Natural History


“In a time before time, there was no earth. There was only water. Coyote told the animals and birds living in the sky to dive down and bring up dirt so there would be land. They all tried, but failed. Coyote himself almost died trying. So he asked Earth Diver (Coot) to dive down and bring up some dirt. Coot stayed down all day and finally brought up some dirt. Then there was land and all the animals and birds came down out of the sky.”

The land that Coot brought up in that long ago time of animal people was that of rivers, rolling savannahs and a vast inland lake environment. Even the animal people were of different forms than the present. On the eastern side of the Kawaiisu homeland, from Sand Canyon to Red Rock Canyon, fossil remains of saber-toothed cats, camels, horses, rhinoceros and elephant-like creatures have been found.

Since that time, dynamic geological forces have dramatically altered the geomorphology. Sometime during the Middle Miocene to Pliocene (2 to 10 million years ago) major folding and faulting lifted these lands to their present elevations. To the south is Tehachapi Peak (Double Mt., elev. 7,988), while to the west is Cummings Mountain (elev. 7,753) and Bear Mountain (elev. 6,895). Piute Mountain (elev. 8,432) lies to the northwest. The land below these peaks is made up of high ridges, deep canyons and wide valleys.

Generally the mountainous land form runs north/south. The Tehachapi Mountains, which are the southern extension of the southern Sierras, have been rotated in a westerly direction, forming a transverse range that runs east/west. This was caused by movement along the Garlock fault which lies just south of Tomo-Kahni, along Oak and Cameron Creeks. The Garlock fault, California's other major fault, runs generally southwest from the Death Valley area and is offset by the San Andreas Fault west of I-5 at Frazier Park. This fault continues to the Coastal Range as the Big Pine Fault.

From the vantage point of the high eastern ridges, Tomo-Kahni appears as a bowl within a larger fifty square mile bowl that is Sand Canyon. The rock types are comprised primarily of igneous and sedimentary rock. Metamorphic rock can also be found in the Tehachapis in the form of marble. From Tomo-Kahni, sedimentary limestone deposits can be seen north of the Calaveras cement plant. Within Tomo-Kahni, the igneous rock is the dark, black volcanic basalt rock in which we find grinding slicks. Sedimentary rock is seen in the lighter tuffaceous sandstone in which we find bedrock mortars (holes used for grinding and pounding). Outside of Sand Canyon, mortars are seen in granite bedrock.

One of the most interesting geological features at Tomo-Kahni is the dark red to black soil. This soil is derived from the breakdown of volcanic basaltic rock. In response to moisture and freezing, the clay content swells and contracts, resulting in a phenomenon known as self-cultivation. In other words, the soil turns itself over time and buried objects don't always stay buried.

The basic sedimentary sandstone materials formed in an inland lake environment during the Miocene epoch five to 20 million years ago. What is primarily seen in Tomo-Kahni and greater Sand Canyon is tuffaceous sandstone (tuff intermixed with sand). This tuff came from local volcanic eruptions. Throughout the province there are exposed layers of brightly colored compacted volcanic ash (tuff) and grayish compacted volcanic mud. Both are typical of volcanic eruptions in a continental setting.

The main drainage of Sand Canyon is Cache Creek. At one time, this was a major river course with gravel deposits estimated to be several thousand feet thick. Forty vertebrate fossil sites have been recorded along this creek and in several branching canyons. As recently as one million years ago, Cache Creek flowed westward into the San Joaquin Valley. Faulting uplifted the land and changed the creek's flow so that it now runs eastward into the Mojave Desert.


“Coyote was very smart. So that fog would cool down his hot, rock house, he would go out on a mountain and play his flute to entice the fog to follow him back to his dwelling. One day he did not run back to the house. The fog came, then it rained, then it snowed and he died.”

Present day inhabitants of the Tehachapis can sympathize with Coyote. The weather can be extremely fickle and dramatic. Tehachapi is indeed the land of four seasons. Unlike more predictable environments, Tehachapi can have all four seasons in the same day. Geographically, the area is a transition zone between the more moderate Pacific Coast and the more extreme inland environment. The Tehachapi, Piute and Scodie Mountains are subject to all five wind flows: Polar, Pacific, Sub-tropical, Continental and Gulf. With elevations ranging from 2,500 to 8,500 feet, the area is made up of numerous valleys, canyons, and high peaks. As a result, the Kawaiisu core area is an array of micro-climates. Air masses from the southwest, west and northwest must pass over an assemblage of mountains to the west. Because these air masses are partially wrung out by the time they reach the mountains, precipitation is not great and varies greatly across the many micro-climates.

At Tomo-Kahni, average annual precipitation is 8 inches, with temperatures ranging from -15 F to +115 F. In the higher mountains, annual precipitation can reach 50 inches and temperatures may fall to -25 F. Snow is not uncommon from October into May and occasionally falls in the summer. Wind is also a factor as evidenced by the 5,500 present-day wind turbines which are visible to the north, east and south of Tomo-Kahni.

As an example of how micro-climates affect weather in different parts of the Tehachapi Valley, consider that twenty miles to the west of Tomo-Kahni, Bear Valley averages 22 inches of precipitation, while the city of Tehachapi averages 12 inches. Just east of Tomo-Kahni, at 6200 feet, average precipitation is 16 inches. The average wind flow across the ridges housing the wind turbines is in excess of 15 MPH, while twenty miles to the west, the average wind flow across the top of Bear Mountain is less than 15 MPH.

Kawaiisu weather shamans were known to have strong powers over the weather. Arboreal moss played a big part in their ability to call for or predict rain. This has credibility since this moss does respond to changes in humidity.