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CEC Staff Documenting Prehistoric Trails in the Mojave Desert

By Media Office Staff

The many prehistoric Native American trails that crisscross the Mojave Desert are often hidden in plain sight and do not belie their cultural significance.

The trails are of great significance to area tribes. Some were used to conduct trade, others led to sacred sites, and some used for warfare.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has been documenting prehistoric trails in an area of the Mojave called the Chuckwalla Valley. The documentation project, called the Prehistoric Trails Network Cultural Landscape, is required mitigation to offset the environmental impacts from the licensing of two large solar projects: the 4,640-acre Genesis Solar Energy Project and the 4,070-acre Blythe Solar Project.

The project is documenting the Coco-Maricopa Trail and adjoining and diverging trails. The trail route was an essential connection between the Pacific Coast and the southwestern deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. Trail-related features associated with the project include petroglyphs, ceramic pot drops, rock cairns, prehistoric quarries, and sacred sites of importance to area tribes.

Native American groups in the Mojave Desert consistently accord mythological importance to features such as trail systems, springs, and petroglyph sites. In Native American culture, trails also facilitate dream travel to places, times, and events that exist in story and song.

Some features are hidden in plain sight, like a directional stone marker whose leading edge points to a nearby spring. That marker appears as just another stone in the landscape to the uninitiated, said Matthew Braun, a cultural resource specialist with the CEC who is working on the documentation project.

The project is focused on establishing the ethnographic significance and the prehistoric context of its findings. The plan is to create a field and lab manual. CEC staff plans to complete a report on the project by the end of 2019.

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