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.
So there I was, preparing photos for my soon-to-be released blog on Hueco Tanks, when your new post chimed. I think it was no mere coincidence. The place was not only alive with the spirits of the ancients, but you were with us in spirit everywhere we went. Then to spend some quality time there with mutual friends — those who alerted you to this place, no less — just says to me the sacred draw of this place is alive and well.
Joodie, I wish we had been at Hueco Tanks to explore with you two and the Lowe’s! I’m so glad you all enjoyed it as much as we do. We’ll be back—so perhaps we should try to meet up for a brand new exploration there. I hear rumors of a “Tour #3.” :-)
As you know, along with discovering wonderful friends in this life of fulltime RVing, our blogs are such a great way to share special discoveries with each other.
Thank you so much for your blog. I look forward to every post!
Thank you for your kind comment, Amy. I’m delighted you’re enjoying following along with our adventures!
Loving your posts and a reminder of the sacred places we roam. Looking forward to seeing you guys in Ohio…travel safe, we are on the road as well!!!!
Thanks, Julie. We’re looking forward to catching up with you two in Ohio for more birding adventures! Keep on enjoying the journey, eyes wide open. :-)
You two have an amazing life and a wonderful
Spirit……..we’ll keep following.
Thanks for sharing your journeys!
Keep on, keepin on…….!!!
Chad & Stacy
La Quinta, Ca.
Chad & Stacy, we’re always happy to hear from you. Thanks for following along with us and letting us know you’re enjoying the journey. We feel very fortunate, indeed. :-)
You guys find the best places!
Kim, I guess that’s one good thing about my penchant for exhaustive research (and sometimes, it really is exhausting), LOL. That’s why it’s nice to return to places that we’ve already visited so that we can enjoy them without starting from scratch!
I just found out that we will be stopping in El Paso in November (need an airport for a trip east) and Hueco Tanks is now at the top of the list for a place to stay. I’m excited to get there, especially since we have your super-secret hiking tips!
Shannon, you and Ken are going to love Hueco Tanks! I’m assuming from your comment that you read my post with detailed tips on the tours (“In Search of the Starry-Eyed Man”). It’s really worth booking a guided tour and reserving ahead for passes to explore North Mountain.
You know, you’re never gonna get this blog caught up if you insist on writing thoughtful, helpful pieces complete with beautiful photography and fascinating information about mind boggling places that can be found throughout this wondrous country.
While the cross country treks we’ll be doing this year and next are not particularly appealing, at least I know we’ll have plenty of interesting things to check out in Texas (who knew?) Not only do these guided tours sound compelling, but any hike that involves climbing chains, scrambling on rocks, and sliding into hidden caves sound great to us! I’m glad you’ve highlighted so many intriguing places over the years. The biggest question will be which ones to prioritize when we head that way next winter. I guess it’s a good problem to have.
By the way, I LOVE that bird photo… Great capture!
Hahaha, I probably won’t ever catch up, Laura. :-( Too much stuff happens in daily life, as you know. Stuff like the continuing saga with my parents, for example.
When I sit down to write I just can’t seem to blow past stops that we loved so much. If I don’t write it all down it all starts to blur together. And I love it if our blog is helpful for other people, and most especially, if they let me know that—which you always do!
Definitely put Hueco Tanks and Seminole Canyon on your Texas list. And Caverns of Sonora. And Big Bend and Marathon and Terlingua and Fort Davis and the Hill Country…
Glad you liked the bird photo. I thought that sapsucker was cute with his juniper berry. :-)
Hueco Tanks was so much fun! I am sorry tours weren’t available or full when we stayed. But discovering the masks with the directions was such fun. I am so glad you turned us on to this park. Seminole Canyon is the main area I wanted to see in this area when we cancelled our Big Bend trip. The White Shaman Preserve Tour might sway me to think about returning someday. What a great hike with a treat at the end!
Pam, you guys would love Seminole Canyon! If you go, be sure to plan for a Saturday so that you can do the White Shaman Tour. It is exactly your kind of adventure! And then you can return to Hueco Tanks for one or more of the guided tours. I’m so glad you enjoyed Hueco Tanks as much as we did.
And Big Bend NP would fit in perfectly with that plan. Maybe we could meet you there! What are you doing next March?:-))
Now meeting you in Texas to visit Big Bend, Seminole, and return to Hueco Tanks just might be the ticket I need to get to see those areas! Let’s most definitely think about that!!
Yes!!! We would have a blast together!
We had considered hosting at Hueco Tanks next winter when we were setting up hosting jobs. Since we opted for the Hill Country, we will check this one out and Seminole Canyon as we pass by. While in New Mexico last fall, we had met a man that hosted there for several years and loved it.
Deb, Hueco Tanks is an interesting place to spend a few days, but I’m not sure I’d want to host there. It’s a long way from anything (food, for example). Same with Seminole Canyon. However, the Hill Country sounds like a fabulous place to host!
Oh so many memories. We loved all these places also. Thank you for taking me back with you wonderful descriptions and gorgeous photos.
I tell everyone to make sure they visit Seminole Canyon. We think it is one of little known gems. The tour is so fascinating. Glad you two are still enjoying the good life. Safe travels.
Marsha, I agree that Seminole Canyon is a gem. I just went back and looked at your posts and it was fun to see all of the hiking and exploring you did!
We’re still happily enjoying our traveling life. It’s wonderful to hear from you—are you guys still thinking to get a smaller rig for part-time travels? Hope all is well in your lives. Hugs to you!
OMG, we are crossing paths in blogging spirit! for I just posted my Hill Country stop. Your post had always been very helpful in finding us some hidden gems along the way. We too enjoyed our week stay at Seminole SP but missed the Saturday tour. I think I’ve told you Seminole was the place I first heard and saw the Canyon Wren!
So many memories of these places you revisited which we also visited because of your wonderful posts.
Yes, MonaLiza, we are crossing paths in our blogging world even if not in “real time” at the moment! We were delighted with our stop at Seminole Canyon and we heard Canyon Wrens there, too. Thanks for letting us know about this special place!
Your blog has been so helpful for us and I’m glad ours is helpful for you. Best of all is that we met through our blogs. ox
We really enjoyed Hueco Tanks a few years ago. Our timeframe did not work out for the guided tours, but we managed to get a rez to do the self-guided section. And thanks to a friend, knew to ask about “the map” for Cave Kiva … what a fantastic experience … definitely worth slithering around on the rocks to see them.
Seminole Canyon is at the top of our list of favorite places in Texas. I think doing the Fate Bell first and then the White Shaman is the right order in which to see the pictos. On our way to Fate Bell, Ranger Tanya told us how you can capture the rising sun in the circle of the Maker of Peace … was worth getting up early to do so. Something for you to check out next time you find yourself at Seminole Canyon. Also the Pecos High Bridge … which MonaLiza told us about makes for a great quickie stop. If we find our way back to Seminole Canyon, I would like to do the boat trip to Panther Cave … the water was too low when we were there in 2016.
Erin, we were hoping to do the boat trip to Panther Cave, but apparently, the water is still too low. They don’t know if they’ll ever do boat trips again. So we had to make do with a view from across the canyon.
But that hike to the White Shaman pictograph was fabulous! And Fate Bell was lovely, as well. That’s so cool that you have been to both Hueco Tanks and Seminole Canyon. Many people don’t know about the parks, and they’re such gems.
We’re some of the folks who have always thought Texas was a state to be driven through, as quickly as possible. Since we cross the country so often we’ve started to check out parts of the state a bit more, if only to keep our sanity, and your blogs certainly have peaked our curiosity. We’ve stopped in the hill country(and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves), parked on the shores of a pretty lake in east Texas, and a few other places (good and bad) so we’re easing ourselves into this Texas thing! Loved seeing Jodee and Bill’s smiling faces with you guys! So nice to meet up with friends along the way.
Sue, I think a lot of people find crossing Texas daunting. But it’s so beautiful and so diverse! And the state parks are fabulous and reasonably priced. We have loved our Texas adventures and always look forward to returning. I know you would enjoy Hueco Tanks and Seminole Canyon the next time you find yourselves in Texas. I will happily share more of our favorites if you’re interested. :-)
You all sure made an exciting and informative trip across Texas!! If we can get Mike’s surgery behind us maybe we can experience some of these amazing places, too!! Thanks for sharing I can’t wait!!
Gerri, we’re so sorry to hear that Mike has to have surgery. Those aren’t the kind of adventures any of us want to have. :-( Take good care of yourselves, and we wish Mike a speedy recovery. Seminole Canyon and other fun adventures will be waiting for you!
I loved reading this post. It makes me actually want to go back to Texas! It was helpful to think of the “one month for Texas” timeline. We always end up with a destination in mind and so we miss a lot of the good stuff! Come to think of it that might be true for life in general.
Nancy, I’m delighted if this gives you some new ideas for Texas adventures! When we slowed down and really started exploring Texas, we were happily surprised at all of the beautiful natural places and interesting things that we discovered.
I agree with you, it’s good to enjoy the journey as well as the destination. :-)
We loved our time in southern Texas, especially being able to grab a cold afternoon with you two!! Man it was cold that week!! We want to stop at Seminole Canyon next time, so I especially loved seeing your pics of the area.
Jodee, it was SO cold that week! But it sure was fun catching up with you guys in Marfa for a cozy lunch.
I know you will love staying at Seminole Canyon, the fabulous pictographs, and the beautiful Maker of Peace sculpture.
Those masks, wow! And that sculpture… Finding beauty everywhere!
Leah, the masks are really extraordinary and well worth visiting. Such a unique opportunity, in such an unexpected place! I’m looking forward to your discoveries in your upcoming international travels. :-)
I don’t know when we will get to Texas again, but every time I see posts from you on your travels through the state, and the wonderful petroglyphs, I find myself trying to figure a way to make it happen. Thanks for writing so beautifully and showing me places I may never get to myself. Love you guys!
LuAnn, if you ever return to Texas, I know you will appreciate both Hueco Tanks and Seminole Canyon. They are places of such beauty and peace, and the ancient art is fascinating. They are truly sacred places. We would love to do some travels with you and Terry! We miss you two! oxox