There’s a whole lotta Texas between New Mexico and Louisiana, precisely 879 miles if you were to drive straight across I-10 from border to border. But where’s the fun in that? We’ve found that a month is just about right for traversing the Lone Star State. We plan a different route every year, revisiting some favorites and adding in new adventures. I don’t think we’ll run out of things to do anytime soon.
Revisiting Hueco Tanks
Just over the New Mexico border on the outskirts of El Paso lies Hueco Tanks State Park. We discovered the park several years ago and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, the hiking, and the remarkable pictographs left behind by ancient peoples.
To protect the pictographs, only a small portion of the park is open for self-guided hiking. There are some unique opportunities for exploring here, including the Chain Trail and our favorite, the unmarked hike to Cave Kiva (clues include looking for the stone duck and the giant alligator, which points to the entrance to the cave). Ask the rangers for a map, otherwise, you’ll never find the cave.
Cave Kiva involves some way-finding, a bit of scrambling, and some belly scooching over slippery rock to enter the cave. But it’s worth the effort. Once inside, the cave reveals eight ancient masks painted in bright reds and yellows by the Jornada Mogollon more than 800 years ago. The best guess of archeologists is that the masks are prayers for rain made by the ancient agricultural peoples.
Every time we visit Hueco Tanks, we make the pilgrimage to Cave Kiva. It’s undeniably a sacred place, and we always have it to ourselves.
~Click on the photos for a larger version~
Hueco Tanks offers guided tours to restricted areas of the park. Our favorite is “Tour #2” because it showcases some of the most extraordinary and colorful masks in the park. I wrote about this hike and tips for signing up for the guided tours (which require advance reservations) in our post “In Search Of The Starry-Eyed Man.”
This time, we repeated Tour #1, which is the default tour for guided hikes. It’s a fun hike that involves some scrambling and visits a variety of pictographs, including an array of rock paintings left behind by the Mescalero Apache. We had an excellent guide, and once again, were impressed with the quality of the tour (which, by the way, is a bargain at $2 per person).
Freezing in the Davis Mountains
Dang, it was cold when we got to Davis Mountains State Park on New Year’s Day! We woke several mornings to temperatures in the low 20s that stayed below freezing all day. We really like the park and have been there several times to enjoy the hiking trails; the birding; the towns of Fort Davis, Marfa, and Alpine; and the cool McDonald Observatory on a nearby mountaintop.
I’ve written about our previous adventures in detail here: “A Postcard From West Texas: Fort Davis, Marfa, & Alpine.”
This time, we mostly tried to not freeze our butts off while we enjoyed the magic of a hoar frost covered landscape. And we spent part of a day in the nearby offbeat artists’ town of Marfa where we met up with our fellow fulltime traveling friends Jodee and Bill for a delightful lunch and a fun afternoon of catching up.
Ancient Art In Seminole Canyon
Although we enjoy revisiting favorite places, we’re always excited about seeing something new. For a brand new Texas adventure, we headed to Seminole Canyon State Park in south-central Texas along the Rio Grande. We first heard about the park several years ago from our friends MonaLiza and Steve and immediately put it on our Texas to-do list.
I’m betting when you think of places with ancient rock art, Texas isn’t the first place that comes to mind. But Texas is home to one of the largest and most diverse collections of ancient rock art in the world, including images created by prehistoric hunter-gatherers almost 4,000 years ago. For perspective, the Jornada Mogollon images at Hueco Tanks State Park are about 800 years old, and the Mescalero Apache rock art there was painted about 200 years ago.
Seminole Canyon is one of the most accessible places to see prehistoric rock art. We signed up for a guided tour of the Fate Bell Shelter, offered through the park. (The only way to visit the pictographs is with a guide.) An easy 1.5-mile round-trip trek with a few steep ups and downs leads to the rock shelter and the well-preserved colorful pictographs.
Archeologists believe these ancient stone manuscripts record shamanistic rituals that depict journeys to the spirit world for healing and guidance. Hallucinogenic plants such as peyote no doubt played an important role in these mind-expanding, otherworldly journeys.
Seminole Canyon also offers miles of hiking trails, which are mostly flat and traverse scrubby, rocky landscape. We liked best the 7.5 mile Canyon Rim Trail, which includes the Panther Cave Overlook with a far-off view of an immense pictograph panel of a 9-foot long panther (you need a zoom lens or binoculars to see it).
The White Shaman Tour
Our favorite experience while staying at Seminole Canyon was a tour of the nearby White Shaman Preserve. Offered once a week on Saturday mornings by the Witte Museum in San Antonio, the tour is a rugged adventure that visits a spectacular pictograph panel. Advance reservations are required and tickets are $15.
The White Shaman pictograph panel is approximately 26 feet long and 13 feet high, hidden in a rock shelter on a bluff high above the Pecos River where it meets up with the Rio Grande. Getting there is part of the fun—although the hike is less than two miles round trip, the trail is steep, rocky, and challenging. It is a fantastic site, and the tour was excellent.
According to archeologists, this pictograph panel depicts the creation of time, the sun’s daily cycle, and the changing seasons. It is likely also a metaphor for the transformations each person experiences throughout life.
We loved our stay at Seminole Canyon State Park. The small visitor center is excellent, and the campground is peaceful and remote with wonderful dark night skies. Spacious sites; water and electric hookups; bathhouses; and zero Verizon coverage.
About the opening photo for this post: The 17-foot tall bronze sculpture is named “Maker of Peace,” and was created by Texas artist Bill Worrell. The sculpture stands next to the visitor center in Seminole Canyon and overlooks the Fate Bell Shelter pictographs.