Carolyn Boyd: Deciphering the Oldest American “Book”

White Shaman Mural

White Shaman Mural

I am delighted to have Dr. Carolyn E. Boyd, founder of the Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center, with us today. Dr. Boyd has spent the last 25 years studying the rock art paintings of the Lower Pecos region in Texas. The images painted on the canyon walls along the Rio Grande near Del Rio, Texas, are over 4,000 years old. Dr. Boyd and Shumla have recently been featured in Discover Magazine, Texas Monthly, Texas Highways and others.

Dr. Carolyn E. Boyd

Dr. Carolyn E. Boyd

Hello, Carolyn. Tell us a little about these ancient paintings.

 Hello Mary, and thank you for inviting me to share with your readers about the rock art of the Lower Pecos!

The region is home to at least three categories of prehistoric rock paintings—Pecos River, Red Linear, and Red Monochrome. All three are spectacular, but it is the Pecos River style that is ranked among the top bodies of prehistoric art in the world. Yes, right here in Texas we have paintings that are on par with the famous European Paleolithic cave art of Lascaux, Chauvet, and Altamira. The renowned French archaeologist Dr. Jean Clottes has declared that Pecos River rock art is second to none in the world. Pretty impressive!

What makes these paintings so remarkable is their complexity and compositional intricacy. Lower Pecos artists used earth colors to create murals that are extraordinary in the level of skill required to produce them, as well as sheer size. Some of the panels are huge, spanning over 100 feet in length and 30 feet in height. Others are very small and tucked away in secluded alcoves. There are more than 200 rockshelters north of the Rio Grande containing Pecos River style imagery. South of the border in Mexico there are likely that many or perhaps more.

Production of the massive murals was no small undertaking. Significant time and effort went into planning the composition, obtaining resources to make paint, creating the artist’s tools, constructing scaffolds or ladders, not to mention the rituals that likely accompanied each step in the process.

Halo Shelter Anthropomorphs

Halo Shelter Anthropomorphs

Pictographic elements in these ancient murals include anthropomorphs (humanlike), zoomorphs (animal-like), a wide range of geometric imagery, and enigmatic figures that don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories. Anthropomorphs are the most frequently depicted and average in size between 3 to 7 feet. However, sometimes they are huge, standing more than 25 feet tall! Others are so tiny they could fit in your pocket.

These fascinating figures are elaborately painted in red, yellow, black, and white. Their bodies are adorned with various accoutrements, such as headdresses, wrist and elbow adornments, waist tassels, and clusters of feathers at the hip. Often they are portrayed holding paraphernalia, such as atlatls, darts, staffs, and rabbit sticks.

Animals are also represented in the paintings. Deer are depicted with antlers, tails, hooves and dew claws, and at other times with only antlers or hooves. Felines tend to be painted larger than life. A few are massive, measuring over eight feet from the tip of their tail to the tip of their nose. Birds are usually small and portrayed with their wings outstretched. Some imagery resembles insects, such as caterpillars, dragonflies, and moths or butterflies. Sinuous, snake-like figures are also portrayed. One of my favorites is a horned serpent spanning 20 feet in length.

What is important about this rock art?

The murals of the Lower Pecos represent some of the oldest known ‘books’ in North America. For decades archaeologists thought these complex murals represented numerous painting episodes performed by different artists over hundreds or even thousands of years. We now know they are not a random collection of images, but compositions. As with words on a page, every image was intentionally placed. They are visual texts communicating a narrative by means of a graphic vocabulary.

Although they aren’t books in the literal sense of the word with multiple pages bound together by a hinge along one side, they do tell a story. The method of reading that story was handed down from generation to generation, such that anyone who understood the grammar could read the paintings. Then, at some point in time, everyone with that special knowledge moved on and the message of the art went into a very long period of dormancy. Today, however, we are rediscovering how to read these ancient texts and what we are learning is rewriting the prehistory of North America.

What do you think the images mean?

 Early interpretations suggested Pecos River style imagery represented hunting cults and

Panther Cave at Seminole Canyon State Park

Panther Cave at Seminole Canyon State Park

manifestations of shamanic visions. Many still adhere to the idea that the striking Pecos River style anthropomorphs represent shamans. Others continue to argue the meaning of the art was lost with the people who produced it. But the meaning is far from lost and vastly more complex than any prior explanations.

Though the artists are gone, the myths and belief systems of the hunter-gatherers who produced the murals have remained over the centuries. With stunning resilience, their beliefs have endured from some point in the distant past to shape the ideological universe of Native America into the present. Indeed, it was the symbolic world of foragers that shaped the ideological universe of later Mesoamerican agriculturalists.

The murals exquisitely detail sophisticated cosmological and mythological concepts traditionally associated with complex agricultural societies in Mesoamerica. The art brought life to the mythology, and the mythology aided in the spiritual development of the participants, helped establish community, and was used as a teaching device for understanding natural law.

However, one must keep in mind that the imagery was not strictly visual communication, but, rather, a form of visual-verbal communication. Any meaningful discussion of the significance of the rock art should take into consideration the oral traditions and the performances that accompanied it. As with the pre-Columbian codices, the imagery was likely read aloud and explained to onlookers who participated in the ceremony through ritual offerings, music, singing, chanting, and dance. This performance would have greatly increased the ritual significance of the paintings. Through ritual performance, actions that were performed by gods at the beginning of time were not only commemorated, but repeated. Thus, human action in the present re-created events of the past.

Why should people today care?

I get asked that question often. Sometimes I find it helps to explain it this way. Imagine what you would do if someone delicately placed in your hands a well-worn, extremely fragile text and said “this is one of the oldest books in North America.” What would you do? Would you consider it important enough to take care of? What lengths would you go to preserve it?

The Lower Pecos is a library full of 4,000 year-old manuscripts containing information that is transforming our understanding of North American prehistory, of hunter-gatherers, the tenacity of myth, the origin and dissemination of languages, the function of art in prehistory, and so very much more. Sadly, we are losing these ancient texts at an alarming rate to vandalism, floods, and a changing climate.

What does the Shumla Archaeological Research & Education Center do?

Shumla is a not-for-profit organization working to preserve and share the ‘library’ of painted texts

On the Shumla campus

On the Shumla campus

and the information they hold through documentation, research, stewardship and education. We are literally in a race against time to save these visual texts. I encourage you to visit our website (www.shumla.org), check us out on Facebook, and sign up for our eNews to learn more! And please, donate today to join us in our important work in the Lower Pecos.

I understand you have a new book coming out. Tell us about it.

 Yes, I do! The book is titled “The White Shaman Mural: An Enduring Creation Narrative in the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos” and it is being published by the University of Texas Press. It will be released this time next year.

In this book, I and my collaborator, Kim Cox, provide a detailed interpretation of the WhiteShaman mural, the most famous rock art panel in the Lower Pecos and one of the most famous in the world. We walk the reader down a twenty-two-year path of discovery to find that the mural tells a story of the birth of the sun and the beginning of time. Patterns in the rock art equate, in striking detail, to the mythologies of Uto-Aztecan speaking peoples, including the ancient Aztec and the present-day Huichol. The finding of such a significant thumbprint of Mesoamerican culture in the rock art demonstrates that a shared ideological universe was already firmly established among foragers living in the Lower Pecos during the Archaic. Codified on a canyon wall in Texas thousands of years ago, the White Shaman mural may represent the oldest pictorial creation narrative in North America.

Wow! That’s exciting. Thank you so much 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

Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyons

The sun which rises every day

The sun which rises every day

Some people have asked me about the novel I claim to be writing. I am happy to say that I have recently completed the first draft–over 86,000 words in about 19 months.  The book is tentatively called Peyote Fire, and is about the first peyote shaman.

The protagonist, Deer Cloud, is painting the stories of the Powerful Ones in a stone alcove high above the

Lower Pecos Canyonlands

Lower Pecos Canyonlands

river. His grandfather Panther Claw consecrated the alcove when Deer Cloud was a boy, especially for him to paint.  The two spent many years tracing designs on the ground to arrive at the best composition to honor the gods and preserve their greatness for generations to come. When Panther Claw dies, Deer Cloud’s life takes a dramatic turn.

The book is set in the Archaic Lower Pecos, or about 4000 years ago in the area of the confluence of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, bounded on the east by the Devil’s River. The Rain Bringer clan lives in the canyons , river banks, and uplands of this territory. There are many magnificent, brilliantly painted rock shelters that tell the stories of their gods within their lands.

Rock Art from the Archaic Lower Pecos

Rock Art from the Archaic Lower Pecos

I have used archeological reports and treatises written about the people of the Archaic Lower Pecos as a factual base for the story.  I have tried to make descriptions of everyday life as accurate as possible, given what we know.  But we do not fully know the people’s understanding of their world. As a stand-in for their undoubtedly rich religious and philosophical life, I am relying upon ethnographies of the Huichol people of Mexico, whom some suspect may be distantly related.  I’ve had to strip out every  agricultural mention in the Huichol mythologies, and other modern strains, such as cultural changes brought on by contact with the Spanish, in order to seek an Archaic core.

From these core beliefs and descriptions of Huichol ceremonies, I have constructed a fictional world view that pervades the Rain Bringers’ lives.  This world view brings meaning to their lives and explains the natural phenomena that surrounded them; the same mysteries that surround us today.

I have a list of revisions two pages long which I am working through now.  When I get that done, I will start completely over to add characterization and nuance (hopefully) to the manuscript.  I hope to have it finished and ready to shop around by next June. (Which means I’d better get to work!)

I’m not sure how it will be published yet, but I know I want an ebook version.  My son Miles, the composer and computer dude,  is writing music for the electronic book.  I may also add a bit of video of the landscape, just to set the mood.  There will also be plain, unenhanced,  paper copies, whatever publishing route I choose.

Thank you for reading my blog, and I hope you will read the book when it becomes available. Stay tuned for another year to find out.

The Great Transformer, Grandfather Fire

The Great Transformer, Grandfather Fire

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!

Presa Canyon

Rock Art in Presa Canyon

Rock Art in Presa Canyon

This is the first of several articles this week live from the Pecos Experience at the Shumla School, west of Del Rio, Texas.  I arrived Friday night so I could hike Presa Canyon Saturday, courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife and Seminole Canyon State Park.

Black Cave

Black Cave

I had been warned that this was an “extremely strenuous” hike, and that warning is correct. I was so tired that I came back to camp and took a two hour nap, ate dinner, then slept another 12 hours. Got up today, had coffee, took a nap, and will go to be early tonight too.  I am sore in so many places!  But I made it in and out, and therein lies the tale.

The only way to see Presa Canyon is to join one of these tours that only go in cool months.  There were about 23 in our group, along with two guides from the Rock Art Foundation.  It is about four hours in to Black Cave, our final destination, and four hours out. We were lucky because there was a breeze and the temperature only reached the low 90s, even though the stone canyon was like a radiant oven.

This hike feels like it is mano a mano with nature. At least that’s what it feels like to an old woman like me. There are numerous boulder fields that must be climbed and gotten down from, and lots of thorny brush to push through. My mind was completely focused on where to put my next step so I wouldn’t sprain an ankle. That and drinking enough water so I wouldn’t get heat stroke.

I hadn’t slept a wink the night before because my monkey mind kept saying “heat stroke, rattlesnake, sprained ankle” like an evil mantra over and over. We did not see a single snake, although I am sure they saw us, and no one got overheated or injured. The buzzards didn’t circle, so you know we made it out alive!

Figures in Black Cave

Figures in Black Cave

When we could look up, we  got to see some wonderful rock art. Our destination was Black Cave, which contains a panel of quite vivid art.  The panel seems to be made up of several separate elements rather than being one continuous composition. But that’s just how it looks. Who knows what it really means?

Figures in Black Cave

Figures in Black Cave

The air was intoxicating with the sweetness of blackbrush, huisache and Mexican buckeye trees in mad bloom. More than one person commented that they felt like they were being seduced by the fragrance so as not to pay attention to the thorns and rocks that were brushing us and trying to grab our boots. Yes, it was another trick to get us.

We thought about the people who once lived here and made these paintings. How did they do it? The figures in Black Cave are very high up the wall. No one could have reached that high, so they had to have used some sort of scaffold. The paint is still vivid

Huisache ("we-sache")

Huisache (“we-sache”)

today, 4000 years at after it was applied, at least. How did they make such a paint? My house paint certainly won’t last that long. How did they even walk through the canyon? They didn’t have high-tech hiking boots and camel-backs. How did they carry water? What did they think about?  What did they mean to tell us with these figures?

Those are the questions that drew me here. Ones I’ll be exploring this week. I hope you will stay tuned for more!