Out West At Last

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View of Seminole Canyon from within one of the many cave-like shelters carved into the canyon walls.

View of Seminole Canyon from within one of the many cave-like shelters carved into the canyon walls.

The holidays are over and once again we find ourselves on our own. Ever since we left Florida in late December, we’ve had to be somewhere to meet up with family and friends. We had a great time but it’s good to be back to normal with no set schedule.

Today we’re camped at Seminole Canyon State Park just outside of Comstock TX. The park borders the Rio Grande on the Mexican border about 200 miles due west of San Antonio. Suffice it to say, it’s in the middle of nowhere.  Seminole Canyon State Park is best known for its pictographs or cave paintings. Pictographs are not to be confused with petroglyphs. Pictographs are created through an additive process such as applying paint to a surface to create an image whereas petroglyphs are created through a subtractive process such as chipping away rock from a surface to create an image.

View of the Park’s Visitors Center from bottom of Seminole Canyon. The first cave-like shelter can be seen to the left.

View of the Park’s Visitor Center from bottom of Seminole Canyon. The first cave-like shelter can be seen to the left.

Hike down into Seminole Canyon – No dogs allowed.

Hikes into the canyon to see the pictographs are off-limits without an authorized guide and since no dogs are allowed, we leave Trixie and Eddie in the Airstream. They’re not happy about being left behind but one of these days they need to learn that the world does not revolve around them. It’s about 9:30 as drive over to the visitor center for the daily 10 AM hike. After paying the $10 fee, we meet up with 6 other hikers and our guide Jeremy on the balcony overlooking the canyon. Jeremy is a Staff Archeologist with the Shumla Archeological Research and Education Center and volunteers for the Texas State Park Service. He provides an overview of what we’re about to see and I can tell already he’s extremely knowledgeable. I expect this hike will be more like a college field trip with an archeological professor rather than a hike with a volunteer docent who’s memorized a set of relevant facts. This is going to be interesting and fun.

Pictograph of a Panther.

Pictograph of a Panther.

The hike is short but requires a steep decent down into the canyon from the visitor center. Steps are built into the trail at irregular intervals so we have to watch our feet the entire way down. Jeremy stops frequently along the way to tell us more about the various desert plants and how they were used by the people who lived here 4,000 -7,000 years ago. These stops also give us an opportunity to catch our breath.

Pictograph of hands.

Pictograph of hands. I found these to be the most compelling.

Once on the canyon floor, Jeremy explains how flooding continues to carve out the canyon. The pictographs are painted in natural cave-like shelters that have been worn into the canyon walls at many of the outside curves along the canyon’s serpentine route. Today the canyon is dry with the exception of a few puddles left over from recent rains.

Pictograph of Winged Man.

Pictograph of Winged Man.

We head downstream where we climb up to the first of two pictograph sites. Jeremy explains how the pictographs depict both animal and zoomorphic images. The true meanings of these pictographs are lost to history but many speculate they were created by Shaman while under the influence of peyote, especially the human figures with animal characteristics.

Canyon Rim Trail head.

Canyon Rim Trail head. T&E, Cindy and I were allowed on this trail and fortunately we didn’t see any snakes.

Birds Everywhere

It’s happy hour so with drinks in hand, Cindy and I take our place outside the Airstream for the evening bird show. Our hike into the canyon earlier today lasted 3 hours and T&E have forgiven us for leaving them behind. We’re not serious birders trying to fill out a life list but we do like to seek out and identify new bird species as we travel. We have both the Sibley and Peterson Bird Apps installed on our iPads and iPhones so you could say we’re somewhere between a casual bird-watcher and hardcore birder. We’ve always heard that south Texas is a great place to watch birds and from what we’ve seen so far, this is true. Looking out at the dry scrubby landscape next to our campsite, you’d never guess it was home to so many different birds. Each evening, a number of species we’ve never seen before show up at our campsite.

Golden Fronted Woodpecker

Golden Fronted Woodpecker. At first I thought this was a Northern Woodpecker which is common back east. Then I noticed the orange on the back of his neck.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal. We’ve seen lots of these back east as well but I don’t remember the females having such beautiful colors.

Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia. At first I thought this was a female cardinal but the parrot-like beak is the key to identifying this male cardinal. I cannot pronounced his name.

 

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