Acorns from live oak trees were ground in morteros by local early-day Indians.
Live Oak County Park is one of the area’s oldest parks where Fallbrook is said to have begun. It is a sprawling 27-acre tract in the middle of an old-growth grove of coast live oaks, some of which are over 100 years old. There are paths, picnic tables, and jungle gyms for kids of all ages nestled under the canopy of the oak grove that keeps out the summer heat with its shade. The north end of the park boasts well-groomed soccer fields and volleyball courts with fans in lawn chairs cheering their favorite side. The park also has a native garden with examples of plants found throughout the county and a small hiking trail.
2746 Reche Road, Fallbrook
The real gem here is the “Indian Kitchen” — multiple morteros or grinding rocks overlooking the dry streambed that meanders under the oaks waiting for the next rain to bring it back to life. This area was home to the Luiseño people, who have inhabited the northwest corner of the county for several thousand years. It is easy to imagine young children under the oak canopy, gathering acorns for the women to process into acorn meal that was their primary food source.
Acorns were ground in morteros and then the acorn meal was leached to remove tannins before it could be consumed. Acorns were a major staple because they could be stored all year in large granary baskets and used as needed. Ground acorn meal was mixed with water in cooking baskets to make a mush. The mush was cooked in the baskets by adding heated stones that were mixed in the mush. As stones cooled, they were removed and new hot stones were added until the contents were cooked. Sometimes berries or seeds were added or even fresh meat. Indians learned to cook in baskets because basketry was invented before pottery. When Indians learned to make pottery, they used the pots for storage and to hold water. They were not used for cooking.
Picnic grounds at Live Oak County Park
The serenity of this area is occasionally broken by the familiar “wacka-wacka” of a family of resident acorn woodpeckers constantly gathering acorns and storing them back into their granary tree, in this case, oak silos. Acorn woodpeckers are unique in communally defending their centralized food store that has been added to over generations with the result of hundreds or even thousands of holes drilled and stuffed with acorns.
Among other frequent visitors to the grove are western scrub jays, California towhees, and white-crowned sparrows. Ground squirrels are frequently seen skittering among the leaves as they search for acorns that the woodpeckers have overlooked.
Live Oak Park is a perfect setting for an old-fashioned family picnic under the canopy of this rare old-growth oak grove.
Live Oak trail map
LIVE OAK COUNTY PARK
Distance from downtown San Diego: 54 miles. Allow 55 minutes driving time (Fallbrook). Take I-15 N and exit on E. Mission Rd./S-13 and go west. Turn left (south) onto Old Highway 395 for one mile to Reche Rd. Turn right (west) on Reche Rd./S-15 and continue for 2 miles. Live Oak Park is on the right side of the road at the corner of Reche Rd. and Gird Rd.
Hiking length: Less than 1 mile.
Difficulty: Easy. Elevation gain/loss less than 200 feet.
Hours open: 9:30 a.m. to 30 minutes before sunset except for December 25 and January 1. Parking fee. Facilities and water. The park has a 3000-square-foot leash-free area for dogs and humans to socialize.