By Ernie Cowan
As I knelt to photograph a Borrego desert wildflower, I noticed the dusky red piece of broken pottery sticking out of the white desert sand.
As I pulled it from the sand, my fingers slipped into the impressions left by the fingers of the maker, perhaps centuries before.
I was lost in the quiet and beauty of a desert spring day, enjoying the color of blooming wildflowers and the connection with American Indians who called this place home long before Spanish explorers arrived.
I was wandering in the Mine Wash area that provided food and shelter for people since prehistoric times as long ago as 500 A.D. Today, this popular area provides visitors a glimpse into the culture that once traveled through here as they seasonally migrated between desert and mountains to the west.
The turn off to Mine Wash is on state Route 78, 2.7 miles east of the Tamarisk Grove Campground and the junction of County Road S-3. A small park sign marks the turnoff on the south side of the highway.
The road into the wash is dirt, but well-packed and easily negotiated by high-clearance vehicles. Four-Wheel drive is not required.
After leaving the highway, spring visitors will see a variety of blooming plants, including clusters of red chuparosa blossoms, several types of cactus, desert dandelions, ocotillo, desert lavender and phacelia.
This is not a spectacular wildflower year, but late winter rains were ample enough to create pocket gardens in some areas. Hikers will discover some of these surprise places while exploring the open flats and rocky outcroppings found here.
At 1.6 miles into Mine Wash, there is an interpretative panel on the left marking an ancient Indian village site. An easy trail to the east allows hikers to see hundreds of grinding holes created by Kumeyaay Indians as they ground acorns and plants into a flour for food.
As you follow the trail that skirts the edge of the boulders, the observant hiker might find small pieces of broken pottery or broken arrow points. These are archaeological artifacts and should be left in place.
The nearby boulders once provided shelter for the Indians who archaeologists say lived here between October and May until the late 1800s. The wide desert flat is covered with a variety of plants that provided food for the Indians. Nearby water sources and game animals also provided sustenance.
From the village site the road continues south, climbing gently into the Pinyon Mountains. At road’s end, about 4.6 miles, there is an old gold mine that no doubt provided the name for Mine Wash.
Several good camping areas are along the road, offering easy access, quiet solitude and a chance to observe native birds, plants and geological formations.
This is prime time in the desert. Late winter rains mean a later spring, so wildflowers should continue to bloom for several more weeks before temperatures begin to climb to summer peaks.
If you are looking for a weekend retreat or just a day following an ancient Indian trail, Mine Wash is one of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s prime areas to visit.