Saturday, March 8, 2014

Seminole Canyon

 Seminole Canyon State Park doesn't look like much from the highway.  Also from the campground the area appears very desolate.  The desolation in this modern age seems complete with no local television stations in range, no cable, and no cellular signal.  Normally all we could hear was the wind and chirping of the few birds living in the desert environment. The campground itself was very nice with widely spaced paved sites with shelters, picnic tables, water and 30amp electric. 
The lack of trees made for easy satellite reception. Although, there was not cellular phone signal, thanks to my home-built high-performance antenna I was able to connect the WIFI internet signal located at the park welcome center (nearly a mile away)!  Bandwidth was about twice that of a dial-up connection - slow but usable.

 The canyon is a dry wash that carries water to the nearby Pecos River only during the few annual rain showers.

The site was fairly windy with temperatures ranging from low 70s during the day to lower 50s at night. After a very peaceful comfortable night's sleep; we signed up for the next morning's canyon tour.  The first item on the tour is the sculpture which was created to honor the petrographic images preserved on the canyon walls.  There is a small museum in the visitor center with dioramas depicting the lives of the hunter-gather people living in the canyon as much as 5000 years ago.
 On the trail to the canyon there are examples of the various plants used by the canyon dwellers.
 The ocatillo appears to be dead, but is in fact blooming with edible buds appearing on the ends of the branches.
 The long slender leaves of the sotol was used for making durable baskets.  The leaves have small barbs (which are easily removed) pointing in one direction on the edges .  The root stem (at the bottom of the picture) look a lot like a giant artichoke.  The stem although poisonous when raw can be boiled to render it edible.
 The inner flesh of the ubiquitous prickly pear cactus was also used for a food source.
 There are many plants including most of the cactus that have very pretty blooms once they receive a few drops of moisture. I don't remember the name of this lilac-like plant. To view the most color in the desert Southwest, one must time their visit to coincide with the rare Spring rain showers.

 As we walked down into the canyon, our tour guide noted the dark stains on the normally tan limestone walls.  The black color is from bacteria which is carried from the surface by water over the rock face.  The sheltering from the water is the primary reason for the preservation of the rock  images.

 The rock paintings are sheltered inside the cavern-like walls of the canyon.
 The people who lived here cooked small game (usually rabbits) using rock-lined in-ground ovens.  A pit was dug and lined with rock.  A fire in the pit heated the rock.  When the fire died down to ashes, the pit was lined with prickly pear leaves.  Much like a Hawaiian luau.  The the picture above, the dirt is actually the ash remains of at least hundreds of years of fires.  The in-ground ovens were built and rebuilt for so long that the original level of the cave was about 6 feet lower than it is today.  This the explains the black soot covering the ceiling. 

 It is thought that rabbits and other animals were butchered on this rock.  Its surface has actually become varnished likely by the animal fat.

 Although no one can be sure of the exact message intended by the wall art, the consensus of experts is a that they have a religious purpose.  Many of the figures are human form with an antlered head - likely a shaman.

Many of the images are faint and are difficult photograph.  Also the increase in humidity from nearby Lake Amistad (20th century man-made reservoir) has accelerated the staining from airborne bacteria.

We both feel that Seminole Canyon State Park is definitely worth visiting.