online book
Captain Jack
Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California



Historic Sites
Selected References


A History of American Indians in California:

Santa Lucia Peak
Monterey County

Santa Lucia Peak, also called Junipero Serra Peak, is located in the Santa Lucia Mountains at an elevation of 5,862 feet. The mountain lies south of Arroyo Seco Road, west of U.S. Highway 101, and 16 miles west of King City, California. At the summit of Santa Lucia Peak, there is a 5-acre, approximately 7,500-year-old sacred Indian site. A fire lookout station has been built and is maintained by the United States Forest Service, including several sheds, cement remnants of an old observatory, and unpaved roads. Dense vegetation covers the peak area with manzanita and mixed conifers, as well as rare and endangered plants such as Cycladenia humilis (a variety of venusta), Galium californicum (a sub-species of luciense or California bedstraw), Galium clementis (Santa Lucia bedstraw), Lupinus cervinus (deer lupine), and Raillardella (muirii). There are also numerous granite outcroppings at the site, at least four of which contain cupules, which are small, circular depressions formed by grinding with a stone pestle or by pecking. The cleared western side of the peak contains 30 cupules, and there is evidence of more cupules existing on rocks still covered with vegetation.

In the past, Santa Lucia Mountain was the dividing line for three groups of Indian people: the Salinan and the Esselen, both of the Hokan language family, and the Costanoan of the Penutian language family. The historical significance of the mountain is evident in the names used by the Salinan Indians in referring to it. The Salinans call it pimkoia'm, ti'at aula after a plant that grows there, and Santaluisa. The mountain appears in the creation stories of the Salinan people as the place where the world was created, and it is said to be a sacred place that contains much supernatural power. In the past, it was an important center of religious and ceremonial activity for the Salinan Indians. The fact that the cupules are located on the western side of the summit nearest the setting sun is also significant for the Salinan people and other tribes said that the souls of the dead journey to the west. The various degrees of erosion of the cupules on Santa Lucia Peak indicate that Indian people used them over a long period of time. The rock paintings or pictographs that are also found on the mountain indicate religious activity.

The Santa Lucia Mountains contain one of the most dense concentrations of pictograph sites in California, with at least 18 sites east of Point Sur. John Garcia, a 75-year-old Salinan who was born and lived on the Jolon Reservation in Monterey County, remembered hiking to the top of Santa Lucia Peak with his family and 75 to 100 other Indians. He recalled that people put holy water in some of the cupules and planted flowers in others. The people must have prayed up on the peak, because he saw them put their arms up over their heads and look up at the sky and then toward the ocean. Garcia thought that these groups of Indians climbed the mountain twice a year, once in midsummer and again in late fall.

Santa Lucia Mountain also served as an important navigation point for early Spanish and Portuguese ships exploring the California coast. In 1602, the Spanish named the mountain "Sierra de Santa Lucia." It did not carry the name Junipero Serra until 1950.

In 1977, the University of California in Santa Cruz wanted to construct a dark sky observatory at the top of Santa Lucia Mountain. A public hearing was held in Salinas, during which the Indians protested the construction of the observatory. They wanted religious access to the mountain, and did not want the sacred ground disturbed by such a structure. The University shelved the project temporarily because Indian use of the peak was unresolved. However, Santa Lucia Peak is considered by astronomers to be the best site in California and possibly the U.S. for a dark sky observatory.

Santa Lucia Peak
Santa Lucia Peak

NEXT> Sherman Institute

online book Top

Last Modified: Wed, Nov 17 2004 10:00:00 pm PDT

ParkNet Home