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Stories from the valley

Indian Grinding Rock State Park: A Hidden Historic Gem

Contributed by Keli Gwyn

A visit to Indian Grinding Rock State Park on a crisp, clear fall day makes a great outing. Adults and children alike will enjoy the many interesting sites, the most famous being the grinding stones. An astonishing 1,135 holes pepper the surface of the marbleized slabs of limestone, the largest collection of bedrock mortars in North America. With a little imagination, one can picture Miwok women squatting on the stones while pounding acorns harvested from the plentiful oaks in the area.

The grinding stone boasts 363 petroglyphs, some carved as many as three thousand years ago. Although time and weather have caused the images to grow faint, some are still visible. The helpful staff in the park’s museum will be happy to point out the best spots to search for the carvings. Other than one small site, Indian Grinding Rock State Park is the only place where mortars were decorated with petroglyphs.

Moving down the path from the grinding rocks, you’ll come to the ceremonial Roundhouse. Various social and ceremonial events are held in the circular building by the Miwok, just as they were during the days before gold-hungry miners flooded into California. This roundhouse, boasting a diameter of sixty feet, is one of the largest in the state. Because of its special significance to the Miwok, park visitors can view the Roundhouse from the outside only.

A reconstructed Miwok village is the next stop. The homes were built of cedar bark woven together with grapevines or willow, supported by tall cedar poles. Ranging from eight to fifteen feet across, each had a vent hole at the top to release the smoke from cooking or heating.

The 135-acre park, located eight miles east of Jackson in the Sierra Foothills, features several hiking trails as well as a campground and museum. The latter includes informative displays and a gift shop with a delightful selection of goods. A small $8 day-use fee is required. Picnic tables are available under the shade ramada by the Indian Game Field, providing a scenic spot to eat lunch and soak in the sights. For more information about the park, including a map, follow this link. Enjoy your visit to this historic gem.