C.M. Mayo on the Rock Art Trail of the Lower Pecos

Strange figures float on the walls...

Strange figures float on the walls…

 

 

 

 

 

 

C.M. Mayo

C.M. Mayo

Thanks to C.M. Mayo for this guest post on rock art of the Lower Pecos!  Learn more about her at http://www.cmmayo.comor in my interview with her in April, 2015.

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Remote as they are, the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of the US-Mexico border have a strangely magnetic pull. That may sound like a wild assertion, but the evidence comprises over 200 shamanistic rock art sites, many of them thousands of years old, and the fact that dozens of rock art enthusiasts, including myself, find themselves returning again and again.

It was on a meltingly hot August day in 2014 that I made my first foray into the canyonlands for the Rock Art Foundation’s visit to Meyers Spring, A speck of an oasis tucked into the vast desert just west of the Pecos, Meyers Spring’s limestone overhang is vibrant with petrographs, both ancient, but very faded, and of Plains Indians works including a brave on a galloping horse, an eagle, a sun, and what appears to be a missionary and his church.

MEYERS SPRING,  AUGUST 2014

Because I am writing a book about Far West Texas and I must travel all the way from Mexico City via San Antonio, I had figured that this visit, plus an interview with the foundation’s executive director, Greg Williams, would suffice for such a little-known corner of my subject.

I took home the realization that with Meyers Spring I had taken one nibble of the richest of banquets. In addition the rock art of the Plains Indians—Apaches and Comanches— of historic times, the Lower Pecos Canyonlands are filled with prehistoric art, principally Pecos River, Red Linear, and Red Monochrome. Of the three, Pecos River is comparable to the best known Paleolithic rock in the world, the caves of Lascaux in France.

I would have to return to the canyonlands— alas for my book’s time and travel budget! Not that the Rock Art Foundation charges more than a nominal sum for its tours. The individual tour to Meyers Spring, which lasted four hours, cost a mere 30 dollars. Everyone involved, including the guides, works for the foundation for free.

By December of 2014 I was back for another Rock Art Foundation tour, this one down into Eagle Nest Canyon in Langtry. Apart from rock shelters with their ancient and badly faded petrographs, cooking debris, tools, and even a mummy who—scientists have determined— died of chagas, Eagle Nest Canyon is the site of Bonfire Shelter, the earliest and the second biggest bison jump, after Canada’s Head Bashed-In, in North America. Some 10,000 years ago hunters drove hundreds of prehistoric bison—larger than today’s bison—over the cliff. And in 800 BC, hunters drove a herd of modern bison over the same cliff, so many animals that the decaying mass of unbutchered and partially butchered carcasses spontaneously combusted. In deeper layers dated to 14,000 years, archaeologists have found bones of camel, horse, and mammoth, among other megafauna of the Pleistocene.

DESCENT INTO EAGLE NEST CANYON, DECEMBER 2014

Then in the spring of this year I visited the Lewis Canyon site on the shore of the Pecos, with its mesmerizing petroglyphs of bear claws, atlatls, and stars, and, behind a morass of boulders, an agate mirror of a tinaja encircled by petrographs.

LEWIS CANYON PETROGLYPHS, MAY 2015

Not all but most of the Lower Pecos Canyonland rock art sites— and this includes Meyers Spring, Eagle Nest Canyon and Lewis Canyon— are on private property. Furthermore, visits to Meyers Spring, Lewis Canyon, and many other sites require a high clearance vehicle for a tire-whumping, paint-scraping, bone-jarring drive in. So I was beginning to appreciate the magnitude of the privilege it is to visit on these sites. At Lewis Canyon, as I stood on the limestone shore of the sparkling Pecos in utter silence but for the crunch of the boots of my fellow tour members, I learned that less than 50 people a year venture to float down its length.

This October I once again traveled to the Lower Pecos, this time for the Rock Art Foundation’s annual three day Rock Art Rendezvous. Offered this year were the three sites I had already visited, plus a delectable menu that included White Shaman, Fate Bell, and—not for those prone to vertigo— Curly Tail Panther.

 WHITE SHAMAN, OCTOBER 2015

Just off Highway 90 near its Pecos River crossing, the White Shaman Preserve serves as the headquarters for Rock Art Rendezvous. After a winding drive on dirt road, I parked near the shade structure. From there, the White Shaman rock art site was a brief but rugged hike down one side of cactus-studded canyon, then up the other. I was glad to have brought a hiking pole and leather gloves. No knee surgery on the horizon, either. When I arrived at White Shaman, named after the central luminous figure, the sun was low in the sky, bathing the shelter’s wall and its reddish drawings in gold and turning the Pecos, far below, where an occasional truck droned by, deep silver.

The next morning, at the Rock Art Foundation’s tour of the Shumla Archaeological and Research Center in nearby Comstock, I heard Dr. Carolyn Boyd’s stunning talk about her book, The White Shaman Mural: An Enduring Creation Narrative in the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos, which is forthcoming in 2016 from University of Texas Press. Dr. Boyd, whose work is based on 25 years of archaeological research in the Lower Pecos and a meticulous study of Mexican anthropology, argues that White Shaman, which is many thousands of years old, may represent the oldest known creation story in North America. (See Mary S. Black’s interview with Dr. Boyd, “Deciphering the Oldest American ‘Book.’”)

FATE BELL, OCTOBER 2015

From the White Shaman Preserve, Fate Bell is a few minutes down highway 90 in Seminole Canyon State Park. More than any other site, this shelter in the cake-like layers of the limestone walls of a canyon, reminded me of the cave art I had seen in Baja California’s Sierra de San Francisco. Inhabited on and off for some 9,000 years, Fate Bell is one of the largest sites in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. It has various styles of petrograph, including a spectacular group of anthropomorphs with what appear to be antlers and wings.

CURLY TAIL PANTHER,   OCTOBER 2015

 

Curly Tail Panther is a scoop of a cave about the size of a walk-in closet, but as if for Superman to whoosh in, set dizzyingly high on a cliff-side overlooking the Devils River. The back wall has an array of petrographs: red mountain lion, anthropomorphic figures, and geometric designs. The only access to Curly Tail Panther is by way of a narrow ledge. Drop your hiking pole or your sunglasses from here, and you won’t see them again. You might lose a character, too—in the opening of Mary Black’s novel, Peyote Fire, a shaman stumbles to his death from this very ledge. The Rock Art Foundation’s website made it clear, Curly Tail Panther is not for anyone who has a fear of heights. But who doesn’t? My strategy was to take a deep breath and, like the running shoes ad says, Just do it.

C.M. Mayo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Soul of a Poet: Mary Locke Crofts

Langtry, Texas at dusk

Langtry, Texas at dusk

My guest this week is poet Mary Locke Crofts who has recently published a slim volume of her

To Ancient Shelter: A Sojourn in Langtry, Texas by Mary Locke Crofts

Pathways to Ancient Shelter: A Sojourn in Langtry, Texas by Mary Locke Crofts

reflections of the past and present in the desert at Langtry, Texas. Langtry is about 60 miles west of Del Rio, smack on the Rio Grande border with Mexico. Her poems about this area of ancient history and rich artistic expression beautifully capture the life and loneliness of the place. You can order a copy for yourself from Amazon.com.  The title is Pathways to Ancient Shelter: A Sojourn in Langtry, Texas. Learn more at www.marylockecrofts.com.

What led you to this project?

It was a graduate program at Pacifica Graduate Institute where I was pursuing a doctorate in mythological studies and Jungian psychology. As a 62-year-old storyteller, I selected the rock art of the lower Pecos of my dissertation. For a brief moment, I thought I might magically become an archaeologist and art historian, but, of course, that was not to be. I did, however, write about the history of rock art studies while, at the same time, imagining the unknowable myths of the hunter-gatherers who painted the rock art. As a result, I ultimately came to write about the “myth I was living in” as C. G. Jung termed it. It was an onerous journey.

Mary Locke Crofts

Mary Locke Crofts

I grew up in Big Spring, Texas, where my family owned the Western Auto Store. It was here that the wide sky and long vistas first stirred my emotional attachment and visceral response to west Texas. Langtry is 200 miles directly south of Big Spring.  interest in narratives of folklorists like J. Frank Dobie had been pulling me westward to find a cabin to write in. But it was sometime after I got my house in Langtry that I realized it was the place I had been longing for. Before that moment , I had been so disturbed by the seeming impossibility of my project that I could not see it.

What did you learn through the rock art of the early Pecos?

Through my experience of the rock art and its canyons, I came to a gradual understanding of the power of the land and its history and stories. My book came from my writing about this gradual awakening. I began with books, reading all I could about the history of rock art studies. Then I

Curly Tail Panther Rock Art Site on the Devils River in the Lower Pecos

Curly Tail Panther Rock Art Site on the Devils River in the Lower Pecos

began to explore the shelters of the lower Pecos with Carolyn Boyd and others at Shumla School in Comstock. When I got out of books and into the shelters, everything changed. Books however well written and photographs however well taken cannot capture the breathtaking power and beauty of the actual paintings found in the cliff sides along rivers and creeks. For example, the panther painted thousands of years ago seems to leap directly off the canyon wall and palpably into my perception of its creation.

 

Where the Gods Walk

by Mary Locke Crofts

 

Sacred space—

where the gods walk

with or without human awareness.

or so we hope.

Some say those who name the sacred

create it,

but others say we only discover

what is already there.

 

Long, long ago,

back when we remembered, and longer than that

when animals and humans were one,

before the split, before the fall,

sacred was not found and named.

All was mystery, everything sacred,

alive, listening, speaking—

all messages were crucial.

 

A sacred place is where I encounter the unknown

knowing the unknown is not emptiness.

It draws me as it terrifies.

Is my imagination large enough to create it,

to encompass it?

I do not know.

The sacred seems both within me

and surrounding me,

but I am not sure.

 

I come here to the rock art never doubting

that it was sacred to those who painted it.

What I doubt is whether I can share

their experience.

 

Humans and mystery—

ingredients for the sacred.

What I want to know is,

if you remove the people,

does the sacred remain?

 

What did you learn about yourself during this process?

Gradually my perspective moved from outward and objective to inward and personal. I had rented a house in Langtry in which to work. I hiked the canyons every morning, and every afternoon wrote about my experiences with the people, flora, and fauna, past and present, of this territory. I came to accept the longing that this place evokes in me so deeply that I eventually bought the house. I continue to spend many days and nights there.

What is one of the least expected things you discovered?

I did not expect that my own journey would become integral with the paths of the hunter-gathers and with the lives of current residents. Although I could not have imagined that, it remains the most rewarding part of the project.

So what’s next?

I am doing a class for University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio in on three Tuesday nights October. The information about my presentation is at
http://www.upcsa.org/sol-calendar/2015/10/13/pathways-to-ancient-shelter-rock-art-myths-and-reflections.  Ultimately, I want to continue exploring the valuable role of myth and narrative in discovering historical and personal truth.

Thank you for sharing with us today.  

 

 

Teddy Stickney, Rock Art Pioneer

The intrepid Teddy Stickney

The intrepid Teddy Stickney

I am happy to welcome Teddy Stickney as my guest today.  Teddy has been recording rock art in Texas for almost 25 years and helped develop the early guidelines for this task.

Thanks for being with us today, Teddy.  How did you first become interested in rock art?    I became aware of rock art when I was about 6 years old.  There was a large Navajo kachina incised in the sand stone wall in a canyon across the San Juan river from my Dad’s property in New Mexico.

You are an official archaeology steward for the Texas Historical Commission. 

Teddy recording rock art

Teddy recording rock art

What does that entail?  I’ve been a volunteer steward for my area in West Texas for 21 years. Stewards monitor archaeological resources for the THC.   For example, the THC may want a certain area to be surveyed for archaeological evidence. We volunteer to investigate these sites. We also keep an eye on construction sites that may be near archaeological resources, and try to get to know any arrowhead collectors in the region. We act as additional eyes and eyes for the historical commission. There is so much territory to cover, they just can’t do it all.

I know you’ve been part of a number of field schools and recording projects.  What are some of your most memorable ones?  One of the best ones for me was during the Texas Archeological Society’s field school near Dolan Springs on the Devil’s River in 1989. The survey crews were out finding new rock art, so we concluded that we were going to have many more sessions of recording on this property.  Our group formulated guidelines for recording that we used for at least the next 18 months during these sessions.

Have you done much travelling outside Texas as part of your rock art interest?

Taking exact measurements

Taking exact measurements

Before I got involved in Texas I had worked with Col. James Bain in New Mexico, who was the petroglyph curator for the Museum of New Mexico. I also worked with Jane Kolber who ran rock art field schools in Arizona and did some work in Utah.  So I had had some experience with recording rock art before the field in 1989.  Also Paul Steed, who wrote The Rock Art of Chaco Canyon (1980), was in the rock art crew for the 1989 field school.  Paul had world experience in photographing.

Is there any particular type of rock art you are especially interested in?    I don’t think there is any type of rock art that I like better than another. I think all of it is very important because it is record of the culture. Rock art tells a story of the activities of the culture, the people’s daily routine, the animals around them, and so on.

Tell us about any mishaps or adventures you’ve had in your rock art exploration. 

Teddy examines abstract figures

Teddy examines ancient painting

Well, one time we were camping in the Texas Panhandle in March, and it was so cold the water in the coffee pot froze. Then there was walking the high ledge to Curly Tail Panther shelter overlooking the Devil’s River in the Lower Pecos. The bad part was that once I got there, I realized I had to walk it again to get out!  Then there’s hiking in a rough canyon of Big Bend State Park with heavy backpacks searching for a site in 105 temperatures. Once I walked about six miles on a very worn trail near the Rio Grande and found a recent camp site with a fire pit and modern trash. I figure it was a trail used by illegal immigrants, but I didn’t see anybody.

What are some of the big questions that still interest you about rock art?  I would love to talk with one of the artists that painted or incised art on a wall.  I’d love to hear their thoughts on their art. What did the site location mean to them? I’m interested in how their mixed their paint and managed all the painting. Did one person do it or was it done as a group?

 What advice would you give someone who wanted to get involved in archaeology or learning about rock art?  Join the Texas Archeological Society, participate in a field school, and research rock art on the internet.

Bulls and Stags Meet in Houston

The Stags at Lascaux

The Stags at Lascaux France, are Reproduced for Houston Exhibit

I recently visited the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see the Lascaux cave paintings exhibit ( http://www.hmns.org/index.php?option=com_content&id=651&Itemid=683).  The exhibit remains in Houston until March 23, 2014, so get your tickets online now and plan a trip!

People like these lived near Lascaux 18,000 years ago.

People like these lived near Lascaux, France, 18,000 years ago.

Discovered in 1940 in the limestone cliffs of France, the underground caves at Lascaux are the site of beautiful realistic art showing ancient oxen, horses, stags, and other animals in a rich polychrome tapestry, about 15 meters underground. The paintings were made approximately 18,000 years ago by the Magdalenian people.

About a million people toured the caves from 1940-1963, causing great deterioration of the paintings from the carbon dioxide in visitors’ breath. The caves were then closed while an exact replica was built nearby. It took over 11 years to reproduce the paintings with painstaking accuracy. Craftsmen reproduced every bump and rough spot on the surface of the cave walls before Monique Peytral recreated the paintings, using a variety of methods.  The replica is known as Lascaux 2 and is a major attraction today.

Room of the Bulls at Lascaux

Room of the Bulls at Lascaux

The exhibit in Houston features a fascinating 3D virtual tour of the caves, scale models, and exact replicas of five major panels in the caves.  Various short videos and other materials enhance visitor knowledge.

Tickets cost $20-25.00, can be purchased online, and are timed so that crowds are not too large.  It takes about two hours to see the complete exhibit, reading everything, etc. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to Lascaux. I was thoroughly fascinated by the exhibit, and I hope you get a chance to go if you are in the Houston area.

Hiking Presa Canyon

Now that cooler weather has arrived, some of you may be thinking of hiking in the desert and canyons of the Lower Pecos region of south Texas. Wonderful idea!  I had the privilege of taking the guided hike to Presa Canyon last spring.  The temperature was only forecast to be 95 degrees Farenheit, so the tour was a go. If it’s more than 100 F, they don’t take groups into the canyon, for good reason.  I promised you then that I would write more about it ( see my post of March 18, 2013), but it has taken me awhile to get up the guts.

Rock Art in Black Cave

Rock Art in Black Cave

The hike was about eight hours, four hours in to Black Cave, and four hours out.  Information from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department describes the hike as “extremely strenuous” due to “rough terrain,’ and suggests that hikers have “experience in backcountry hiking skills.”

I had been hiking in the Lower Pecos for 20 years or so, and I said to myself, “well, it’s ALL rough terrain,” so I thought I could  do this. I made my reservation and paid my fee at Seminole Canyon State Park. Everything started fine, a lovely walk though a beautiful place. I felt good.

But when we turned down Presa Canyon itself, the nice flat canyon floor became a jumble of stones ranging in size from an Easter ham to a small Volkswagen. I wish I had thought to take a photo, but I was concentrating too hard on where to put my next footstep. Over and over again. For about six hours.

We reached Black Cave about noon, had our lunch, and studied the enigmatic rock art to be found there. Then we headed back. Four hours of watching where I put my foot, step by step, in exquisite torture.  I hurt the whole way back. Every time I put my foot down for the next step, my toe hit the end of my boot, which hit the rock. Ouch!  In addition to several blisters, I eventually lost five toenails.  I wish I had a picture of that purple horror, too, to scare you straight. Fortunately for you, I don’t.

You see, I made some poor choices about this hike. Like the socks I chose. And how much I carried on my back.  And,

Deer head skeleton under blooming Mexican buckeye tree in Presa Canyon

Deer head skeleton under blooming Mexican buckeye tree in Presa Canyon

knowing what I know now, I should have invested in different hiking boots. Even my wide-brimmed straw hat that I thought was great, turned out to snag on every limb and thorn along the way.

Another mistake was thinking I was really healthy enough to be doing this in the first place. There is a reason I was dragging at the end.  Heat, exertion, and high blood pressure.  Rock canyons become radiant stone ovens by afternoon on hot days. There was a time or two during the hike I thought I might pass out from heat stroke. I drank a lot of water, but high blood pressure gets you in the end.  I thought I was OK before I started, then Val asked me, “is your blood pressure under control in normal conditions?”  “Yes,” I said. “Well,” she said,  stating the obvious,”these are not normal conditions.” Oh. I get it now.

Fortunately, I made some good choices too. Like being reasonably fit. And taking extra moleskin along to bind those blisters. And taking my trusty hiking poles. And freezing a couple of bottles of water the night before–they were sure good in the heat of the afternoon. I even had some to share, which was good because somebody else ended up carrying my pack most of the way out.  Thank you, whoever you are.  Sorry I don’t know your name. You were galloping along so easily, and I was so far behind.

So, here’s my list of must-haves if you take this hike:

Sunscreen, of course

Chapstick

Bandana wrapped around small frozen bottle of water–wet the bandana down and wrap it around your neck in the afternoon to chill down

Baseball-style hat, possibly with neck protection

Black Cave

Black Cave

Moleskin and knife or small scissors

wool hiking socks

good fitting hiking boots

hiking poles (optional for the young and agile)

easy lunch that does not need refrigeration, like peanut butter sandwiches

one or two pieces of fruit like apple or orange for snack

Gatorade

trailmix

camera ( I only took my iphone camera because it was light.  But you may want higher resolution photos)

Bandaids (you never know when you might need first aid)

Be careful, and watch where you put your feet and hands.  Rattlers, you know. Just remember that a rescue crew would have to walk in and out four hours each way too.  I asked the designated first aid specialist with us , a big former Army type, if he would carry me out if I broke my leg.  “Yes,” he said,” but I don’t bring anesthetic.  You would hurt like hell.”  Go safely, my friends.

The Opposite of Dry is Wet

Flood waters near Fate Bell Shelter in Seminole Canyon September 20, 2013

Flood waters near Fate Bell Shelter in Seminole Canyon September 20, 2013

Seminole Canyon is known for being hot and dry. That dry desert environment leads to wonderful preservation of rock art and delicate artifacts such as basketry, sandals and twisted cordage.  But occasionally Mother Nature creates conditions for beautiful rain in this dry land. And sometimes it is just too much of a good thing.

The weekend of September 20, 2013 saw such conditions arise as a cold front moved down from the north

Weather map for September 20, 2013 from www.accuweather.com

Weather map for September 20, 2013 from www.accuweather.com

to hit warm tropical moisture from the southwest from Hurricane Manuel, which did considerable damage in Acapulco. That combination can create the “perfect storm” in the Chihuahuan Desert.  In the three days from September 19 to 21, 2013,  Seminole Canyon State Park had over five inches of rain, and the weather station Langtry 10.6 W (elevation 1623) on www.theweathercollector.com registered 4.47 inches.  In a region that generally only receives 18 inches or less of rain per year, that’s a lot.

Perhaps more importantly, upstream of Seminole Canyon, areas received from 6 to almost 8 inches of rain in the same period. This created massive run-off, that eventually drained into the canyons.  In addition, the Rio Grande rose quickly, backing more water up into canyons.  Just notice which way the water is rushing in the big picture above.

Fortunately, no damage was done to major rock art, that I know of,  since the water did not get that high.  But tours to Fate Bell Shelter were shut down for several days.

It rained hard the night of July 3, 2010 as well, again due to a stalled out tropical system.

Mile Canyon Pour-off, July 4, 2010. Bonfire Shelter nearby.

Mile Canyon Pour-off, July 4, 2010. Bonfire Shelter nearby.

Pour-offs in Mile Canyon, in Langtry, Texas, home of the famous Bonfire Shelter bison jump, rushed with brown, frothing water. The Rio Grande also rose, backing up in the short canyon and creating very dangerous conditions for wildlife, humans, and ancient debris.

The worst flood in the region in recorded history occurred in 1954, when a hurricane stalled out over the area.  More than 20 inches of rain fell in one night over Mile Canyon. The ground was already saturated from an 8-inch rain a few days before, so the water had no place to go. Catastrophic floods like this occur once or twice a century and cause changes topography of the canyonlands. As the website Texas Beyond History  (http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net) says, “Spring-fed pools become choked with gravels, new springs emerge, and walnut trees are ripped out.”  This flood also moved boulders as large as a small house at least a quarter mile downstream, and damaged rock art in Eagle Cave.  We can only image the artifacts that washed away, never to be seen again.

Mouth of Mile Canyon and Rio Grande, July 4, 2010

Mouth of Mile Canyon and Rio Grande, July 4, 2010 to the Rio Grande.

Raging water in the 1954 flood moved these large boulders at least a quarter mile

Raging water in the 1954 flood moved these large boulders at least a quarter mile.

Related Articles

Ken Kramm: Creative Naturalist

My guest today is Dr. Kenneth Kramm, former professor of ecology at Michigan Technical University and the University of Houston.  He is a Texas Master Naturalist and hosts a Facebook page on bushcraft and nature at  http://www.facebook.com/BuschcraftAndNature   and a Youtubechannel at http://www.youtube.com/user/kennethkramm?feature=mhe

Ken Kramm and friend

Ken Kramm and friend

Hi Ken. Tell us a little about your video “Prehistoric Indians of the Lower Pecos Region, Seminole Canyon, Tx.”

Seminole Canyon State Park is a wonderful park with a nice campground and interesting history.  Hopefully, the video will encourage people to visit the park and learn about the prehistoric indians who who lived here nearly 12,000 years ago.  They were attracted by the rivers, wildlife and rock shelter caves.  Guided tours of the rock shelters are particularly interesting.  Different parts of the shelters were designated for activities such as sleeping and cooking.  People slept on woven mats, which are still present in the shelters.  Over a period of 4 to 6 thousand years, the walls were decorated with pictographs.  In spite of the harsh environment, the Lower Pecos Region of Texas provides many photo opportunities for wildlife and wildflowers.

What other videos do you have on your Youtube channel?  http://www.youtube.com/user/KennethKramm?feature=mhee

My YouTube Channel includes videos on a wide range of nature-related topics 1) hiking and camping adventures (to locations such as Texas State and National Forests), 2) relaxing nature videos for meditation, 3) and wilderness survival techniques and bushcraft.   I am currently producing a video miniseries on “How To Camp Out — Advice From an American  Civil War Veteran.”   We can learn much about how to survive and thrive outdoors by following the recommendations of pioneers in the 1800s.

This one shows how to forage for dinner, including “Roly Poly Soup.” Tastes like shrimp. Honest.

 Very clever. How do you create these videos?

Topics are suggested by subscribers.  Before making a video, I research the topic using the internet, books, articles and talking with local experts.  The US Forest Service, Texas State Forest Service and Texas Master Naturalists assist with the production of many videos.    After outlining the video design, I start filming with a Canon Vixia Camcorder, point-and-shoot camera, and smart phone.  The videos are edited with Final Cut Pro X.

 You also have a Facebook page on bushcraft and nature. What is the purpose of that endeavor? http://www.facebook.com/BuschcraftAndNature

The purpose is for people to share their love of the outdoors and learn from its wisdom.  With each advance of technology, life for human beings becomes easier and better. It is now possible to talk and share experiences real-time with people from all over the world, Wow! This same technology, however, has a downside: human beings have become disconnected from the natural world. We have largely forgotten important lessons of our ancient ancestors. The “Bushcraft and Nature community” shares the best from both worlds. We use technology to communicate a our common love of the outdoors and learn from its wisdom.

Had any interesting experiences with snakes or other critters out in the wild?  

After watching sunset at Lost Maples State Park, I walked a 2-mile trail back to camp without a flashlight.  Fireflies were  numerous, so I didn’t need to turn on my flashlight to see the trail.   All of a sudden I heard awful growling /screeching.  A feral hog and her piglets were crossing the trail in front of me.  The mother decided to attack!  I was scared…. Very scarred…. I screamed, turned on the flashlight and threw it at the hogs.   They retreated.  But my heart  was pounding all the way home.

That would certainly scare me too!  Those things can be vicious.  If you had to live in a tent for the next year, where would you like lit to be?  Why?

One of the best places for year-round tent camping, in my opinion, is southern California.  The weather is moderate; food, water and shelter are readily available from nature.  And best of all the region provides unparalleled opportunities for wildlife observation and photography.

 You wouldn’t have to twist my arm very hard on that one.  Why do you believe it is important for people today to experience the natural world?

See my video on the benefits of bushcraft:

Basically

– NATURE MAKE YOU NICER: communities with more green-space have lower rates of crime and violence

–  GET A GLIMPSE OF GREEN:  hospital patients who can see green spaces from their rooms recover faster and require less pain medication;  exposure to the living world can calm the mind, improve learning and enhance intelligence

– NATURE IS THE BEST NURTURE: reduced anxiety and depression, decreased stress, increased immunity, increased energy; 50% lower diabetes risk, vitamin D production,weight loss and fitness, reduced attention deficit disorder

–  SUGGESTED DOSAGE:  Stress is relieved within 2 minutes exposure to nature, Memory and attention span improve 20% with 2 hours exposure to nature; levels of cancer fighting white blood cells increase 50 in 2 days exposure

– NATURE IS INVENTOR:  velcro is an example; hook &loop fasteners were invented after people noticed burrs sticking to clothes

I couldn’t help noticing you have an insect on your hat.  What is it?

It’s a stick insect (Order: Phasmatodea). He’s  a harmless invertebrate that feeds mostly on leaves.  They hold the record for longest insects in the world.  See Cool Facts About Stick Insects, a weird moovie – YouTube

You do something different with every video! Your videos are both informative and very inviting.  Thanks for being with us, Ken. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for sharing your love of the great outdoors with us. 

Pecos Experience, Day 4

Figures in White Shaman shelter . Note little man in canoe at bottom of picture.

Figures in White Shaman shelter.

Today our objective was White Shaman shelter with Dr. Carolyn Boyd.  Dr. Boyd has studied the art in this shelter for over 20 years, and is as passionate about it today as she was when she started. We spent the morning in the shelter hearing her latest hypotheses about the meaning of the painting and the process of painting itself.

This complex mural was painted with four colors, black, red, yellow and white over 4000 years ago. The small alcove where it is located overlooks the Pecos River near the confluence with the Rio Grande.  Today, this confluence is heavily silted, with only a narrow channel of water actually trickling from the Pecos into the Rio Grande.

There are a number of mortar holes ground into the stone floor of the alcove, and also into nearby boulders. The

Hole drilled or ground all the way through boulder in front of paintings and overlooking river. You can see light at the bottom of the hole.

Hole drilled or ground all the way through boulder in front of paintings and overlooking river. You can see light at the bottom of the hole.

purpose of these is unknown, but one possible hypothesis is that they were used to make alcoholic beverages of some kind, perhaps to be utilized in ceremonies. There is no evidence of paint pigment in the holes, so probably they were not used for grinding pigment.

Our schedule was so full this past week, I am finishing this post at home in Austin. Our small group was proud of themselves because we all got in and out of the canyons without having to leave anyone behind for the buzzards! Although at one time the group I was riding with in the pickup did vote to leave me there, if I broke a leg, and bury me in a crevice in the flex position. It was a unanimous vote.

We had a great medic with us at all times, Dave Gage. I have no doubt all his reflexes would have kicked in had anything serious really happened, and he would have made heroic efforts to carry someone out.  I asked if he had brought anesthetic or something to knock us out, in a case such as that, and he said no, it was just gonna hurt like hell!   I voted for the flexed burial instead.  We kept hearing stories of someone who had broken a hip recently down in a canyon, and was carried out. It was not fun.

I mentioned the wonderful food we had in an earlier post. Therese, the cook, is wonderful!

Almond cupcakes with green tea icing

Almond cupcakes with green tea icing

She made chicken tagine with olives and carrots, lentils with kale, couscous, tabooli, and naan one night. The last night we had a baked ham with raisin sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, green beans with mushrooms, homemade rolls, and

Semifreddo--Take five cups of cream, two cups of sugar, 12 egg yolks...

Semifreddo–Take five cups of cream, two cups of sugar, 12 egg yolks…

three kinds of pie!  To me, the best desert of the week was the Italian semifreddo, a type of light-as-air ice cream. Yes, we were very spoiled.

The morning of the last day we held a ceremony overlooking a small arroyo to dedicate our prayers to the powers that be. Dr. Stacy Schaefer of California State University at Chico lead the typical Huichol ceremony.  Stacy has studied the Huichol, a small group in Mexico, for about 30 years.

Offerings to the wind

Offerings to the wind

She conducted the blessing ceremony, and we left the Huichol-style offerings we had made in the rocks for the wind and rain. We had each gained something special from the week, and we each felt the glory of the landscape and the call of the paintings by the ancients.  The ceremony was an act of gratitude for these things, and acknowledgement of our small place in the history of mankind.

Future posts will elaborate on many of the sites and observations from the past week. A week in the Lower Pecos gives you a clean heart and a clear head–and lots to write about!

Pecos Experience, Days 2 and 3, Part I

Polychrome figure in Cedar Springs shelter near Devil's River

Polychrome figure in Cedar Springs shelter near Devil’s River

We hiked to Cedar Springs shelter and Mystic shelter, both near the Devil’s River, on the second day of the Pecos Experience, thanks to the folks at the Shumla School (see www.shumla.org). This involved crossing the river twice, scrabbling up a pretty steep boulder hill, then bumping over boulder beds in creek drainages to get to the shelters.  At the end of about seven hours, we got our reward by a dip in the cool, clean river, always my favorite part.

The figure above is in polychrome, or many colors, in the Lower Pecos style of painting. Notice the red, yellow, and black colors. White is also used on some figures.  Red and yellow mineral pigments were made from naturally occurring ochres in this area, and black from manganese. The white pigment was probably from kaolin, but that is another story, since there are no naturally occurring deposits in this area. There are in Big Bend, however. Does that mean people perhaps as long 7000 years ago were trading with others from the Big Bend area?  That question is still under investigation, as are many others concerning the rock art and lifeways of the ancient people of the Lower Pecos region.

A cool front blew in last night, and tents were flapping I understand.  For some reason I didn’t hear the wind. I think I finally fell asleep after the moon went down and quit shining in my eyes.  I have always been sensitive to

Figures in Cedar Springs shelter

Figures in Cedar Springs shelter

moonlight-it often wakes me up at home. About dawn today we had a six-inch rain, to use current Austin slang.  For the past several years we have been in severe drought in Austin, so we’ve lately been defining a six-inch rain as six drops of moisture, six inches apart. It has been mercifully cool all day, and I’ve  worn my fleece most of the day.

Today we went to Painted Cave, the type-site for the red monochrome style of painting found in this area. The wall once was covered in polychrome Lower Pecos style, then supposedly repainted in red monochrome. There is a lovely stream under the wall, where the paintings sometimes reflect. But not much reflection today because of the cloud cover.

Painted Cave has seen human occupation from the time of the Lower Pecos style, which could be as old as 7000 years ago, through the red monochrome people who are depicted here with bows and arrows, indicating they came much later, to the old ranch house and sheep herders dwelling within sight of the cave. The stories this wall could tell!

The reason for all this human activity is water. There is a beautiful spring,

Spring at Painted Cave. Ranchers in the 1880s used to draw water from this spring. As well as people thousands of years earlier.

Spring at Painted Cave. Ranchers in the 1880s used to draw water from this spring. As well as people thousands of years earlier.

with a great swimming hole, just up canyon a few yards from the painted wall. It is full of water even in this extreme drought.  The black brush was in bloom around this pool today, and young willows leafing out. Water was here, animals were here, plant resources were here. And people.

Dinner will be soon, so I will share more later. But first I want to mention the culinary experiences we’ve also been having this week!  Monday night was Italian wedding soup and manicotti stuffed with prosciutto (spelling, anyone??) and ricotta, and homemade focaccia. Tuesday night was Chinese beef and broccoli with egg drop soup and almond/green tea cupcakes for dessert. Oh yes, and homemade pot stickers!  Chicken is involved tonight, but I don’t know what yet!  My thanks to the cook, Therese!

More details next week. I hope to put together a slide show of the rock art at these magnificent places, but that takes more time than I have tonight.  We are busy with great stuff every minute!  Love it!

Pecos Experience, Day 1 and 2, part I

Sunrise over Comstock, TX March 18, 2013

Sunrise over Comstock, TX March 18, 2013

The sun came up today, just on time for the first day of the Pecos Experience with the Shumla School.  Eight of us from all over the country gathered with our guides and shepards for the week as soon as the sun was all the way up to tour Fate Bell Shelter in Seminole Canyon State Park.  Fate Bell is a spectacular rock art site from 4000 years ago,

Shaman statue at Seminole Canyon State Park

Shaman statue at Seminole Canyon State Park

give or take a few thousand years, and is open to the public for tours through the state park.  I had been there many times, but I don’t want to miss a word that is said this week.

Well, unless I have to take a nap.  We also visited a small site on private property this afternoon that is truly unique, and after a busy day, I know I will be ready for bed tonight.  We are sleeping in tents in order to have the full “experience,” and I am looking forward to my cot!

I apologize. We had a lecture last night about the Huichol Indians, and then I just hit the sack.  The connection is slow out here and I did not have time to download all my photos of Day 1. I will attend to that as fast as I can.

Today we were gone about eight hours and hiked to two canyons to see Cedar Springs and Mystic shelters on the Devil’s River. We had a great swim in the cool, clean Devil’s before we returned. But the full story on Days 1 and  2 may be delayed, as they are calling us for dinner now.  Carolyn is really keeping us busy.

Oh, before I sign off, I saw the Milky Way last night in all it’s glory! Not a cloud anywhere, and a waxing moon that went down about 3 A.M. That sight alone was worth the whole trip—and the blisters on my feet.

More soon, I promise!