All right world: get ready for a long post because your girl is really into pictographs and pre-Clovis people (who knew?!). But first, let’s talk about San Antonio.
After spending another night hacking our lungs up in the back of a 2009 Nissan Versa parked inconspicuously in the back of a Walmart parking lot, we packed up and headed off to do our essentials (laundromat, food shopping, post office) outside of San Antonio.
Exhausting as errands are, we felt it necessary to reward ourselves with enchiladas, guacamole, and a giant glass liter of coke.
After eating our fill, i.e too much Mexican food, we decided to check out the ol’ Alamo.
We entered through the old church and looked around. There weren’t too many signs, and photos weren’t allowed, but the entrance was free, so we didn’t expect too much.
After we exited, we were able to read about the history in the courtyard. It felt odd walking through the battleground, now bustling with crowds of tourists wandering around looking for the gift shop. Ryan and I almost wished they charged a small fee, just so that they could preserve more of the area and add additional resources to educate the public. Even so, I’m glad we got to learn a little more about American history and the tenacious spirit of some early Americans.
The next day we woke up early and headed to Seminole Canyon. Our tent site was on the edge of a rise looking out toward the canyon. It was idyllic.
We decided to go on the Fate Bell Pictograph guided tour to see some of the oldest art in America, and were welcomed by Bill Worrell’s towering “Maker of Peace.” He created this piece as a tribute to the Desert Archaic people that we would soon learn much about.
The Lower Pecos people made their homes in what is now Seminole Canyon. They were a nomadic people who lived as long ago as 10,000 B.C. We learned about the plants they consumed, lechuguilla and sotol bulbs (green spiky plants below) and fruit from the prickly pear cactus. Side note in case you every want to eat lechuguilla or sotol bulbs: 1) It’s poisonous unless cooked and 2) If eaten in high doses it will destroy your tooth enamel by your twenties if you live that long without falling off a cliff or getting eaten by a panther.
How did they find out about people’s diets from 10,000 BC? You can thank a well-preserved middle aged woman with a terrible parasite that prevented her from eliminating her bowels for that. They also found 250 grasshopper mandibles, a whole snake (?!), and a piece of bat inside her. Though the children on the tour were probably horrified, we were hooked.
To the caves!
We walked along the bottom of the canyon surrounded by spectacular views and our fellow nature lovers. Let it be known, nature people are good people. I mean, we’re all captivated by rocks and leaves. One guy was even taking notes. Nature people are my people.
We made it to the cave and saw our first wall of pictographs.
The first (image below: clockwise from top left) is of a woman holding some kind of ornamental staff. You can tell this figure is female because she is fashioned in a woven blanket and the Pecos men usually wore little to no clothing. There is a “power line” going from her body to the heavens, making her a pretty powerful lady. The second is of a shaman scene. Shamans usually traveled with a small group and had a lot of power due to their ability to cross over to the other world. This scene is likely of a shaman going to another realm. The third picture is of a panther. Most don’t agree on what is coming out of his mouth. Our guide’s guess is that his soul may be exiting his body, perhaps through death. The last is most likely the oldest pictograph in the cave. It is an anthropomorphic figure of some kind. I don’t know what he’s doing but he’s pretty cute.
So, how does paint last on a limestone wall for thousands of years? The answer is twofold. 1) The overhang of the cave protected the paintings from many of the elements and 2) The paint was mixed with bone marrow, making it top grade.
I also really liked this pictograph showing people holding hands.
The Pecos people traveled in small groups of around 20 people, all related by blood or marriage, so this pictograph tells me they valued their relationships. It’s something so simple and so very human.
We walked to another wall and our guide showed us what he thinks is a later pictograph judging by the intricacies and use of color. This scene depicts a shaman showing his dominance over three other figures. They are all anthropomorphic, with details like hooves or wings. The shaman also has that famed power line connecting him to the heavens.
I am happy shaman. Look at my dominance.
What a morning we had. I was so filled with knowledge and joy my power lines were all getting crossed. The best thing for that was a 7 mile hike around the canyon and to the Rio Grande.
The sun was hot but the views were unreal. Can you spot Ryan below?
We took a rest when we got to this water at the bottom of the canyon. This water feeds into the Rio Grande, so we knew we were close.
Across the water we could see “panther cave.” Inside is another collection of pictographs only accessible by boat. But you can still make out the 9-foot panther’s tail if you look closely.
Our first view of the Rio Grande did not let us down, but we had to head back because the sun was getting low.
This day couldn’t have been better. We got into our tent with smiles on our faces. But then we had to use the bathroom which was painful because of the cold and wind. We heeded nature’s call and were gifted a magnificent world of stars, the brightest sky we had ever seen. Better, still.
Seminole Canyon was one of the most magical places I have ever visited. I hope to come back some day, but at least I’ll always have this souvenir, and a heart full of memories.