Style – Characterized by polychrome rectangular and curvilinear designs in red, black, yellow, and white. Sunbursts, divided circles and amorphic shapes, bold lines, and simple ‘stickman’ anthropomorphs are common; two or more colors are often used in one element. This style is associated with the Kumeyaay people post AD 1500, occurs on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, and is named by Ken Hedges for the extensive La Rumorosa Pictograph Site in Baja, Mexico.

San Luis Rey Style – Characterized by rectangular geometric designs in red which include diamonds, diamond chains, zigzags, chevrons, straight lines and dot patterns; often in vertical series; frequently bordered at top and/or bottom; rare representational and curvilinear elements (True, 1954). Associated with late prehistoric and historic Luiseno people. Type site is on the San Luis Rey River, San Diego County, California.

(style descriptions from www.petroglyphs.us)

"The Blue Sun Cave" - Inside a neighboring rock shelter

“The Blue Sun Cave” – Inside a neighboring rock shelter

 

"The Blue Sun Cave" - All black pictograph in a neighboring shelter.

“The Blue Sun Cave” – All black pictograph in a neighboring shelter.

 

After photographing the cave, I explored deeper into the natural shelters and found one additional faded all black design. I photographed it, and returned to the cave where I sat and pondered a bit longer. The shade was pleasant. Despite the extreme heat, it felt much cooler out of the reach of the sun. It is no wonder these early people gravitated to the rock, it was a sanctuary.

We finally emerged from the sanctuary and made our way back across the sweltering landscape, but not before finding yet two additional boulders with milling stations. I would have loved to have explored further and deeper, but having already spent several hours cooking, it was time to go.  Another time, and another trip may uncover more of “The Blue Sun Cave.”

"The Blue Sun Cave" - The view out from the shaman's cave

“The Blue Sun Cave” – The view out from the shaman’s cave

 

"The Blue Sun Cave" - Milling station

“The Blue Sun Cave” – Milling station

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

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