Beneath the Surface

agua caliente cultural plaza
agua caliente cultural plaza

The discovery of thousands of artifacts at the site of the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza adds a stunning new chapter to the Tribe’s history.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ETHAN KAMINSKY

For the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, home is literally where the hearth is.

Near the intersection of North Indian Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way in downtown Palm Springs, California, lies the crux of Agua Caliente cosmology and life: an ancient spring that funnels 12,000-year-old water from a depth of 8,000 feet to the surface. Historically, the Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Spring provided the Agua Caliente people with water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and irrigating while also taking on an intangible presence as a healing, sentient being known as Séc-he . Today, the spring remains an integral part of Agua Caliente cultural heritage and identity. Yet other than historical aerials dating to the 1940s and late ’30s and Tribal oral traditions, the ethnographic record for this sacred site has remained sparse, with archaeologists able to piece together only part of the Séc-he story. They’ve known, for instance, that the spring once appeared as a large pool surrounded by green foliage, palm trees, birds, and other small creatures. After the establishment of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation in 1876 and 1877, the Tribe engaged in a series of land leases at the site, leading to the development of several bathhouses over the years, including the renowned Spa Hotel in 1963. As a result, archaeological features or artifacts at the surface and below […]

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