The People of the Pecos-Part 1-The Ancient Indians-Seminole Canyon, Comstock, Val Verde County, Texas

Ah it’s my birthday…….again. I wish they would stop coming. They are starting to pile up. This one was number 65. I have been looking over maps of hiking spots in Texas since we moved here and Seminole Canyon had always been on the bucket list. Just close enough to wonder but still too far for a simple day trip. For some reason I was intrigued by the place. So I decided on my birthday weekend this was my destination. Originally I had planned to go and camp. But the campgrounds remain closed due to Covid-19. I found some sites at nearby Lake Amistad National Recreation Area. They were pretty primitive but that’s okay for me. As I researched the area and found out about the cave art and other nearby attractions I asked Momma if she wanted to go with me. She said yes, even to the plan that the first day was going to involve a seven and a half mile hike, in the Chihuahuan Desert, far more hiking then she had ever done in one day.

Entrance to Seminole Canyon as you can see we are in the desert.

The origin of the canyon’s name is a whole other story. It is not named for the Seminole Indians who never lived anywhere near the canyon. The Buffalo Soldiers were stationed at Fort Clark in nearby Brackettville. The Buffalo Soldiers were of Negro and Seminole descent. They interbred before the civil war as escaped slaves found refuge among the Indians. Many fled the United States into Northern Mexico to avoid capture and impressment into slavery. After the Civil War the United States government guaranteed their protection and rights if they would come to help in the wars against the Apache, Kiowa, and Comanches. The Buffalo Soldiers were excellent scouts, and the canyon was named to honor their service.

Our original plan was to get up early and drive down overnight. But a five-hour drive then a three-hour hike?…………was I asking too much of myself and Momma? We decided to take off work early on Friday and we would drive to Junction, Texas for the night. This left us a two-hour drive to the park and a much more manageable day.

“We’re only lucky enough to see the wonders of nature’s canyons because they’re gracious enough to show us the places they’ve been damaged.”

Curtis Tyrone Jones

I find Canyons fascinating and beautiful and this one is near the top of the list. Now don’t get me wrong our trip to Palo Duro late last year was great. Palo Duro is a gorgeous place, but it is so large that at times you didn’t even know you were in a canyon. Not so at Seminole. It is large enough at seven miles long to let you know you are looking at something unique but not so large that you lose the fact that it is a canyon.

Seminole Canyon

Day one we arrived at about ten. I wanted to be there a couple hours earlier because we are in the Chihuahuan Desert and it is expected to be in the nineties today. But we’ll do it anyway. We started out from the trailhead at the Roadrunner Flats Campground and headed for the Rim Trail. the hiking was not bad as it is pretty flat around here save for the big hole in the ground next to us.

it is only three miles to the Rio Grande but since we have to follow around several side canyons the distance becomes five miles

We come to the first historical site where the Wickiups once were as designated by a pile of rocks. It looked like a pile of rocks to me so I’ll trust the archeologists on this one. We continued on in the desert heat.

as you can see the canyon is quite large

As the morning wore on someone began to wear down. Being an avid, experienced hiker heat ,dry etc doesn’t bother me much but since I had this novice hiker with me the complaining begins. Hot ,tired, can’t do this…… But we are 3.5 miles in so to turn around would equal the distance if we just go forward. Finally the pack came off and I thought Momma was through. I carried that pack and mine as we went on looking for shade. I looked at the map as I remembered that there were shade shelters along the trail. We had about another mile. We arrived and I left Momma in the shade as I walked the other 1/4 mile to the Rio Grande and the Panther Shelter Overlook.

Presa Canyon a side canyon of Seminole Canyon
Seminole Canyon at Panther Cave. The boat dock is for kayakers who visit the cave
Seminole Canyon meets the Rio Grande

The sights at this end of the canyon made the hike well worth it. Panther Cave was a bit disappointing as there were trees around the entrance which severely hampered the view of the rock art. It was also fenced in as vandals had visited over the years to do their harm. But the canyon was beautiful.

who doesn’t like bird pictures?

Seminole Canyon is not a canyon with a stream. The Canyon has been formed over millions of years by wind rain and intermittent flooding. The water in the lower end comes from backup as it is upriver from the Amistad Dam and International Reservoir on the Rio Grande. In fact Panther Cave on the far bank actually lies within the boundaries of the National Recreation Area that surrounds the lake. (Subject of a later post).

Lower Seminole Canyon
Caves in the walls of Seminole Canyon

“The desire of water is scribed across the desert like graffiti, until all that is left of the desert is water…. In the scream of a flood, consummate carvings are left behind. Careful scallops are taken from the faces of canyons. This is not random work. It is artistry distilled from madness.”

Craig Childs_ The Secret Knowledge of Water

It was an easy walk back on the Rio Grande River trail…only 2.25 miles on an old ranch road so the walking was easier and the shade shelters numerous…….none of which we missed stopping at!

On day two we did the guided hike which is the only way to get down into the canyon. This canyon is protected due to the valuable collection of ancient rock art on it’s walls. In the past vandals have added some not so ancient rock art so the floor of the canyon is off limits unless accompanied by a ranger.

Heading down into the canyon

The rock art is of the Pecos River culture. It is believed to be around 4000 years old. We are doing the Fate Bell Shelter Tour which is one of the best preserved of the rock art sites in the world.

Approaching the Fate Bell Shelter

The Fate Bell Shelter gets its name from Fayette Bell a previous property owner. It is so well preserved because of its depth. The sun is the worst enemy of rock art and inside the Fate Bell Shelter the sun never shines.

Now you will notice the water and think “he said there was no creek”. Well, there isn’t. The rangers told us that this was runoff from the February snowstorm that had settled in the canyon and was still drying up over a month later. The area had 11 inches of snow during the storm.

“Ancient art has a specific inner content. At one time, art possessed the same purpose that books do in our day, namely: to preserve and transmit knowledge. In olden days, people did not write books, they incorporated their knowledge into works of art. We would find a great many ideas in the works of ancient art passed down to us, if only we knew how to read them”.

G. I. Gurdjieff
Holes in the rock formed by ancient tribes grinding the camas root for flour.

What it all means no one knows. Where these artists went one knows. No modern Tribe has come forth to say ….. “these were my people.”

Looking south from the Fate Bell Shelter
Looking north from the Fate Bell Shelter
Bill Worrell statue depicting the ancient rock art of Seminole Canyon

This trip to be continued…………………………….

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