Order Your New Travel Guide to SW Texas Now for Great Adventures!

Available April 2017 at your favorite bookstore or on Amazon today!

From the Frio to Del Rio: Travel Guide to the Western Hill Country and the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, is now available on Amazon for advance order! 

If you’re planning a trip to southwest Texas, you need this book or else you’ll miss half the fun. I give you the low-down on what to see, where to stay, and what to do that you might miss if you don’t have good information on the area. Easy-to-read charts lay out all the facts about places to camp and hike in the state parks and other recreation areas.  Detailed information helps you find restaurants, lodging and supplies.  Plus, there are Scenic and Special Interest Routes, history, prehistory, and environmental overviews that lead you deeper into the colorful cultural landscape.

Interested in military history or African-American history?  You gotta have this book for information on  historical forts dating back to 1849 and stories of the Buffalo soldiers and the Black Seminole Indian Scouts.  Love to ride motorcycles?  Take the Twisted Sisters ride  north of Garner State Park and continue on over to Vanderpool and Lost Maples State Natural Area to see the beautiful trees in the fall.  Like bass fishing?  I’ll tell you where to stay to visit Lake Amistad, a top-rated bass lake by ESPN.

Of particular interest to some is the rock art at White Shaman Preserve and Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site.  Fantastic paintings made thousands of years ago by Native Americans are still preserved in these places.  Once you see them, your view of the ancient past will change, I almost guarantee it.

Scenic Routes include the New Money and Old Art Trail, the Bat Trail, the Aviation History Trail, the Dead Man’s Trail, and others. This guide will tell you how to get there, and how to have a great adventure on your next trip to southwest Texas.  Thomas C. Self, Jack Johnson and others contributed over 100 wonderful color photographs to illustrate the book.

This guide covers the western Hill Country south of I-10 and west of San Antonio, plus the Lower Pecos Canyonlands from Del Rio to Langtry along the Rio Grande.  Places to visit, sleep and eat are included as well as information about the natural environment and history of the area.    Place your order now to reserve your copy for March shipment!

Texas A&M Press did a wonderful job with publication, I’m sure you’ll agree!  Thanks, everybody!

From the Frio to Del Rio! The Travel Guide Gets a New Name

Commissary Building at Fort Clark in Brackettville

Commissary Building at Fort Clark in Brackettville

 

The editors at Texas A&M Press have brainstormed a catchy new name for my new travel guide to Southwest Texas.  How do you like From the Frio to Del Rio: Travel Guide to the Southwestern Hill Country and Lower Pecos ? I really had not put much thought into the title, even though that’s pretty important, so I was counting on the editors to come up with something more compelling.  I think they’ve done that very well!  What to name the area from Utopia to Barksdale was also a quandary for me.  I’ve gone back and forth between “Southwestern Hill Country” and “Western Hill Country” several times–having to change the text each time, of course!  I’m glad the title specifically designates the Lower Pecos  because the area is so  special in so many ways, yet a lot of people don’t know much about it.

Visitors’ Guide to Southwest Texas…..Coming 2017!

 

On the road...traveling though Southwest Texas will get easier in 2017 with my new travel guide!             Photo courtesy of Jack Johnson

On the road…traveling though Southwest Texas will get easier in 2017 with my new travel guide!
Photo courtesy of Jack Johnson

I’ve almost got everything submitted to Texas A&M Press for my new travel guide to Southwest Texas. The editor and I have shortened the title a bit, but it’s the same book as I wrote about in the last post. Southwest Texas includes places west of San Antonio, south of I-10, north of the Rio Grande, and east of Big Bend.  The new book will include the Lower Pecos Canyonlands as well as parts of the Western Hill Country, such as Garner State Park and Lost Maples State Natural Area. I’ll point you to good places to eat and sleep, and fun things to do. Plus give you some local history and color along the way. And there’s lots of color.

Southwest Texas has been home to some real characters in the past 150 years or so. You’ve probably heard of Judge Roy Bean. But what about Dr. Brinkley, the goat-gland doctor and radio baron?  How about Cal Rodgers and the first transcontinental flight in 1911?  Or Jerusha Sanchez, the first civilian settler near Barksdale?

The manuscript for this endeavor is in editing now, and hopefully all the illustrations will be in the hands of the publisher next week. So stay tuned; I’ll let you know when we’ve got a final product.  This is kinda fun!

 

 

Visitors’ Guide to the Lower Pecos and Southwestern Hill Country

Shaman statue by Bill Worrell welcomes visitors to Seminole Canyon State Park

Shaman statue by Bill Worrell welcomes visitors to Seminole Canyon State Park

 

Coming in 2017!

 The Visitors’ Guide to the Lower Pecos and Southwestern Hill Country has been accepted for publication by Texas A&M Press!  This first-ever travel guide to these regions should be available in 2017.  The guide explains the natural environment and history of two adjacent regions in Texas that are as different as night and day, yet only about two hours apart by car. Discover the desert, the rivers and lakes, state parks and natural areas, historic forts, prehistoric rock art, and more as you adventure off the beaten path in southwest Texas.

The Lower Pecos is a cultural region more or less centered in Val Verde County, Texas. Rough boundaries extend from the Devils River west about 100 miles through the Chihuahuan Desert. The southwestern boundaries of the region lie in central Mexico, with the northern boundary perhaps 30 miles north of Del Rio, Texas. Three major rivers flow through the Lower Pecos: the Rio Grande, the Pecos and the Devils. Because of these rivers, human beings migrated into the area more than 12,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. People have occupied this region ever since, and about 4,000 years ago, they painted numerous stories of their gods on the walls of rock shelters in the canyons.

The Southwestern Hill Country sits less than 100 miles from San Antonio or Del Rio, and only 168 miles from Austin. The area is southwest of the greater Texas Hill Country region, and thus its name. Some guide books overlook this remarkable subregion, but nearly one million visitors a year attest to its attractions. The clear, cool waters of the Nueces, the Frio, and the Sabinal rivers bubble up from springs on the Edwards Plateau and cut down through the Southwestern Hill Country, making this area ideal for recreation.

I hope you will use the guide and tell me about your experiences.  I look forward to seeing you on the road!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Canyon Transformed: Again, June 24, 2014

Rain storm in the desert

Rain storm in the desert

Yet more rain fell near Langtry, Texas, yesterday, transforming Eagle Nest Canyon again. This time only about one-third of an inch created a flash flood that roared down the canyon as the crew worked in Eagle Cave. Please click on the link to see photos of this remarkable transformation.  Note that the big willows and other trees are completely gone.

The Canyon Transformed.

The Canyon Runs Deep: Flooding at Eagle Nest

The normally dry Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas

The normally dry Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas

June 20, 2014, saw a catastrophic flood in Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas. They had 11.6 inches of rain in about eight hours. That’s almost the average annual rainfall in that place! Please click on the link below to see a photographic timeline of this event–and a moving documentary on the power of water.  Thanks to the Ancient Southwest Texas Project for posting these photos. click here  The Canyon Runs Deep.

7th Annual Lower Pecos Archaeolympics at Seminole Canyon

Throwing a spear with an atlatl is one of the eventsof anicent skill at the Archeolymics.

Throwing a spear with an atlatl is one of the events of ancient skill at the Archeolympics.

Reporting today’s blog post is Vicky Munoz, Archaeology Intern at the Shumla Research and Education Center.

The 7th Annual Archeolympics was held February 22,2014 at Seminole Canyon State Park near

Vicky Munoz

Vicky Munoz

Comstock, Texas, about 35 miles west of Del Rio.  The Archeolympics is a primitive skills competition featuring atlatl and spear throwing, rabbit stick throwing, and frictiion fire starting. Ancient people who lived in the Lower Pecos region of Texas used these three basic skills for daily life, but few contemporary folks practice them today. It’s not unusual for today’s paleo-triathletes to compete in all three events.

Participants included Boy Scout groups from Del Rio, Texas; the Experimental Archaeology Club at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas; and a group from San Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas; as well as individuals with a special place in their hearts for Archaic skills, some coming from as far as Houston.

The rabbit stick throwing competition was first up. A rabbit stick is a non-returning boomerang, and was used all over the world as a primitive hunting device.  The paleo-athletes took turns lining up and throwing at two defenseless soccer balls that stood in for rabbits about 20 feet down range. Each competitor had three shots per turn. This event, or any of the events for that matter, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most participants missed the targets, but the crowd went wild when one of those “rabbits” bit the dust.  Watch the short video below by Jack Johnson to see the power of a rabbit stick against a mighty opponent, the “Pumpkin.”

A few of the competitors even had hits on all three throws! The bar was set high in this year’s games. Winners had to be determined by sudden death.   Juan Carlos won in the youth category (second place went to Josh Allen), and Lauren Kempf in the adult (second was Fabian Castillo and third was Jerod Roberts).

Friction fire starting was the second event of the day.  This is definitely the sprint event for the games. The event was open to all ages, but only five competitors were brave enough to enter: Robin Matthews, Jack Johnson, Charles Koenig, Bryan Heisinger, and Jerod Roberts. The rules for this event are deceptively simple: Start a fire using nothing but a spindle or hearth-board as fast as possible. No bow drills, all muscle.

Charles Koenig makes fire

Charles Koenig makes fire

Competitors arrange their kits in front of them on the ground. When the flag drops, the race begins.  Within 30 seconds, two were beginning to feed their hungry embers to create that fire. Charles Koenig and Jerod Roberts were neck and neck, but it was the previous champion, Charles, who eventually came out on top with a blistering time of 46 seconds.

The other competitors had to be reminded that the race was not over, and that there were two more places on the podium still up for grabs. They quickly went back to trying to conjure fire. Jack Johnson, also a previous friction fire race champion, added drama to the race by dropping out not just once, but twice, citing exhaustion. He had been doing fire starting demonstrations most of the morning and didn’t have enough energy saved up for the race! Jerod Roberts had also burned most of his energy giving Charles Koenig a run for his money, but managed to get another ember going, only to lose it once more. Exhausted and somewhat defeated, Roberts took a timeout. Watch this short video to see how to start a fire with a sotol drill and hearth stick.

Meanwhile Bryan Heisinger (see www.aswtproject.wordpress.com, Feb. 25, 2014), with laser like focus and coaching from the new champion Koenig, began

Friction fire starting race

Friction fire starting race. Photo courtesy Megan Vallejo.

to get his embers glowing. A newcomer to the sport, Heisinger later recounted how he was so determined to get a fire going that he was forgetting that he also needed to breathe! Clocking in over 4 minutes, Heisinger took second place as the others looked on, clearly feeling the burn (pun intended) in their arms. At just over 6 minutes, Robin Matthews and Jerod Roberts declared a draw and were awarded third place.

After halftime, the atlatl and spear throwing competition began. The sport was divided into  amateur, skilled, and team events. This is the real crowd pleasing event and the one with the largest number of competitors.  Apparently launching pointed darts at animal targets really gets the adrenaline going. Some competitors are so serious that they bring their own darts and atlatls from home.

Robin Matthews throwing with atlatl and spear

Robin Matthews throwing with atlatl and spear. Photo courtesy Shumla.

Scoring is as follows: three points for hitting the target of the deer in the heart/vital area, two points for a hit on the neck and face of the deer target, one point for a hit on any other part of the flesh. The rules to this are also deceptively simple: earn the most points in three attempts.

As the shoot-out began, the wind began to calm down a bit which was a big help to the competitors as they were throwing into the wind. For most of the hunters, the prey eluded them and they went hungry that night but of course, there is always a winner. In the amateur category, Amanda Castañeda took first place with second to Joe Taylor. Amanda delivered a fatal blow to the deer as well as one to her competition.

Those with more experience (and confidence) compete in the skilled category.  At this level, the competition is fierce with friends and couples being pitted against one another. Playful verbal jabs are slung at one another, especially within groups where they’re all vying to be the alpha atlatl hunter. It’s all-out war.

Charles Koenig, who also blazed his way to the top in friction fire race, took the top spot in the skilled category with Mallory Marcone taking second, and Jim (just Jim) taking third place. The youngest winner in the skilled competition was Willie Canseco, age 13.  Here’s a short clip of the atlatl event, courtesy of Michael Strutt and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

In the team atlatl category, the group known as the Eaglenesters took first place. Troop 255 managed to slip in and snatch second place, and the Sharknados defeated the remaining competition in sudden death for third place.  Each team got five shots at the target. Teams were composed of 2-5 people, with every member taking at least one shot.

Prize objects for winners

Prize objects for winners. Photo courtesy Shumla.

Ultimately, it’s important to note that these competitions aren’t just for pride or fun. Each first place winner received a beautiful Perdernales style projectile point knapped by Kinley Coyan from Sanderson, Texas. Unlike the recent Sochi Olympics, however, no national anthems were sung, nor flags raised.

The Archeolympics is the brainchild of National Park Service Archaeologist, Jack Johnson, Amistad National Recreation Area, and organized for the last five years by Park Ranger Tanya Petruney, Seminole Canyon State Park. The

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

purpose is to give the public the opportunity to get hands on experience while learning about the lifeways of the prehistoric Lower Pecos inhabitants, including demonstrations on flintknapping, fire starting, plant processing, cord making and, weaponry. The event is sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, The National Park Service, The Rock Art Foundation, and the Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center. The event continues to grow every year but as of right now, this is one of Texas’ best kept secrets. Other events similar to this are held around the state year round. For more information on this check out the Texas Atlatl Association Meetup page (http://www.meetup.com/ATLATL/).

Well, that concludes this year’s Archeolympics! If you “like” the Seminole Canyon State Park Facebook

Great competition. Photo courtesy of Shumla.

Great competition. Photo courtesy  Shumla.

page, they will update you on when the next Archeolympics will be held plus all the other super cool things they have going on all year round. A special thank you to all the staff and volunteers! Without them this event would not be possible. Hope to see y’all next year!

Life in a Desert Archaeology Camp

Early evening sky

Early evening sky

The Ancient Southwest Texas Project from Texas State University has posted their weekly updates on the Eagle Nest Canyon excavation, ongoing in Spring 2014, on their blog at www.aswtp.wordpress.com.  Click the link below to check their progress.

A STEP BACK IN TIME – LIVING AT SHUMLA CAMPUS.

via A STEP BACK IN TIME – LIVING AT SHUMLA CAMPUS.

News from Eagle Nest Canyon Project

Road to the Rio Grande

Road to the Rio Grande

Geoarchs in Action: Dirt by Many Other Names.

Click on the link above to see this week’s news from the Ancient Southwest Texas Project working in Eagle Nest Canyon, Langtry, Texas this spring.  Dr. Stephen L. Black, Texas State University, my Steve, is leading the project.