Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Off Trail in the Cuyama Badlands

This isn't really a post about a trip report. It's more an explanation of what I've been up to.

The photo above was taken on the way to somewhere in the Cuyama badlands, a day which offered a beautiful, rain spattered hike into the colorful ridges and gullies beneath the north slope of Sierra Madre Ridge. The point of this hike, besides the adventure and exercise, was to find a little known rock art site. A Chumash rock art site.

A few weeks ago I was asked what percentage of day trips I go on that never make it onto this page. At the time I said 30% but looking back over the last few months the number is actually closer to 50%. What's missing you ask? The answer to that is that I am no longer going to post anything related to Chumash rock art, and in fact I have taken down all my posts to this page which related to Chumash rock art. There are several reasons for this change.

The most persuasive reason I have for changing my approach to what I post is that I have gradually come to understand that the rock art in the Tri-Counties region has exactly nothing to do with my cultural heritage. I'm not Native American, have never pretended to be Native American, and have no desire to emulate the local Native Americans. But that doesn't mean that I don't have a conscience. There are plenty of areas in Southern and Central California that have highly publicized and easily accessible rock art, and I've seen a lot of it and will continue to post such sites, but I've also been at this long enough that I have begun to sense a subtle difference in perceptions and attitudes toward Chumash art versus similar art by other cultures. 

This difference is difficult to define or quantify but it's there. I think it largely has to do with the competing priorities between the Nuevo Chumash, the Forest Service, the elites within academia, and lay enthusiasts. While it is the lay enthusiasts (like myself) that scour the internet and academic papers for information on these sites, and actually do the difficult work to go out and see them, there is no real effort to use such people as a resource. In fact, the moment one of these lay people starts publishing Chumash art on the internet they find themselves pressured to remove those postings by Chumash advocates and academics. It is easy to understand the Chumash point of view, but the barely veiled hostility and a general air of exclusivity excreted by those in academia toward those who are actually putting in the effort to see these sites as they exist today is rather repugnant. To the best of my knowledge there is no coherent effort to incorporate the more accomplished of the lay people into any effort to protect or document or preserve these sites. An example of such an organization would be the long defunct Partners In Preservation. Instead of being invited to contribute, the lay "experts" out there are dubbed pariahs the moment they step out of the closet and publish. This syndrome is very cliquish, very elite, and very off putting.  I find those attitudes a distraction from my overall purpose, which is to document adventure and discovery within the Southern Los Padres.

There is a lot that people such as myself might be able to offer given the opportunity and a minimal amount of training.

When I first began posting Chumash art on this page I took a lot of heat from various quarters. I rapidly evolved my approach to publishing, justifying my continued publication of the art at such sites by not using the site's given name or any identifiers (landscape or otherwise) which could be used as an aid in finding these sites. Within a relatively short period of time the hate mail stopped but word of my activities continued to be muttered about within the "in" crowd. Even those measures that I implemented to protect the locations of sites was insufficient to quell the attitude that I was some renegade guerrilla of the rock art world (that's a laugh). I have allies and ears, and word would reach me that this or that individual had said something uncomplimentary about my activities and that those sentiments were circulating within certain circles. Whatever. I work with heart surgeons. I have a thick skin. But I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit that this high school b.s. never got to me.

I write this not in an effort to garner sympathy but quite the opposite. Rock art has been very good to me. I've made numerous contacts and gained new friends because of my interest in rock art. Many of the people I correspond with have attitudes similar to those I've expressed here. I appreciate their ongoing support and friendship. I will continue to ferret out the locations of these sites, hunt them down and photograph them, but I won't be posting anything from these sites on this page anymore. This is my decision and a conclusion I reached on my own, that being that this is not my cultural heritage and my editorializing on such art is unnecessary.

I'd like to reassure the readers of this page, many of which who have been with me the whole time, that I'm not going anywhere and that I will continue to bring the forest to this page. It's going to be the same quality of stuff I've posted all along, minus the rock art. Understand that if you see a gap in postings it's likely I've been out tracking down local rock art. 

P.S. This little rag I put out turned over 250,000 hits this week. That's not half bad for a niche blog that doesn't use web exposure services or host ad space. I appreciate your interest, your comments, and the friends I've made along the way. Thanks.


  1. "There is a lot that people such as myself might be able to offer given the opportunity and a minimal amount of training"

    A lot of truth in the above statement; a shame there is a different outcome!

    At any rate, the posts may fade....but the friendship remains. (though I might add the posts were the catalyst for the friendship) Ironic!

  2. I'm with you. I always thought of your art posts as a bonus. I've tried to look for clues in them, but have never found any. I'll have to continue to do it the hard way.

    I've resigned to only post art posts for places that are widely known, too. Thank you for the sharing while it lasted.

    I've decided to discover and photograph art only for myself and my daughter.

    1. Hey Derek,
      Shoot me an email. I've got an offer for you.

      I've received numerous emails from folks who are going to miss seeing Chumash art on this page. None of these people have questioned the "why" of no longer posting it. It's gratifying to hear that interest in this aspect of my explorations will be missed, and I appreciate the many kind responses that hit my in-box. -DS