Learn About Miwok History at Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park

Updated on October 20, 2016
kcathey profile image

Kyla Cathey is a freelance writer, editor and blogger based in California's Central Valley.

Long before settlers from all over the world came to the Sierra Nevada mountains in search of gold, the Miwok people made their home among the meadows and oak forests that are now part of Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park.

Set between the tiny towns of Volcano and Pine Grove, California, the park features the Chaw’se Regional Indian Museum, regular events, a reconstructed Miwok village, camping, two hiking trails, and, of course, its namesake — a huge slab of marbleized limestone with more than 1,100 mortar holes, the largest collection in North America.

Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park is nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Jackson, California. Created in 1968, it is home to the Chaw'se Regional Indian Museum, several hiking trails and a number of archaeological sites.
Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park is nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Jackson, California. Created in 1968, it is home to the Chaw'se Regional Indian Museum, several hiking trails and a number of archaeological sites. | Source
The centerpiece of Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park is the limestone grinding rock, of course, where Miwok people ground acorns and other foods.
The centerpiece of Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park is the limestone grinding rock, of course, where Miwok people ground acorns and other foods. | Source

The Grinding Rock

The mortar holes are the main draw to the park. The rock was where Miwok people ground acorns from the nearby oaks and other seeds into a meal they could use in cooking. Over time, the grinding wore depressions into the slab of rock, some tiny, others huge. The grinding rock was also decorated by the people who used it with petroglyphs of wheels, animal tracks and others.

While you can’t step onto the massive slab itself — a fence protects the fragile rock from the wear and tear caused by visitors’ feet — you can get close enough for great photos. (Geocacher alert: The grinding rock is also the site of an Earthcache, and the park itself holds several other geocaches.)

While you’re at the grinding rock, wander through the reconstructed Miwok village. It includes several bark houses, a large field for games, and the hun’ge, or roundhouse, where ritual ceremonies are still held several times throughout the year. The field near the roundhouse was where Miwok men and women played a game similar to soccer.

Once you’ve seen the grinding rock, head to the Chaw’se Museum to learn more about the Northern Sierra Miwok people who made their home in the area, including a few words of Miwok. “Chaw’se,” for example, is Miwok for “grinding rock.”

Chaw'se Regional Indian Museum

In addition to the replica Miwok village on the grounds of the park, the Chaw'se Regional Indian Museum offers a look at how Native Americans lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The two-story museum is packed with artwork, historical items and information, as well as a gift shop that includes dozens of books, videos and more.

The museum ranges far beyond the Miwok who once lived on the park's grounds to other Native American peoples who lived throughout the region. The collection includes information and artifacts — including basketry, clothing, technology and the tools of daily life — from the Konkow, Maidu, Monache, Nisenan, Tubatulabal, Washo, and Yokuts people, in addition to the Miwok.

The Chaw'se Regional Indian Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Several bark houses show visitors to the park how Miwok people lived before settlers from around the world came to California.
Several bark houses show visitors to the park how Miwok people lived before settlers from around the world came to California. | Source

Hiking and Camping

After you’ve explored the museum, head out to the grounds for a short hike. The South Trail is a half-mile, self-guided nature trail. For a small donation, hikers can pick up a booklet at the trailhead, located near the hun’ge, that identifies several of the plants found among the oaks and how the Miwok used them.

The mile-long North Trail loops throughout the park. Both trails offer opportunities to take in native plants, and visitors may catch a glimpse of turkey vultures, quail, scrub jays, deer and foxes, among others. Before starting out, however, make sure you can identify poison oak. It grows in several places throughout the park and can cause a nasty skin reaction.

If you want more time to observe the park’s wildlife — or just want a chance to fall asleep listening to coyotes howling — you can camp at the park. Camping ranges from $30 to $35 per night, and includes one vehicle. An $8 fee is charged for a second vehicle, and two is the limit per campsite. Trailers count as a second vehicle, but aren’t charged the additional fee. For more information about camping, visit the camping page on the park’s website.

Those who truly want to experience what life was like before the Gold Rush brought settlers from around the world to California can camp in bark houses. The U'macha'tam'ma' site has seven bark houses that can hold groups of up to six. Contact the park for more information about these campsites — which do not include running water — or to make a reservation.

The roundhouse, or hun'ge, was the center of religious life in a Miwok village.
The roundhouse, or hun'ge, was the center of religious life in a Miwok village. | Source

Big Time

If you want a chance to see how modern Miwok people are continuing the traditions of their ancestors, schedule your visit during Big Time. Held on the weekend following the fourth Friday in September, the acorn gathering festival includes Native American dancing, food, storytelling, artists, vendors, and more. Ceremonies are held in the roundhouse.

Visitors are welcome to attend, but please be respectful, and please ask permission before taking photos of any of the Native American visitors.

Information and Considerations

Day use hours are from sunrise to sunset, and an $8 vehicle parking fee is in effect. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Summers can be hot and winters can be cold in the Sierra foothills, so dress accordingly. When in doubt, dressing in layers is appropriate. For more information, visit the park’s website or call (209) 296-7488.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://wanderwisdom.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)