For anyone who has hiked the petroglyphs at Alta Vista, you’ll remember the distinctive green signs posted along the self-guided trail. These signs provide hikers with interesting information about the archeological site, the petroglyphs (rock carvings), as well as a little history of the area and its people. There are 15 signs in all and they are listed in numerical order below, although they are not posted in this order along the trail.
The verbage included below was taken directly from the signs, and only minor spelling changes have been made.
Alta Vista (Sign #1): Archeological petroglyphs site of Alta Vista known as “La Pila del Rey” located along the Piletas Creek on the sides of the Copo Volcano. It covers an extension of about 80 hectares where there is one of the biggest concentration of engraved rocks.
The Tecoxquin (Sign #2): The Tecoxquin (Tequecteoui, “Throat-Cutters”) were the original users of the Alta Vista site. Long before the arrival of the Spanish, this indigenous group inhabited an extensive region covering the entire southern coast of Nayarit and neighboring coastal and mountain regions of Jalisco. They were mainly farmers, fishermen, salt-producers and traders in cacao and cotton. The Tecoxquines were organized in a series of villages under the control of Teuzacualpan, in the Chila Valley (the modern-day town of Zacualpan). Their commercial links allowed them to establish an intense trade which reached at least as far north as southern Sinaloa, and as far south and east as Colima and Michoacan.
The Tecoxquines Religious Life (Sign #3): Many of the religious ceremonies which occurred at this site were undoubtedly based on Nahualism. Nahualism, or Shamanism, is an ancient religious practice by which certain persons communicate with their Gods and spirits through altered states of consciousness. This tradition has deep roots in this region; the name of the State of Nayarit derives from the word “Nahualli.” The Tecoxquines used psychotropic plants and tobacco to attain states of ecstasy that brought them into contact with their deities.
The Last of the Tecoxquines (Sign #4): In 1524 an army led by Francisco Cortes de Buenaventura incorporated this zone into the jurisdiction of Santiago of Colima. Six years later, Nuño de Guzman formed the kingdom of Nueva Galicia, covering the entire northern and western regions of Mexico. Following the Spanish conquest, deaths from epidemics and forced labor completely annihilated the Tecoxquines as a people. Today in the Mestizo towns of the area, people still speak of “White Indians,” ghosts who appear from the mountains to honor their ancient Gods.
The Tecuales (Sign #5): In the 17th Century, European landowners cultivating cacao in the region needed a new workforce. The old Tecoxquin villages, as far as the salt-producing town of Ixtapa were repopulated with Tecual Indians who were ancestors of the modern-day Huichol. A new wave of Europeans arrived from the town of Compostela and formed haciendas such as Chila and Las Varas. They also brought in African slaves through the nearby Port of Chacala, which had trade links with North and South America. Each of these new peoples reinterpreted the petroglyphs of Alta Vista in a distinct manner.
The Water Cycle (Sign #6): The State of Nayarit is characterized by high rainfall, the fifth highest in the country. The rains are concentrated in a period of intense storms between May and October, in dramatic contrast to the dry season the rest of the year. The mountains of Alta Vista attract heavy rainfall leaving the areas to the east much drier (the opposite side of the mountain has a semi-desert climate). Perhaps for this abundance of water, Alta Vista was seen as a special place, and venerated for its fertility.
Tamoanchan (Sign #7): This concept was a central part of ancient Mesoamerican cosmology. Tamoanchan is the cosmic tree which connects all life and sustains the world. Its roots are underground, in the realm of water and fertility. Its trunk is among humans above ground and reaches upward. The crown of the tree is in the heavens, in the realm of the Gods and the rains. Tamoanchan was represented by the Ceiba Tree in many parts of Mexico although other large trees, such as Pine and the Strangler Fig, could also serve the same purpose.
Warfare: Trophy Heads (Sign #8): The “Flower War” was one of the principal religious practices associated with the Tecoxquines. The goal was not conquest, rather the objective was to obtain warrior prisoners for ritual sacrifice, and whose severed heads were later offered to the Gods. These wars usually occurred locally, although they were also held in places as far away as the valleys of Talpa, Mascota, and the Mochitiltic Canyon in Jalisco.
Tlalocan (Sign #9): In ancient Mesoamerica, water was thought to lie underneath the earth, and so the underworld was considered a place of fertility. Tlalocan was the “water paradise” beneath the earth. It was inhabited by the Chanes, or water spirits, as well as the spirits of those people who had drowned or whose death was connected to water. Tlalocan was also the place of the mythical crocodile Cipactli, and “earth monster” who symbolized fertility and the primordial times.
The Devoted Christ (Sign #10): The fist historical references to the Alta Vista archeological site date from 1612. They describe complex writing, a multitude of crosses, and above all a devoted Christ whom the local people hold in great veneration. This is possibly a reference to the so-called “Maiz Man” (shown above), a figure symbolizing fertility and growth. Local farmers leave offerings of candles and gourd bowls of salt to this figure in order to obtain fertility for their coffee and tobacco crops or in hopes of obtaining work when they travel to the United States.
The Apostle Mathew (Sign #11): Beginning the 17th Century, the belief arose amongst the Spanish that the Apostle Mathew traveled to the new world in pre-hispanic times to evangelize the Indians. This was thought to account for the rock carvings of Alta Vista, especially the crosses. By the 20th Century, this belief had developed to the point where Mathew was credited with creating the Cross of Grass, which is now a religious sanctuary in Tepic, and is thought to possess miraculous powers. According to local legend, a stream of blood beginning at the Cross of Grass flowed down the mountains to Alta Vista, connecting to two sacred sites.
The Cross (Sign #12): The fact that the cross was a sacred symbol among the Tecoxquines was somewhat surprising to the Spanish, and led to the legend of the Apostle Mathew. But for the Tecoxquines, like most other ancient Mesoamericans, the cross was in reality a mental map of the cosmos. It symbolized the five sacred directions: the four cardinal points and the center. Each direction was associated with certain Gods, colors and sacred realms, as well as one of the four trees which formed the Tamoanchan. The idea of the four-cornered universe is still present among Mexican Indians today, and is symbolized by crosses, diamonds and other similar shapes.
Communicating with The Gods (Sign #13): It is possible that the rocks of Alta Vista were associated with the mythical trees of Tamoanchan which connected the underworld, the earth and the heavens. The prayers of the people traveled up through the sap of the tree trunks to the realm of the Gods. In turn, the gifts of the Gods, rains, fertility, good heath returned to the earth through the same trees. For the Tecoxquines, the rocks of Alta Vista would have served the same purpose, a medium of communication between the people and their Gods.
Tecoxquin Symbolism (Sign #14): The spirals, wavy lines and other symbols carved in the rocks of Alta Vista most likely constitute a ritual language of prayers to the Tecoxquin Gods. As an agricultural people, the Tecoxquines would have been concerned with obtaining rain, fertility of the earth, and the continuance of the seasonal rhythms they depended upon. Although the exact meaning of the symbols will never be known, the spirals have been interpreted as the sun, rainstorm, wind, coiled snakes, or as a symbol of the natural rainy and dry cycle.
Huichol Offerings (Sign #15): The Huichol Indians who occasionally visit Alta Vista originally lived in the Sierra of Nayar Mountains. Although in recent years a small group has moved to the Las Varas area, they leave offerings and perform ceremonies here for Nakahul, “Our Grandmother of Fertility,” and also for Tatevari, “Our Grandfather of Fire.” Some Huichol also travel to the nearby Port of Chacala, where ancient rock carvings are located, and leave offerings to Tatei Aramara, “Our Mother Ocean.”
For more information about the petroglyphs and how to get there, read our recent article entitled “Hiking the Petroglyphs at Alta Vista.”
This story was submitted by one of our regular contributors. If you want to join in and share your stories and photos of Jaltemba Bay, Mexico, please email them to Allyson@JaltembaBayLife.com