Indian Grinding Rock
State Historic Park
The mission of California State Parks is
to provide for the health, inspiration and
education of the people of California by helping
to preserve the state’s extraordinary biological
diversity, protecting its most valued natural and
cultural resources, and creating opportunities
for high-quality outdoor recreation.
It was the Indians’ way
to pass through a country
anything; to pass and
leave no trace, like a fish
California State Parks supports equal access.
Prior to arrival, visitors with disabilities who
need assistance should contact the park at
(209) 296-7488. If you need this publication in an
alternate format, contact email@example.com.
CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS
P.O. Box 942896
Sacramento, CA 94296-0001
For information call: (800) 777-0369
(916) 653-6995, outside the U.S.
711, TTY relay service
Indian Grinding Rock SHP
Chaw’se Regional Indian Museum
14881 Pine Grove-Volcano Road
Pine Grove, CA 95665
(209) 296-7488 • www.parks.ca.gov/ igr
© 2002 California State Parks (Rev. 2017)
through the water or birds
through the air.”
—Willa Cather, author
ndian Grinding Rock State Historic
Park is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills,
eight miles east of Jackson. The park is
nestled in a small valley 2,400 feet above sea
level with open meadows and large valley
oaks that once provided Native Americans
with an ample supply of acorns. The 135acre park preserves a great outcropping
of marbleized limestone with 1,185 mortar
holes — the largest collection of bedrock
mortars anywhere in North America. Trails
make it easy to explore the meadows and
surrounding forest. The Chaw’se Regional
Indian Museum features a variety of exhibits
and an outstanding collection of Sierra
Nevada Indian artifacts. A Miwok village and
roundhouse have been reconstructed in the
middle of the valley.
site, Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park
has the only known occurrence of mortars
intentionally decorated with petroglyphs.
The marble grinding rock is fragile and very
susceptible to weathering and chipping.
The natural elements are claiming many of
the petroglyphs, so please stay off the rock
and respect this irreplaceable reminder of
indigenous Miwok culture.
The Northern Sierra Miwok, who settled in
this area many centuries ago, established
their villages alongside the rivers and
streams of the Sierra Nevada — from
the Cosumnes River on the north to
THE GRINDING ROCK AND
the Mokelumne River on the south.
Other Miwok groups lived to the west
Chaw’se is the Miwok word for the
as far as Mount Diablo and as far
mortar cups that formed in a stone
south as Yosemite National Park.
slab as the Miwok people pounded
The Miwok had a detailed
acorns and other seed into meal.
understanding of the resources
The largest chaw’se example can be
available to them, passing this
seen at the park. The main grinding
knowledge down from generation
rock also features 363 petroglyphs —
to generation. Deer were the most
including circles, animal and human
important animal resource, and all
tracks, and wavy lines. Some of these
parts were utilized. The meat was
carvings are thought to be as old
used for food; clothing was made
as two or three thousand years;
from the hide. Antlers, bones,
they are now becoming difficult
and hooves were used for tools
to see. This association of rock
and instruments, and the brain
art and bedrock mortar pits
was used to tan hide.
is unique in North America.
Plant foods were generally
Except for one other small
collected and processed by
Sculpture of Miwok dancer
Bark house museum exhibit
women while men trapped, fished, and
hunted. All resources were portioned so
they would continue to be available, and
little or nothing was wasted. For example,
a plant called soap root was mashed and
used not only as soap, but also to stun and
catch fish. Its leaves were eaten fresh, and
the bulb could be baked and eaten. The
dried, fibrous leaves were bundled and
used as a brush.
Acorns, the mainstay of the Miwok diet,
were gathered in autumn, dried, and stored
in large granaries (cha’kas) made of poles
interwoven with slender brush stems.
Resembling large baskets, the cha’kas
were thatched with short boughs of white
fir or incense cedar to shed snow and rain
and then lined with pine needles and
wormwood to repel insects and rodents.
Acorns are rich in nutrition, but because
they contain a lot of tannin, they are
bitter to the taste. To make them edible,
the Miwok cracked and shelled them,
and placed the acorn meat in the mortar
holes (chaw’se) in the large flat limestone
outcropping in the meadow to be pounded
with a stone pestle to the texture of fine
Reconstructed Miwok village
meal. The Miwok took the meal to the
creekside and poured water through the
meal to leach out the tannin. The prepared
meal was mixed with water in a large,
watertight cooking basket. Hot rocks were
added to the acorn mush or soup and
moved around with paddles until the acorn
meal was cooked.
The Miwok also caught fish and hunted
game throughout the hills. The climate was
agreeable, the water supply reliable, and
many good village sites were available.
Commodities that could not be found
locally could often be obtained through
trade with neighboring groups.
The village was the primary political
unit in Miwok life, though alliances were
likely to exist between villages. Village
size varied from two dozen individuals to
as many as several hundred. Each village
had a specific territory that belonged to the
group. Because each territory encompassed
several ecological habitats, the village could
be reasonably sure that its needs for food,
clothing, and shelter would be met.
The Gold Rush
The annual cycle of native life that revolved
around the little meadow was dramatically
altered by James Marshall’s discovery of
gold at Coloma in January 1848. Miners
poured into this area, forcing the Miwok out
of their traditional patterns of residence
and subsistence. Prospectors and
both hydraulic and quartz mining
operations eventually surrounded
the area. Mine tailings can still be
seen today in the park’s ravines.
Though mining was the dominant
economic activity in this area
during the 1850s, agricultural
enterprises were also attempted.
Several farms and ranches were
established in the area, with one
of the first located in the meadow
area of the present-day park. In
June 1852, one miner wrote in his diary, “They
are mowing their grass and barley on the flat
and offered me $3 a day to mow.” The diarist
declined this offer and hastened to nearby
Volcano, where a miner’s wage was $6 a day.
Reminders of early-day Amador County
ranching and farming activity are dotted
throughout the park, including a farmhouse
and outbuildings, a garden site, orchards,
livestock pond sites, and other traces of farm
life. By 1868 the property belonged to the
Else family, who grew barley and other grain
crops, raised cattle, and planted an orchard.
The small stream that runs through the park
is still known as Else Creek.
William Blakely acquired the property in
the 1870s. In the late 1880s, he sold about
160 acres to Serafino Scapuccino. Scapuccino
tended the orchard, raised cattle, and
developed a truck garden. He is said to
have welcomed the Miwok, who sometimes
camped in the meadow, gathered acorns,
and held ceremonial events at the old village
site. He also put a fence around the “great
rock” to protect it.
After Scapuccino’s death,
his family continued to
hold title to the property
until the 1950s. At this time
the surviving members,
James and Serafino, Jr.,
became concerned that
would eventually destroy
the scenic, historical, and
archaeological value of the
meadow and its unique
bedrock mortars. A friend suggested that it
might be possible to preserve the site as
a state park, an idea that found immediate
support in the nearby town of Volcano.
Hun’ge — the Roundhouse
A campaign to save the site was launched,
and in 1958 the State of California acquired
48.5 acres of the Scapuccino property. The
site was formally dedicated as a state park in
1968 and was placed on the National Register
of Historic Places in 1973.
The Village and Roundhouse
Development in the park emphasizes
the aboriginal importance of the site. A
reconstructed Miwok village provides
present-day descendants of the Miwok with
an opportunity to preserve their heritage
and traditions and share them with future
generations of Californians. Bark houses, a
ceremonial roundhouse, acorn granaries,
shade ramadas, an Indian game field, and
demonstrations of time-honored arts, crafts,
and games all combine to illustrate the
past. California State Parks has an ongoing
commitment to collaborate with the local
Native Americans in park development.
The Roundhouse (hun’ge) is the setting
for various social gatherings and ceremonial
events. The Miwok traditionally held
ceremonies here to pray, to mourn the dead,
or to observe special occasions through
music and dance. In a typical village, this
semi-subterranean community center was the
largest building and tended to be between
20 and 50 feet in diameter. The Indian
Grinding Rock State Historic Park hun’ge is 60
feet across — one of the largest in California.
Four massive beams and center poles
support the roof. A hole in the center of the
roof allows smoke from the fire pit to escape
and also permits some observation of the
Miwok homes ranged from eight to fifteen
feet in diameter and were built of cedar
poles interwoven with grapevines or willow
and covered with cedar bark. A hole was
left at the top to vent smoke from cooking
or heating fires. Bark houses (u’macha) can
be seen near the grinding rock and also
at the reconstructed village west of the
A game field (poscoi a we’a) has also been
reconstructed near the Roundhouse. One
game played by the Miwok was very similar
to soccer. On a field about 110 yards long,
players tried to kick or carry a ball to the
opposing team’s goal. Both men and women
played, though the rules were different for
each. Men could only kick the ball, while
women could handle the ball in any manner.
However, if a woman held the ball, a man
could pick her up and run for the goal.
Several times each year, ceremonies are held
in the hun’ge by local Native Americans. In
September, Indian families meet at the park
for the annual acorn gathering ceremonies
(Big Time). Dancing, hand games, singing,
and storytelling are traditional activities.
Spectators are welcome, but there is no
fixed schedule of events. Native American
crafts and foods are available.
Chaw’se Regional Indian Museum
The two-story Chaw’se Regional Indian
Museum has been designed to reflect the
architecture of the traditional roundhouse.
Outstanding examples of the technology
and crafts of the Miwok and other Sierra
Nevada Native American groups are
exhibited in the museum.
The collection at Chaw’se includes
Northern, Central, and Southern Miwok,
Maidu, Konkow, Monache, Nisenan,
Tubatulabal, Washo, and Foothill Yokuts.
a wide variety of habitats,
much as they did
when the Miwok
lived here. Bird
life includes Steller’s jays,
California quail, acorn and
hairy woodpeckers, northern
flickers, hermit thrushes, and California
thrashers. In summer the bright colors of
western tanagers, northern orioles, calliopes,
and Anna’s hummingbirds can be seen in
the forest near the museum. A bird list is
available at the museum.
Animal life includes deer, foxes, blacktailed jackrabbits, bobcats, and occasionally
a mountain lion or black bear. The legendary
coyote — the trickster of Miwok stories — can
be heard “singing” on quiet summer nights.
Chaw’se Regional Indian Museum
Examples of basketry, feather regalia,
jewelry, arrow points, and other tools are
on display. Hours at the museum vary
seasonally. For current hours, visit
www.parks.ca.gov / igr or call (209) 296-7488.
The nonprofit Chaw’se Association
operates a sales area, where visitors may
purchase books, posters, postcards, and
educational items. Lectures, videos, and
demonstrations at the museum provide
insights into Native American life in the
Though the park is small, it offers many
opportunities to observe wildlife. Oak
woodlands and mixed pine forest provide
More than 130 species of native plants have
been identified in the park, many of which
were used by the Miwok. Spring brings
an incredible variety of wildflowers to the
Sierra foothills. Flowering plants include
monkeyflower, giant trillium, shooting star,
several species of lupine, farewell-to-spring,
harvest brodiaea, Humboldt lily, western
buttercup, mariposa lily, Hartweg’s
iris, showy phlox, wild rose, mountain
violet, filaree, yellow star flower, and
baby blue eyes.
The Sierra foothills experience
warm, dry summers and cool, moist
winters. Summer temperatures
exceed 90 degrees. Winter brings an
There are two developed
trails in the park. The
North Trail, a one-mile
round trip, starts near the
museum. It traverses the
ridge surrounding the meadow,
crosses the creek, passes by the old farm site,
and continues to the reconstructed Miwok
village site. There it joins the half-mile South
Nature Trail, a self-guided loop that starts near
the Roundhouse. A trail guide describes the
ethnobotany of the area, identifying some of the
plants that were used by the Miwok.
Near the grinding rock, a picnic area with a
shade ramada can accommodate groups of up
to 150. Reservations for the picnic area are not
necessary. There is also a small picnic area next
to the museum. Please do not use campsites
The park is open seasonally. Visit
www.parks.ca.gov / igr for current hours.
Each of 23 campsites has paved parking
(trailers /motor homes are limited to 27 feet
long), tables, food lockers, fire rings, piped
water, and restrooms with flush toilets and
showers. Wood gathering is not allowed,
but firewood may be purchased at the park.
Campsites are first-come, first-served.
Environmental Living /Group Camping
Camping in the bark houses to the north
(U’macha’tam’ma’) is a unique opportunity to
get back in touch with the natural world while
learning something about Miwok life. Seven
bark houses, each one suitable for up to six
people, have been constructed in a secluded
area of the park. They can be reserved for
a group of up to 44 people. The camping is
primitive; you must haul water, supplies, and
equipment two hundred yards or more from
the parking area. However, your experience
will be unforgettable.
• All natural and cultural features are
protected by law and may not be
disturbed or removed.
• Notify park staff of the location of
any found objects.
• Like the grinding rock itself, the meadow
at Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park
is fragile. Stay on the trails.
• Park regulations prohibit the consumption
of alcoholic beverages except by campers
in the campground.
Group camping reservations may be made
up to six months in advance by mail, by
calling (209) 296-7488, or by visiting
www.parks.ca.gov / igr for applications.
• Camping — Two family campsites and the
restroom are accessible.
• Trails — The North Trail is hard-packed
for .6 mile. Except for service animals on
leash, dogs are not permitted on trails.
• Picnicking — Tables are easy to access.
• Exhibits — There is easy access to the
restrooms, into the Indian Museum, around
exhibits, and to the viewing platform at the
Grinding Rock. A video is also available.
Accessibility is continually improving.
For updates, visit http://access.parks.ca.gov.
NEARBY STATE PARKS
• Calaveras Big Trees State Park
1170 East Highway 4, Arnold 95223
• Columbia State Historic Park
11255 Jackson St., Columbia 95310
• Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
Off Highway 108 and Reservoir Road
at Fifth Avenue, Jamestown
Accessible viewing platform
This park receives support in part through a
For more information, contact:
Chaw’se Indian Grinding Rock Association
Indian Grinding Rock
St at e Hi st or i c Par k
© 2002 California State Parks (Rev. 2017)