Bedrock basins: There’s more than meets the eye

Basins along the East Fork of the Kaweah River.

Since Sequoia’s ancient mystery: Prehistoric rock basins was published two weeks ago there have been a number of 3Rivers News readers who weighed in on the subject. Here’s the plan: Start the conversation and see who might know what about these curious bedrock basins.

The research and opinions of many can add a great deal to a 1925 take on the subject albeit some of the best minds of the day.

It’s especially helpful to provide links to recent research that demonstrate, without a doubt, the rock basins do indeed remain a mystery. The basins in situ with giant sequoias were made for something that today may be incomprehensible.

John Uhlir of Silver City, the intrepid basin hunter.

Here’s some of what we do know:

(1) Modoc people to the north and east of Lassen country used the basins to evaporate salt.

(2) The basins in Sequoia country are not near significant salt deposits or saltwater sources — they were used for something else.

(3) The basins occur from northernmost California to Lake Isabella on the south. They are not exclusively found in Tulare County.

(4) There is ethnographic evidence among Yokuts that the basins were used as “hot tubs.” Basins filled with snowmelt were heated with hot rocks to soothe the aching muscles of the elderly who made the arduous journey from the flatlands below.

(5) The buildup over eons of forest duff and downed trees have obscured a huge number of the basins. The number of known basins might only be the tip of the iceberg of the actual number that are extant.

Some researchers believe that the basins become larger as they occur in more southerly locales. Orlando Barton, known as the “Sage of Mineral King” owing to his knowledge of geology, wrote in an early 20th century article that the basins he encountered near the Eden Creek Grove (Homer’s Nose) were the largest and at the highest elevation.

Multiple accounts suggest that the basins were abandoned by the people who made them during a single event like a volcanic eruption that may have occurred 11,000 years ago. What do you believe?

Many people would walk right past this without realizing what they were seeing.

Disclaimer: Bedrock basins are archaeological sites. It is illegal to excavate, disturb, or remove any forest materials from

their vicinity.


5 thoughts on “Bedrock basins: There’s more than meets the eye

  • August 27, 2019 at 5:24 pm

    Nice find John! Any mortars around that area? Probably not if there was no water nearby. The many uses of rock basins. Salt evaporaters, baths, maybe the first bear box for food storage not sure what the lid would be though. From the elevation that these are at it must be something they didn’t need at lower elevations or we would find them down here.

    • August 28, 2019 at 10:55 am

      Of the 6 sites in Mineral King, 2 have mortars nearby. We looked for mortars @ the East Fork site and didn’t see any.

      When 85% of the Wukchumni tribe (and all other Yokuts sub-tribes) died of measles in 1868-69, the settlers were in a bit of a panic, what was killing the Native Americans?

      The only they really did differently, was they all had sweat lodges by the various forks of the Kaweah in 3R, and the settlers burned down every last of them, thinking it was the culprit.

      The rock basins would’ve made for perfect sweat lodges with some sort of crude structure around them, all you’d have to do would be to have the right sized stone in a fire for a couple hours, pull it out with a couple of stout branches and deposit it into the water of the rock basins, and there you have it, a DIY sauna.

      • August 28, 2019 at 4:26 pm

        Yeah the sweat lodges seems like a perfect use I wonder why they wouldn’t use the same process at lower elevations. Maybe they were used as a heating source somehow for their housing while there was still snow around. Fill it with hot rocks cover it and sleep on top.

        • August 28, 2019 at 7:27 pm

          The idea that almost all of the known 1,000+ rock basins are @ altitudes from 5,000 to 7,000 feet and all are on a north-south axis of the Southern Sierra makes me wonder too if they were so useful, why not higher or lower ones?

          I’m thinking that they were created by Mother Nature 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, and the lucky locals much later might have thought of them as not unusual, giant holes in the granite near giant trees, and useful, although really only in the summer and early fall.

          The areas where they are would’ve been under nearly 10 feet of snow this past winter.


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