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Byline: CHARLES F. BOSTWICK Staff Writer

TEHACHAPI -- On the sloping roof of a soot-and-lichen-covered sandstone cleft are dozens of figures in red, black and white: multicolored bipeds that might be bears or men or bear-men, long serpentine outlines that might be snakes or might be maps, black stick figures, a black spiral.

Drawn with lime, charcoal and other pigments, the drawings are the work of the Kawaiisu, or Nuwa, an American Indian people who ranged from the northern Mojave Desert into the Tehachapi Mountains, where the cave is.

``Some of them date back 1,000 years, they think, when people began migrating up here from the Great Basin,'' said Robert Hoffman, a docent for Tomo Kahni State Historic Park, which was created in 1993 to protect a Kawaiisu village site occupied until the first half of the 20th century. ``We don't know if it's art or calendar or what -- we can't say.''

A reason for the state protection is visible at Hoffman's feet: a hole about 2 feet deep in the cave's dirt floor, obviously dug by someone looking for Indian artifacts -- and probably by the person who had cut open the chain rangers found earlier that morning hanging at the the park's entrance gate.

Illegal digging is one of the challenges parks officials face, Ranger Cecelia Rejas said.

``I get so sick of it,'' said Patty Skinner, a senior park aide.

The diggers probably found nothing: The cave had been dug out decades earlier, when attitudes -- and laws -- toward Indian artifacts and amateur archaeology were different.

Because of the sensitive nature of the park, it is open to the public only during guided tours in spring and fall, in a walk that covers about 2.5 miles, much of it uphill.

Docents take visitors to see the cave, the rock rings that formed the foundation of huts that the Kawaiisu made from juniper branches and rabbit brush, rock mortar holes in which the Kawaiisu ground acorns and pinyon nuts for food, and grooves that may be art or may be the result of tool making. Shards of knapped rock from their tool making is still visible to the trained eye along the trails, though visitors are allowed to take nothing home.

Visitors may also see coveys of quail, rabbits or deer if they are lucky, and tour guides explain how the Kawaiisu used the valley's plants: Stinging nettle provided fiber for rope and leaves for salad, willow branches were woven into baskets tight enough to hold water, chia seeds could be eaten as a portable high-potency food.

Visitors include people interested in American Indian cultures and those who are looking to visit someplace unique, docents said.

``It's not just the physical things you see. It's the whole environment of being up here,'' said docent Al Aronson.

Sometimes visitors get more than the usual tour: Last spring, Boy Scouts were touring the cave when a group of Indians arrived to perform a ceremony. Fewer than three dozen Kawaiisu are left, but other local Indian peoples are allowed to use the cave for religious ceremonies.

Tomo Kahni means ``winter home'' or ``winter village'' in the Kawaiisu's language. ``Kahni'' is their name for the dwelling whose rock foundation remains. The Kawaiisu called themselves ``Nuwa'' or ``the people.'' The name Kawaiisu came from the Yokuts in the San Joaquin Valley.

The village site is on the slopes of a ridge overlooking Sand Canyon to the east and Tehachapi Valley to the south. Hunter-gatherers who roamed their territory in search of food, the Kawaiisu apparently picked the site for their winter home for its moderate climate and lesser rainfall.

They hunted and ate deer and quail, turned rabbit skins into coats, and gathered acorns from oak trees that line a canyon one ridge over. A mountain several miles away provided a type of stone called chert for making tools, though the site also contains flakes of obsidian from Owens Valley.

The area had more water then than now: The 7.5-magnitude Tehachapi Earthquake in 1952 changed springs that formerly fed streams.


(661) 267-5742


Tomo Kahni State Historic Park will be open for tours every Saturday beginning Sept. 16 and continuing until winter, weather permitting. Saturday tours resume in spring.

Reservations are required. Tours begin with a 9 a.m. orientation at the Tomo Kahni Resource Center at 112 East F St., Suite A, Tehachapi. After an orientation, visitors drive about 12 miles to the park; high-clearance vehicles are recommended because the last part of the road is dirt.

The moderately strenuous walking tour takes two to three hours. The overall tour, including orientation and return to the resource center, takes about four to five hours.

Cost is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6 to 16. Children younger than 6 are admitted free, but they are not recommended on the hike.

For reservations, call (661) 942-0662


8 photos


(1 -- 2 -- color -- ran in AV edition only) Hikers, above, make their way into Green Lichen Canyon in Tomo Kahni Historic Park in Tehachapi. Below, stones for making arrowheads are found in the park, but visitors may not take out souvenirs.

(3 -- 4 -- color -- ran in AV edition only) Examples of Indian cave art, above and below, are seen in Green Lichen Canyon in Tomo Kahni Historic Park in Tehachapi.

(5 -- 6 -- color -- ran in AV edition only) Docent Al Aronson, above, is silhouetted as he looks over a cave in Green Lichen Canyon in Tomo Kahni Historic Park. Below, Aronson looks at markings on the rocks at Nettle Springs in Tomo Kahni.

(7 -- 8 -- color -- ran in AV edition only) A rock formation, above, that looks like a rabbit is spotted in Tomo Kahni Historic Park. Right, park Ranger Cecilia Rejas photographs an unauthorized dig in a cave in Green Lichen Canyon.

Jeff Goldwater/Staff Photographer


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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 6, 2006

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