Reflections on Chaw’se, California Grinding Rock State Historical Park

This weekend I took my family on a quick trip up the road into the foothills to visit the Chaw’se, (Grinding Rock) state historic park, located at 14881 Pine Grove Volcano Rd, Pine Grove, CA 95665, for anyone who is interested. The site is 264 acres with a re-constructed Miwok village and an indigenous people’s museum featuring artifacts and exhibits of the Miwok tribes of the area. On site is a functioning and still used “Hun’ge” or roundhouse. Although closed to the public, the Miwok allow some observation of the Hun’ge and the ceremonies during the “Big Time” celebration which takes place during the fourth weekend in September and “Chaw’se days” on memorial day weekend.

Photography of the interior of the roundhouse is not permitted and is considered disrespectful, so there are no interior pictures herein or anywhere else on this site. I was able to take photographs of a smaller facility located behind the roundhouse which, based on a photo from the Amador county tourism website, matches the interior construction and layout, namely that of four interior pillars surrounding the central fire pit and circular chimney that forms the center of the roof.

The chief difference being that the actual roundhouse is semi-subterranean, about three to four feet deep on it’s sides, the exterior entrance is pictured below. Inside the outer entrance, before the actual entrance vestibule which is sealed and locked when not in use, I was lucky enough to find some abalone smudge vessels that were left out, allowing me to document and confirm the makeup of the smudging materials for the next article, which will be on smudging. I did not touch or disturb any of these items, I merely observed them and photographed the contents, as they were left outside of the lodge, I don’t believe I broke any of the prohibitions regarding the interior sanctum.

Red string fastening together a smudge bundle

The significance of the red string is that it is used, I have been told, to symbolize the “blood of the people” although in what context I still can’t elaborate on as I am still largely ignorant of the Miwok spiritual practices. Also pictured is California mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana), which is used in place of California white sage (Salvia apiana), as it fails to grow at the elevations near the site and is therefore not used in the Miwok ceremonies of the area. Also included in the smudging vessels are leaves from the local incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), some acorns, what looks like a seed pod of some kind I couldn’t identify and that’s about it. Cedar is burned inside (there’s stacks of it outside) in the central fire pit and a placard near the museum states that California bay leaf (Umbellularia californica, Lauraceae) is burned over the initial coals of the central firepit to act as a cleanser and also practical fumigant against pests. There is some suggestion that Soap Flower’s (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), were used as a detergent for purification, although it also seems that they also acted as the “soap” of the day, therefore making it more likely it is just good practice to clean or bathe before entering the Hun’ge.

Some interesting scientific info on Soapflower/root:



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