There are 270 state parks in the California State Park system, and one of the most protected and exclusive is located here in Tehachapi. Known as Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park, it was established in December 1993 to preserve ancient village and ceremonial sites of the Kawaiisu (Nüwa) Indian people of the Tehachapi region.

The Kawaiisu or Nüwa people are part of the large Paiute tribal group but have their own language, culture, basketry traditions and creation myths. The Kawaiisu made Tehachapi their home for about 2,000 to 3,000 years after migrating from the Great Basin.

Located in Sand Canyon, about 10 miles east of Tehachapi, the site of Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park was long used as a winter gathering area for small family groups of tribal members, who would congregate in the more sheltered area near a permanent spring to spend the winter together.

The name Tomo-Kahni means “winter village" in the Nüwa language, and is pronounced to-mo con-hee. Traditionally, tribal members would construct their domed willow shelters on a slope above a water source known as Nettle Springs.

These houses were made from willow poles lashed and woven together, and when completed they resembled upside-down baskets. The outside was thatched with tules, cane, rabbitbrush, or other available material.

Nüwa people placed stones around the base of these circular structures to provide support and to help keep the willow poles in place, and these rock circles remain hundreds or even thousands of years since they were put there by Kawaiisu hands.

Lower down on the slope, just above the springs, Indian women would use smooth river rocks to pound acorns and other seeds in stone mortars located in an extensive outcropping of largely flat bedrock. The grinding holes, called "pa-haz" by the Nüwa women who made them, grew deeper with usage.

After many years of use, these pa-haz would get too deep to be practical and new ones would be started. Centuries of occupation have resulted in more than 300 grinding holes at Tomo-Kahni, the largest accumulation of bedrock mortars ever discovered in the greater Tehachapi area.

In addition to the house rings and bedrock mortar sites, Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park also includes the famed pictograph cave, where designs of spiritual significance were painted on the surfaces inside a natural rock shelter.

Visiting Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park is strictly limited to guided tours only, so the area retains its respectful tranquility and the sites remain in pristine condition. Trained docents lead small groups of visitors and photography is permitted.

Tours begin with an orientation at the Tehachapi Museum and are generally three to four hours long and involve a moderately strenuous hike of one and a half miles.

Tours are given in the spring and fall, usually April through June and September through November.

More information is online at www.parks.ca.gov or by calling 661-946-6092.