Chumash Painted Cave


Useful Information

Location: Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park. California State Route 154 10 km north of M1, in the San Marcos Pass in the Santa Ynez Mountains, follow painted cave road for 3 km.
(34.504185, -119.787612)
Open: All year dawn ‘til dusk.
Fee: free.
Classification: Speleologysandstone cave ArchaeologyPainted Cave
Light: bring torch
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park, Tel: +1-805-733-3713. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1972 added to the National Register of Historical Places.
1976 State Historic Park established.


Chumash Painted Cave, CA, U.S.A. Public Domain.
Chumash Painted Cave, CA, U.S.A. Public Domain.

The Chumash Painted Cave actually has a Chumash name, it is Alaxuluxen. The great-great grandmother of the current Chumash elder Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto, Maria Ygnacio, was the daughter of the last wot or chief of Syukhtun. So the original name of the cave was passed on in the family. It is a small sandstone cave located northwest of Santa Barbara. The Chumash are a Native American people who historically inhabited the central and southern coastal regions of California. Several modern place names are of Chumash origin, like Pismo Beach, Lompoc, or Malibu. Before the contact with Europeans, the Barbareño Chumash were one of the largest and most influential tribes in California with a population of over 15,000.

Painted Cave is located at a major trail, which led from Syukhtun over the San Marcos Pass to villages in the interior Santa Ynez Valley. The cave was seasonally visited during the summer and fall. The age of the interior paintings are unknown, but they are older than the 1700s, because the ceremonial use of the cave was discontinued with Spanish contact. In other words, the paintings are between 300 and 1,000 years old.

They depict probably tomols, or canoes taking the souls of the dead to Shimilaqsha, the after world. The centipede-like figures represent the cause of the death. In the 18th century the circular designs were interpreted as bundles of tied blankets. More likely the paintings represent celestial beings, such as the sun, moon, and the stars. They could have been painted during ceremonies in order to maintain balance in the celestial world. Astronomers tried to find an astronomic meaning in the paintings. One part could probably be the representation of a total eclipse on 24-NOV-1677. In short, the knowledge of their meaning is actually lost.

The cave is a natural cave in sandstone and is rather small. From California State Route 154 follow the painted cave road, a narrow one-lane mountain road, 8 km to a slightly widened shoulder that provides parking for one or two vehicles. A short dirt trail leads to the cave. Its entrance is actually closed by a gate of iron bars. So it is possible to have a look, but not to enter the cave. You can take pictured through the bats, but flash is forbidden since they could harm the art. However, the park authorities teamed with CyArk and Santa Ynez Valley High School to produce a detailed 3D laser scan. So you can also see the cave online with a set of 360° pictures and the navigable 3D model.