Trails and Travel

Trails served more than as a route or path linking resources and settlements.  The trails that crisscrossed the study area represent both ancient trails that may extend back thousands of years and trails formed and used in the last two or three hundred years.  In many case ancient Kumeyaay trails became the routes used by explorers such as Juan de Anza and later served as emigrant roads for settlers moving across the landscape from the Colorado River to the west.

Functions of Trails

At first glance it would seem that trails and paths across the land would fall into a single category representing travel from one place to another.  While that is grossly and generally true, trails served as corridors that allowed for trade with neighboring or distant bands and tribes, trails took the traveler to resources (clay, minerals, water), trails linked settlements and villages, and trails provided the shaman or kwesiyaay with a route to and from holy places and sacred shrines.  These distinctions in function and use may be reflected in the types of features and elements associated with trails.

Trails are not simply routes across the landscape to be used by humans for travel and trade.  They are places where spirits visit—for good and for bad.  In some cases animals who had appeared in dreams could appear on lonely trails and guide the traveller to safety (Tofflemier and Luomala 2006:224).  One Kumeyaay consultant, a simup kwisiya (kwesiyaay) or dream doctor reported in a 1934 interview that he dreamt of a mountain lion who became his guardian and that this creature would never let him perish in the desert from thirst or exposure.

Features and Elements of Trails

Trails are often associated with features that were an integral part of the travel route.  These features include cairns, “ducks,” and spirit breaks.  Cairns may be relatively small stacks of rock and/or pottery or rock/pottery stacks several feet in height.  So-called ducks are most commonly small stacks of one to three rocks on the edges of trails or at the juncture of trails perhaps marking a departure point or a warning or some other signal to the trail user. Spirit breaks are lines of rocks across a trail that requires the hiker to step over them or to avoid them.  There is some ethnographic information indicating that these lines of rocks serve as a type of barricade or barrier to impede spirits or unwanted forces from following the traveler.

Trail Networks

Within the hundreds of square miles stretching from the Colorado River to the Pacific Ocean there were and are trails that served a specific purpose and can best be visualized as singular routes.  Other trails, when looked at holistically, form an extensive trails network that interlaced and interlocked across hundreds of miles.