A Glimpse of the Past--from my book Bouncing Around Baja

Baja Bernie - 12-19-2007 at 05:46 PM

La Salina has been around a lot longer than most people think. Even most of the ‘temprano pioneros’—1964 through 1970—didn’t really know the history of this little bit of paradise called La Salina. We know from the dating of arrowheads and other artifacts that Indians had been camping on this site at least 2,000 years ago. We believe that the ancestors of the Kumiai Indians had a permanent village at the Jakwatijap (Hot Springs) in the La Mision Valley long, long, before the Dominican Padre Sales founded the San Miguel Mission in La Mision in 1768.

At that time the Indians still traveled south across the river, up over the cliffs and down to the beach to where our camp (La Salina) now nests along the Pacific. They camped behind the 20-foot dunes; well protected from the winds and tides. Here they gathered Pismo clams, mussels and sea urchins to sustain the tribe through the summer while they harvested salt and fished. The fish would be dried, ‘jerked’ and put away for the winter months back in La Mision. The salt would see the tribe through the coming year.

The large dunes remained and dominated part of the seashore until the advent of three wheelers and dune buggies in the late 1960’s. It is still hard to believe that off road activity was responsible for the deep level beach that we now enjoy. The dunes keep trying to raise their heads but the idiots on their noise mobiles seek them out and grind them flat. Mother Nature keeps fighting but in this case continues to lose.

Watch the men working as they dig a cistern or a septic tank. The first few feet are easy. Soon you hear their picks and shovels causing a terrible racket as they bounce off the thick strata of Pismo clams. These middens contain thousands upon thousands of Pismo clam shells. In some cases the middens will be four to ten feet thick and cover an area in excess of ten feet across. These were the garbage dumps of those ancient Kumiai Indians. Year after year they would return and harvest the clams, fish, swim and just kick back. They knew how to enjoy the good life, much as we do today, in what they called La Salina (The Salts). So now you know how our camp got its name.

The coming of the Spaniards had a terribly negative impact upon this band of peaceful Indians. At the coming of the Padres the Kumiai numbered several hundred men, women and children. As with all of the tribes visited by the early Europeans they almost died out during the reign of the Padres. Journey up the La Mision Valley and you will find the remnants of these people in an Indian Reservation on the mesa just east of La Mision. Not much grows here and the reservation sits on the most useless land in the area. They still speak the Lengua Kumiai and number about 65 souls. Mostly they just keep to themselves and mingle with neither the Mexicans nor the gringos in the area. Occasionally they make their way to the ocean to picnic on its bounty.

Wandering down the beach, in the area of ‘Clams Beach’ I came across a family barbecuing mussels on the lid of an old oil drum. We talked for a while and I learned that they harvest the mussels from the rocks at low tide. They then fill a five gallon bucket with tide pool water, no sand, and boil the mussels for a few minutes. They then ‘shuck’ the mussel from the shell, sprinkle herbs on them and cook them further atop the lid. They shared their beach picnic with me. It was delicious! This was my introduction to the Kumiai Indians. The guy had been to otra lado and we were able to communicate in a mixture of English and Spanish. Until he told me I was unaware that there was a reservation at San Jose de la Zorra.

P.S. I could tell you that for a while small aeroplanes landed now and again on reservation land. Yes, at night and a few of the Indian guys were paid to off load product from the planes and into vehicles which departed in great haste.

No! I have no idea what the product was or why the trucks raced of in such a great hurry.

This didn't last very long because the Indians began to brag about the easy money they were receiving.............the planes stopped visiting the reservation after that and the Indian guys lost a source of ready cash.