Imagine our south Santa Clara Valley before the Gold Rush. It was not unusual to see scores of grizzly bears in a single day. Pronghorn and tule elk regularly browsed beside tule marshes and wetlands. Deer foraged beneath a forest of valley oaks evenly spaced across the valley floor. Uncountable waterfowl filled the skies. What a sight it must have been.
You would have also seen members of the Amah Mutsun band of the Ohlone people living tough but plentiful lives here. For millennia, they lived a hunter-gatherer existence where the flora and fauna provided abundant food sources. While agriculture and development have erased most of the archeological remnants of that sophisticated culture, at Chitactac Adams Heritage County Park, we can sit beside bedrock mortars that buzzed with activity centuries ago.
Located a mile and a half north of Hecker Pass Highway, it is easy to drive past this small park on Watsonville Road, giving it cursory notice. But it is one of the most important archeological sites in the Bay Area, home to native people for more than 3,000 years.
It doesn’t take long to realize why the Ohlone people chose this spot. It is sheltered from the northeast winds that rake the center of the Santa Clara Valley. Uvas Creek, just above its confluence with Little Arthur Creek, provided reliable water and plenty of fish. The unusual number of rock outcrops in the area were ideal mortars for grinding acorns and grains. There are 500 bedrock mortars in the park and on surrounding private land.
Chitactac was likely an important central village with smaller satellite villages providing resources from different landscapes nearby: lumber from the mountains; tule, grasses and acorns from the valley; shellfish from the coast; game everywhere.
Chitactac Heritage County Park is open from 8am to sunset, and entrance is free. Restrooms, picnic tables and its handy location make it perfect for a day out with the family. There are excellent interpretive panels in the shelter, and the short path through the park takes you past many bedrock mortars.
On Saturday, June 29, Santa Clara County Parks will host Chitactac Family Day from 11am to 2pm. There will be activities and crafts, and a great opportunity to learn more about the Amah Mutsun people who lived here and built a vibrant culture here over the centuries. The event is free.
As I walked through this 4.5-acre park, I plugged in my imagination. Conjuring a vision of Chitactac in its heyday as you walk this once bustling site immeasurably adds to the experience. I was alone, but once hundreds, maybe thousands of people lived there. Those bedrock mortars are not just holes in the rock. Real people sat there, grinding acorns, likely laughing and gossiping among their friends. Sit where they sat, and listen carefully. You can hear them.