A Kitchen on a Rock

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In the wee hours, just as the sun had begun to illuminate the sky, we made our way along dusty, winding paths towards our destination, an organic farm 2 miles across the valley in the shadow of Mount Kuchumaa (High Exalted One).

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It was amazing to see the landscape bend and shift before me as the rising sun cast colourful illuminations. We walked in formation — practically ran really, in a race against I don’t know what. I am not an early bird gardener-type. I do not greet the dawn with grace. I linger, stumble around, curse the universe, and beg for just one more minute in my comfy cocoon. But then, once I manage to drag my body out of bed, I find it is always worth it. In this case it was worth facing the morning’s cold air, my sleep-deprived crankiness, and the weirdly competitive colourful spandex-cloaked run-walking to see this beautiful coastal chaparral before the harsh and blinding midday sun transforms it into something else entirely.

Our shadows captured by Davin. Isn’t the colour unreal?

A field with dead agave flower stalks left standing. I had a hard time pulling myself away from this view.

I wanted to stroll slowly with my camera and take in everything around me: the red and purple early morning sky, agaves in silhouette, white sage the size of which I have never seen before in my life.

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A wild peony (Paeonia californica). They were tiny, just a few inches tall.

I stole moments to reach out and rub my hand across a lavender bush growing wild, to take photos of the desert wildness around me, and to crouch down low and examine some diminutive new plant I had never seen before. And after each stolen moment, I grabbed onto all of the gear dangling from my neck and hustled like a madwoman to catch up with the group.

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I never seem to do well in a group hike situation (forced marches) and had avoided the organized hikes all week for this reason. I am always the last in the pack, the straggler. I like to meander and take my time. See what comes up. Allow for the unexpected. I may never see this place again, why rush it? I rarely care about the destination (although in this case that too was amazing and I lingered there far after everyone had left). I am more interested in everything that lies in between, the so-called ordinariness that is taken for granted.


Just over halfway there the group stopped so that the guide could point out a large granite boulder beside the path. He referred to them as “kitchen rocks,” utilized by the native peoples (in this case the Kumeyaay tribespeople) to help grind the elongated acorns from the Coastal Live Oak trees (Quercus agrifolia) that are abundant in this region, into a palatable paste or meal.

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There were deep holes ground into the rocks, and used with sticks as a permanent mortar and pestle of sorts called a “mortero”. I have a long-standing obsession with mortar and pestles and have a small collection made from various types of stone and wood so this was really fascinating stuff to me, and something I would not have learned had I avoided this particular group hike. According to the guide, it takes 100 years to grind 1 inch deep into this hard rock. The holes were all several inches deep. Pretty amazing!

Disclosure: Our week at Rancho la Puerta, including all services were hosted/sponsored by the spa. All opinions, images, perspectives, experiences, and text are mine. Please see my Publication Policy for more info.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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One thought on “A Kitchen on a Rock

  1. I agree about the “forced hikes” thing. I like the freedom of being able to stop and look and snap pictures whenever I want and not have to worry about making people wait. The journey is always so much more fun and exciting than the destination!

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