Mountain Stories: Tahquitz Rumbles, Earth Trembles

“The rocks are alive,” Cahuilla Jo May Modesto said in an oral history a few years ago. “The rocks have power and you can use that, good or bad. You can use them as a source of power.”

So the mighty Tahquitz, the spirit responsible for meteors, thunder, lightening, and earthquakes according to traditional lore, rumbled around in his mountain cave exactly at noon on Thursday, April 25. The result was a 3.2 quake centered in Hemet, about 23 miles south of Idyllwild.

The land did roar up here. Shook the windows and timbers of my rented cabin.

Tahquitz  has a peak named for him, but also a rock, which has made Idyllwild famous — it’s our version, at 8,000 feet, though smaller in bulk, than Yosemite’s Half Dome (8,835 feet).

Here it is:




Not only the Cahuilla, but most of the Southern California Native peoples feared the power of Tahquitz. Up in Strawberry Valley, where Idyllwild is located, the Cahuillas of Palm Canyon (now adjacent to Palm Springs) came up during pre-conquest times to hunt game and to gather food. But never to dwell. Evidence points to seasonal villages and camps, but not settlements. Not with Tahquitz so close. He could be an eater of souls, some thought. A demon.

Today people climb on his face. Snap his photo again and again. My own thought:  This rock is indeed alive —its energy can’t be missed. You can use it for good; Idyllwild is full of artists, and a lot of goodwill.

There is evidence of the ancient Cahuilla up in Fern Valley. Pictographs. I’ve not come across any interpretation of them, but they are moving and beautiful. We don’t have to have the words to understand the reverence the Cahuilla people feel and felt for their beautiful, giving, native land. The centerpiece of that long ago message:



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This is the 14th in the series Mountain Stories. Text and bottom photograph copyright Paula Panich, 2013. Photo credit,  Tahquitz R0ck: