Thursday, October 15, 2020

Born Again

This is a long one, so pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable!

The old timers called it "Casa Grande". More recently it's usually referred to as the "Coming of Age" site or the "Born Again" site. It's chock full of pictographs, including diamond motif pictos that are known to be associated with girls' puberty rituals (hence the Coming of Age name). The site also contains this interesting cave on one side of the shelter that requires you to lay flat on the ground and literally crawl on all fours to squeeze through. A little beyond half way you come across the diamond motif pictos. When you crawl out the other end, you feel... well, it's a bit like being born again! It's been conjectured that the ritual went something like this: A Native American girl, on the threshold of womanhood, would enter the cave as a girl. The cave gets smaller and more restrictive as you crawl through it, and she would exit out the other end as a woman. But I'm getting way ahead of myself!

Monday, Oct. 12, was Indigenous Peoples Day, AKA Columbus Day, but I guess old Chris is not the hero we once thought. Personally, I would much prefer to celebrate Indigenous People, and as my readers know, I love wandering the desert looking for Native American rock art and other cultural artifacts. With that in mind, I chose to post about the Born Again site, which is one of my favorite Native American sites in all of Joshua Tree National Park. I would put this on my "top 5 all time favorite hikes" list, but I think the list is already full! Seriously, a great hike and one I will always remember.

Are we there yet?

The Born Again hike had been on my "to do" list for years. But the limited information out there all agreed that it's long and challenging. I had approximate coordinates and had spent hours on Google Earth mapping out the best route. The route followed a rocky wash for long distances, and appeared to have a couple of large "dry waterfalls" that would have to be navigated (assuming it was possible to navigate them at all). Challenging for sure, and not a hike I wanted to try alone. Fortunately a couple friends were interested in a hike, and when I mentioned the Born Again site, they gave it a thumbs up!

I'm not a morning person but decided to make an exception for this hike. We decided to meet at the trail head at first light, which I think was about 6:15 or 6:30AM. The hike took place in June, and the temps were predicted to reach into the upper 80's or low 90's, so a little too hot for ideal hiking weather. Man, was I surprised when I pulled up to the trailhead about 6:15AM and saw my car thermometer registering 54 degrees. Could that possibly be accurate?? I didn't even have a jacket! Turns out it wasn't a problem because the day warmed up quickly.

The Nolina flower stalks were putting on quite a show. When they catch the morning light they stand out beautifully!

The nice thing about hiking with friends is you usually end up with some shots of yourself! Mike took this photo and some of the others below (thanks, Mike!). That's Mitch on the right and me on the left, hiking along a desert wash that we followed for miles. Some sections were easy and flat; some sections were full of soft sand that make hiking difficult and strenuous; and some sections were filled with boulders. The boulder-filled sections were the most challenging. 

I mentioned we would have to navigate around a couple of dry waterfalls. That's me (above) looking back up-wash in the direction we came from. If I step back 4-5 steps, it's about a 30' tumble down a huge dryfall!

This is looking down from the top of the dryfall. Hard to tell from this photo, but that's a long way down! We can't get down this way, so let's see if there is an alternate way down.

Here, Mitch and I are picking our way down the boulders on the left side of the dryfall. Not an easy route, but it's the only option we can find.

As we get around the large dryfall and drop into the wash again, we come across this old bighorn sheep skull wedged between some rocks. I wonder how it met its demise? Could it have slipped and fallen off the waterfall, perhaps during a flash flood? Or maybe taken down by a cougar? It's anyone's guess. We left it exactly as we found it and moved on.

The other thing memorable about the area below the dryfall (besides the skull) was the large pool of water on this hot, June day. This could well be a critical source of water for bighorn sheep and other critters in the area.
Please, are we there yet???!!

Finally!!! There it is... the Casa Grande/Coming of Age/Born Again site! What an amazing and unique rock formation. Shelter caves on the left and right sides, and a large spacious overhang providing lots of shade. It's not far from the wash, and years ago there was more rainfall in the area than there is now. Likely this dry wash was a nice little seasonal stream. Who knows, may be it flowed year round. It's no surprise Native Americans were attracted to this site.
This photo gives you a feel for how large the overhang is, and the large amount of shade it provides. That's Mitch, hard at work documenting pictographs.

Something else amazing about this site is the metate grinding stone just outside the Born Again cave (center of photo). It's possible the stone on the lower left is a metate as well. There would have been a smaller stone called a mano used to grind seeds and other materials on the metate. I didn't look carefully, but somewhere in the area might be the mano, which would be a stone that would comfortably fit in your hand and show definite signs of worn down edges from the grinding process. Oh, and that's Mike, in the process of being born again!

A closer look at the metate. Others before us have placed pottery sherds, chipped rock, and bone fragments on it. I was tempted to clean it off to get a better photo, but decided to leave it exactly as I found it.

The Born Again cave is bigger at the start and narrows as you crawl forward. The walls are stained with soot from long ago fires... who knows how many hundreds of years ago? There are pictographs sprinkled in between the soot, but I get the impression there were probably many more pictos here, covered over by soot from ancient fires.

The diamond chain is perhaps the most significant pictograph in the Born Again cave, helping to give the site it's name. If you look closely, you can see a white pictograph and something that looks like a petroglyph, along with black soot.

Mitch being BORN AGAIN!!

Back out into daylight, it really is an experience crawling through the born again tunnel and coming out the other end. Let's take a look at some of the many pictographs scattered all over the walls at this site.

On the underside of the overhang, you can see lots of rock art. Most of the pictographs are reddish, but there are also black and white pictos. Many look to be significantly faded (perhaps they are older?). I wonder what the rock art at this location looked like a few hundred years ago, prior to so much of it fading? Likely spectacular!

As odd as it sounds, spending an afternoon taking pictures of pictographs can be exhausting! Here's Mitch in the process of composing a shot. In areas that are darker, we have to also balance a light.

This last one is my favorite. It looks like a butterfly. We have all three colors represented here. It looks like the faint black pictos might be the oldest. I can make out areas where the white pictos cover the black lines. The red picto looks like it covers both black and white lines, although it's hard to be certain. Note that I used dStretch on most of these photos to make the pictos stand out more clearly.

Some of the pictos at this site are very unique. That, combined with the sheer number of pictos, the gorgeous rock formation with caves (especially the Born Again cave) and large overhang providing lots of shade, and the metate and pottery sherds, make this a very magical site. If you are lucky enough to visit, please leave it exactly as you find it, so others may enjoy the magic!
9.5 miles of boulder-filled wash; ascent 988'; descent 965'. 
One of the toughest hikes I've done!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Stay safe & stay healthy.
Thanks for stopping by!!


  1. You have some amazing hikes with spectacular destinations. On Indigenous Peoples Day I was reading "Indian Horse" by Richard Wagamese. It's a historical (albeit recent) novel about a First Nation's man struggle through and following residential school. It was a tough read which led to a lot of thought about white privilege and racism. - Margy

  2. Wow, that's quite a site. It just amazes me that the pictograms are still there after what is likely hundreds of years.

  3. I'm glad you warned us. I was standing up. Be right back. :)

  4. Wow! How amazing to be there in person. I agree with Liz A., it amazes me that the pictograms are still there.

  5. ...thanks for all the effort to show and sharing this special place, I appreciate it!

  6. I sent a second comment but I am not sure if it has arrived to its destination...

  7. Brilliant hike and superb photos clearly showing the rock art, hard to think they are so old but the condition is amazing

  8. I said I was amazed with your new adventure. What an experience. I enjoyed it so much I read the post again. I wanted to make sure I hadn't missed any single, tiny detail.
    Thank you.

  9. Phew so much in this post! Great to have company while hiking, but then, it also could be limiting (don't have to answer that one:))Nice to "see" you hiking, once in a while! Since I'm not a countryman, please enlighten me why "Columbus was not the hero we once thought?"because I have no idea ... The palms that are in two images are really pretty! Don't mind palms, as long as they're not in my yard, haha.

  10. AMAZING. You work for it, ans we all get the rewards but no the excitment of FIRST hand experience. Some of this is really wild. Thanks for taking us along.
    Sherry & jack

  11. What a wonderful experience to find and explore this place. Amazing photos showing the beauty of the rock art. Thanks for taking us along, it was a fabulous adventure. Take care, have a wonderful weekend and stay safe!

  12. you found another beauty to explore - thanks for sharing

  13. Perhaps your best post ever - and I hope you continue to stay healthy and safe! I enjoyed seeing you hike, too.

  14. Your finds amaze me. Thank you for this!

  15. Oh my----my legs are aching. What a neat site and interesting legend. So amazing. All those pictographs---excellent! We were hiking up on Mt. Baker and part of the hike was boulders and it was miserable but of course doable and across a glacier wash (dry). Interesting and of course still fun.
    Great photos also. That overhang is very huge

  16. Another fabulous adventure and you were well-rewarded for your efforts. I like the early morning photos with the highlights of the Nolina plants.

  17. What a pretty tree with the sun shining through, and look at that animal skull! That's quite an adventure.


  18. Another adventure. Amazing find and great photos. What a hike you and your co-explorers took.

  19. What a rewarding adventure! I'm afraid I'd need to take some time to work up to that distance, but that opportunity would be motivating. Great photos!

  20. Interesting post, Amazing pics.
    Have a nice weekend.

  21. Absolutely Amazing - Full On Born Again - What An Adventure - Good On You - Enjoy The Family Time This Weekend - Be Well


  22. Wonderful pictures and information--- as always!

  23. Hello,
    I am just happy I was able to go along on this hike, the easy virtually way. The skull is cool. Amazing finds, I love all the pictographs. It is a special place, thanks for sharing. Take care, enjoy your day. Happy weekend!

  24. Amazing as always and really no place for covid thoughts.Thanks for showing us.

  25. What a hike and adventure!
    Great and interesting pics, as always !

  26. Another cool and fascinating adventure. It's really great that you are documenting all these remote areas! The sunlight in the early morning shots make those pics really special.

  27. This was fascinating! You really need to think about a book. I've said that before, but then I just thought of the joy your gorgeous photos would bring to people. Now, I'm thinking of how your documentation of the desert and its inhabitants, what happened here, how people lived, becomes important for others to read to learn about. I don't mean to keep saying this, it's really a compliment and a thought. You know many people just drive by the desert in their cars, thinking it's just one large, dry place where nothing much is going on. Or was ever going on. I loved the early morning photos and that you decided to not make this hike alone.

    1. Thanks, Inger. I absolutely take it as a compliment, and thanks for suggestion and reminders. It gives me the motivation to actually do it one of these days!

  28. Wow! It must be a really great experience to walk in this great area and discover all these beautiful things! The cave paintings are fantastic, just like your photos!
    Happy weekend!

  29. Wow!What an adventure for you all ~ Born Again with photos and pictographs ~ Amazing place and photos ~ glad you had someone to share it with this time.

    Live each moment with love,

    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  30. Sheep skull is a good reminder to watch your step. :-)

  31. A fascinating scenery for a walk. Thanks for taking us along.

  32. What an interesting piece history and fantastic photo taking opportunity. It's a hike I will not have the pleasure of making but I enjoy it through your photos.

  33. Wow! That was some fascinating tough hike. You have documented it all so beautifully in pictures and words!

  34. Wow, that's truly spectacular and a great adventure. I wonder, which color they've used, that so much is saved until today (today's colors would usually not be able to do that ;) )
    Thanks for sharing and Greetings from Germany

  35. It is plain to see that the hike was worth while! An amazing experience.
    The pictographs are spectacular.
    You will have a restful weekend now... LOL!

  36. Beautiful morning photos with the sun casting shadows. What a great adventure and hike to see the cave. Have a great weekend.

  37. A very intersting hike again with great photos.
    Each time I'm amazed how you can find your way in that hard landscape.

  38. What an interesting and cultural hike !!!

  39. That is a very nice idea with "Born again" and to me the overhang looks like a Lion´s head...
    The steep walk down, uh-oh!
    Yes. Let´s hope everybody takes but pictures, this really looks magical, thank you for sharing this!

  40. Wow - gorgeous shots! And I agree - why celebrate the colonialists rather than the indigenous people.

  41. Dearest SP&P,
    Glad you got to do this and even better, together with some friends!
    Quite a challenging hike indeed but oh so rewarding.
    My biggest dream always has been, being able to go back in time, let's say for 500 years or so and see how people lived.
    Thanks for sharing these special photos.

  42. Yes, this was a long post but so worthwhile the read. And since and your other ones would not be ones I would take, it is always so nice to sit back and read and see the photos from your explorations. Those pictographs were amazing to see. The Born Again case was interesting to see and read about, but not one I would feel comfortable crawling through, so thanks to Mitch.

  43. I think if I was there I'd be finding something new every time I hike up there, I'm sure there is so much to find.

  44. A challenging hike indeed though very spectacular! The pictographs are impressive. Wonderful to experience it with some friends.

  45. I am late, having apparently slept through last week, but no less in awe. Thank you for this... the Born Again origin story is wonderful to know and the story of your hike (and crawls) to explore it is fascinating in every detail. I loved this.

  46. Maravillosos esos tesoros que esconde el desierto.

  47. Can you even imagine that I have read blog posts from people who think that Joshua Tree is over rated? You pics of the pictograph are great! Love this hike!