As one of our guests astutely observed, "Everything starts with the mountain." Rancho La Puerta lies in a broad valley at the foot of 3,885-foot Mount Kuchumaa. Here the meandering Kumeyaay Creek meets the Tecate River. Chaparral holds the slopes and foothills of the mountain in a wild embrace. Huge and fantastic granite boulders surface from a sea of blue when the wild lilacs bloom. Artemisia and sage scent the air.
Home to coyotes, cottontail rabbits and foxes, Kuchumaa also enjoys a diversity of North American bird species. Ravens, golden eagles and red-tailed hawks sweep the sky, and towhees, wren and quail scatter before morning trail guides.
Over the years, the Szekely family has created a 3,000-acre nature preserve that extends to the international border. The mountain is also protected on the United States side.
Kumeyaay tribespeople knew Mount Kuchumaa as the "exalted high place." In their eyes, Kuchumaa was the womb of the world, the place from which creation sprang. Only shamans were allowed on the summit. It was a place of initiation for spiritual leaders, while the valleys and oak woodlands below were an important gathering place for the people.
Near springs and streams, in the shade of the oaks, families ground acorns into meal. Many morteros – communal bowl-shaped depressions, or "grinding rocks" – remain in flat boulders, testament to early habitation. To this day, the tribes' few remaining elders and shaman continue to hold ceremonies on the summit.
The first known non-indigenous people settled here in the mid-19th century: the Federico family, from whom the Szekelys bought the property. The Federicos lived on registered land granted to them by Benito Juarez in 1862. Some of their grapevines are in our vineyards today.