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Tomo-Kahni Village Site

Kawaiisu Trail

Two to three-hour docent-led walk

For thousands of years the Kawaiisu roamed a vast territory from the Southern Sierra to the Tehachapi Range to the Mojave Desert. During the cooler months the tribe encamped at their “Tomo-Kahni,” or Winter Village, nestled in the hills east of what is now the present-day town of Tehachapi.

Now thanks to a docent-led walking tour, a limited number of lucky visitors can explore the ancient land of the Kawaiisu, an intriguing preserve of wind-sculpted rock formations, pictographs and a pinyon pine forest. Tomo-Kahni is an unusual state parkland, created in the 1990s by tribal elders, anthropologists and state park officials who wished to protect this unique village site and the intriguing blend of High Desert and High Sierra environments that surrounds it.

Rangers and docents take pains to point out that Tomo-Kahni is not your basic state park, and that its purpose is education, not recreation. No visitor facilities have been constructed, no signs have been posted, and the preserve can be seen only on a guided tour. In Mission Impossible fashion, the location of Tomo-Kahni is not disclosed to tour members until just before departure from downtown Tehachapi.

The docents and rangers who lead the tours are an enthusiastic lot, and offer a compelling narration about the Kawaiisu during the three mile walk. The Kawaiisu, of Shoshonean lineage, call themselves Nuooah which, in their language, means “The People.” Kawaiisu forebears may have lived in the desert-mountains environment some 3,000 years ago. The tribe has long been known for its creation of colorful and intricately designed baskets.

The Kawaiisu were hunter-gatherers who inhabited a very large territory ranging from the Southern Sierra to the Tehachapi Range to the western Mojave Desert. Such a diverse environment required the Kawaiisu to master the use of a multitude of plants. Anthropologists believe the Kawaiisu used more than 200 plants for foods, beverages and medicine.

On the trail through a pinyon pine woodland, it becomes obvious to the hiker where the Kawaiisu found pinyon pine nuts, as well as many other nuts, berries and plants for food. One tour highlight is an impressive sandstone rock outcropping pock-marked with more than 400 mortar holes where the Kawaiisu ground seeds and acorns.

Tour highlights for children are usually Rabbit Rock, a big, bunny-shaped boulder,
and a very long rattlesnake pictograph found in an open-faced cave. Glimpses of deer, rabbits, lizards and a variety of birds en route add more surprises to this very special exploration.

While their “Winter Village” suited the Kawaiisu just fine, we moderns find it too cold to visit in winter and too hot in summer. Tours of Tomo-Kahni are offered only on spring and fall weekends (weather permitting), and only by reservation. The slow to moderately paced walking tour (with some steep trail sections) lasts two to three hours. Wear sturdy boots and a hat for sun protection, and bring water.

A visit to Tomo-Kahni requires some planning. But once you enter a land so ancient and sacred, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

From Highway 14 in Mojave, turn west on State 58 and continue 20 miles to Tehachapi. Tours begin with an orientation at the Tehachapi Museum, 310 South Green Street in Tehachapi, just south of East E Street. After the orientation, visitors drive about 12 miles to the park. (High-clearance vehicles are recommended.)

Tomo-Kahni Walking Tours are available by reservation only and at a modest cost for adults and children. Call the California State Parks office in Lancaster for more information and reservations.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at