‘Ehmuu-Morteros Trail (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)


The ‘Ehmuu-Morteros trail is a short but fascinating path through the site of a former Kumeyaay Native American seasonal village. The nomadic Kumeyaay would spend winters in the Anza-Borrego region, and from this location they would collect and process pinyon nuts, mesquite beans, and desert agave.

This is one of three short, easy trails along the southern portion of Blair Valley. To make the most of your trip to this area, I highly recommend hitting the Ghost Mountain and Pictograph trails while you’re out here. While the road that winds through this part of the park is unpaved, narrow, and sandy, it was overall in decent condition and we didn’t run into any problems with our small passenger car. 

Like many of the other short trails we’d recently done in Anza-Borrego, at the trailhead we found a box of informative pamphlets with entries that corresponded to numbered exhibits along the trail.
Start of the Morteros trail

We set off along the sandy path that wound its way among the creosote, cholla, and agave.

The exhibit markers were subtle, unobtrusive black numbers mounted on nearby rocks and boulders, and blended in well with the surrounding desert.

They blended in so well in fact, that we never did find the first one. Undoubtedly we walked right past it while admiring the view of Ghost Mountain’s eastern flank which lay before us. The mountain appeared to consist of a giant pile of loose rocks and boulders, dotted with small clumps of creosote bushes.

Behind us was the wide expanse of Little Blair Valley.
Looking out across Little Blair Valley

The trail continued to wind through the sandy valley floor. We came upon exhibit number 4, which was a large boulder with small holes ground out from its side. Our pamphlet explained these were “cupules,” the purpose of which is not known.
Cupules ground into the rock along the Morteros trail

The next exhibit we came upon was a large, low rock with numerous large holes ground into it. These were the Morterors (spanish for “mortar”) for which the trail was named. Also known by the Kumeyaay word ‘ehmuu, which means “bedrock hole,” these small pits were created by years of grinding seeds, nuts, and other foods on the rock.
The Morteros trail's namesake

The hill on the opposite side of the valley was covered in various plants, including large quantities of cholla and desert agave. Many of the plants found in this valley were sources of food, medicine, and clothing for the Kumeyaay

We continued along the trail as the valley narrowed, and soon came upon a large boulder. While it would be easy to walk right past this boulder, this was actually the turnaround point for our hike.
Approaching the pictograph rock on the Morteros trail

The right side of this rock contains one of the more noteworthy exhibits of this interpretive trail: a well preserved Kumeyaay pictograph, the meaning of which is unknown.
Kumeyaay pictograph on the Morteros trail

We turned around at this point and headed back to the trailhead. There were more exhibits to be found on the reverse route, and we soon came upon an interesting rock shelter of some kind, with more small holes ground into the rocks.
More cupules in a rock shelter along the Morteros trail

Continuing on, we found ourselves headed towards the wide open plain of Little Blair Valley.
Little Blair Valley

After a few more minutes, we returned to our car at the trailhead, ready for more desert adventure.

From Scissors Crossing (intersection of 78 and S2), head south on S2. At just under 6 miles you will see the dirt turnout for Blair Valley on your left. Follow the dirt road south for 3 miles then turn left. After another .2 miles, turn left again. After .6 miles the parking area will be on you right. map

If you are combining this trip with the Ghost Mountain/Marshal South Home trail, just head east from the Ghost Mountain parking area for .8 miles to the Morteros parking area on your right.

A note on road conditions:
Once you turn off S2 you will be driving on a dirt/sand road that becomes increasingly exciting as you go. We made this journey in a Scion xD and other than a lot of bouncing around, didn’t run into any problems. However, that was after endless dry months of no rain and conditions may vary based on weather. Its a good idea to contact the Anza-Borrego Visitor’s Center at 760-767-4205 to inquire about current road conditions before you head out.

Total Distance: 1 mile
Difficulty: Easy
Total Ascent: Negligible
Dog Friendly?: Dogs not allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes not allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
California State parks: Anza-Borrego State Park

Comments are closed.