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!

Travel Guide Proofs are Here and Lookin’ Great!

Claret cup cactus in Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center botanical garden.

Claret cup cactus in Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center botanical garden, Langtry, Texas.


From the Frio to Del Rio: Travel Guide to the Western Hill Country and Lower Pecos Canyonlands has landed in my hands this week in the form of page proofs from the publisher! Hooray!  Texas A&M Press has done a beautiful job on layout and design of the book.  My brother, Thomas C. Self, contributed some great photos of the Western Hill Country and friend Jack Johnson has some wonderful photos of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands in the book.  Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Shumla Research and Education Center also graciously shared photos with me.  The pictures really make the book pop and add a lot to the story.

The book tells lots of forgotten history about places in the region, and tries to include all the players.  For instance, did you know that a woman named Jerusha Sanchez was one of the first settlers in the Nueces canyon?  She was a widow and served as a midwife to the few women in the area in the 1870s. Did you know that a Texas Ranger named Bigfoot Wallace fought Comanches in Val Verde County around that same time?  And wait ’til you find out what Charles Lindbergh did!

Besides what to see, where to stay and where to eat, I also tell you where to buy gas and groceries, where the hospitals are, and other information travelers need to know.  But the part I like the most is the section on Scenic Routes.  There’s the New Money and Old Art Trail, the Bat Trail, the Buffalo Soldiers and Black Seminole Indian Trail, and the Aviation History Trail to name a few.

I’m doing my final proof reading and making a few corrections before I send it back to the publishers by early October.  Then a couple of months for the magic of the printed word (and picture) to happen.  The actual book itself should be in a bookstore near you sometime in April, 2017.

As if you needed another reason to visit the Lower Pecos!

Blind Mexican catfish found in underwater cave in Lake Amistad near Del Rio

Blind Mexican catfish found in underwater cave in Lake Amistad near Del Rio


Jack Johnson, National Park Service archaeologist for Lake Amistad near Del Rio, spotted the creatures over a year ago and worked with a team of specialists to identify and preserve them. Dean Hendrickson, curator of ichthyology at The University of Texas at Austin, identified the live fish, discovered in a deep limestone cave at Amistad National Recreation Area near Del Rio, Texas, as the endangered Mexican blindcat (Prietella phreatophila). The pair of small catfish, collected by a team in May, have been relocated to the San Antonio Zoo.

The Mexican blindcat, a species that grows to no more than 3 inches in length, is known to dwell only in areas supported by the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer that underlies the Rio Grande basin in Texas and Coahuila. The new blindcat finding lends additional weight to a theory that water-filled caves below the Rio Grande may connect the Texas and Mexico portions of the aquifer.

“Since the 1960s there have been rumors of sightings of blind, white catfishes in that area, but this is the first confirmation,” Hendrickson said. “I’ve seen more of these things than anybody, and these specimens look just like the ones from Mexico.”

Jack Johnson, a caver and National Park Service resource manager at Amistad, first spotted some of the slow-moving, pinkish-white fish with no eyes in April 2015. After several attempts to relocate the species, Johnson and biologist Peter Sprouse of Zara Environmental LLC led the team that found the fish again last month. Mexican blindcats are a pale pink color because their blood can be seen through the translucent skin, and they dwell exclusively in groundwater.

“Cave-dwelling animals are fascinating in that they have lost many of the characteristics we are familiar with in surface animals, such as eyes, pigmentation for camouflage, and speed,” Sprouse said. “They have found an ecological niche where none of those things are needed, and in there they have evolved extra-sensory abilities to succeed in total darkness.”

The Mexican blindcat was originally described in 1954 when found in wells and springs near Melchor Múzquiz in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila. It was subsequently listed as an endangered species by the Mexican government, and as a foreign endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Hendrickson led efforts to locate additional blindcat sites in Mexico and Texas for years but only located them in Mexico on previous expeditions.

“Aquifer systems like the one that supports this rare fish are also the lifeblood of human populations and face threats from contamination and over-pumping of groundwater,” Johnson said. “The health of rare and endangered species like this fish at Amistad can help indicate the overall health of the aquifer and water resources upon which many people depend.”

The fish are not yet on public display. They will be maintained alive in a special facility designed to accommodate cave and aquifer species at the San Antonio Zoo’s Department of Conservation and Research.

“The San Antonio Zoo has a series of labs specially designed to keep subterranean wildlife safe and healthy,” said Danté Fenolio, vice president of conservation and research at the San Antonio Zoo. “The fact that the zoo can participate now and house these very special catfish demonstrates the zoo’s commitment to the conservation of creatures that live in groundwater.”

Others involved in the discovery were Andy Gluesenkamp and Ben Hutchins of Texas Parks and Wildlife, Gary Garrett and Adam Cohen of UT Austin and Jean Krejca of Zara Environmental.

The finding brings the number of blind catfish species within the U.S. to three, all found only in Texas. The two other species of blind catfish in Texas, the toothless blindcat (Trogloglanis pattersoni) and the widemouth blindcat (Satan eurystomus), live in part of the Edwards Aquifer complex, the deep Edwards pool below the city of San Antonio.

This story and photograph are from the University of Texas in Austin.  Congratulations to Jack Johnson for his discovery!

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.









Did Deer Cloud Live Before Columbus?


Indigenous People of the United States

Indigenous People of the United States

 In my book, Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyons, the protagonist Deer Cloud paints stories of his gods on the wall of a rockshelter overlooking a river. The rock art is still there today for people to see. But when exactly was it painted? How old is it? Did that happen before Columbus visited America?

I get asked these questions a lot. In general Americans are pretty foggy on events in North America prior to European settlement. As it turns out, people like Deer Cloud created the Pecos River style rock art in the canyons along the Rio Grande just west of Del Rio, Texas,  about the same time as the Minoans flourished in Crete. That’s about 4,000 years ago, or 2,000 years BC.

Below is a short timeline on human occupation of North America, with some comparative information to add context with the rest of the world. When you look at the timeline, notice what was going on around the world in 2000 BC, or about 4,000 years ago.  What happened before? What happened after?  Please note that all dates are rounded and open to debate and new evidence.

Be watching for a quiz later this spring to win a free copy of my book! I hope you win!

Who, When and Where: Rough Timeline of Human Occupation of North America

Buffalo, the mainstay of North American Plains Indians

Buffalo, the mainstay of North American Plains Indians

1879 Traditional life of the Great Plains Indians is over. Other Native Americans have either moved to reservations or died. The buffalo of the Great Plains are gone, over 65 million destroyed by white hunters.

1875  The last Comanche villages in Palo Duro Canyon (Texas) destroyed by U.S. Army

1776   U.S. Declaration of Independence from England

1730   Founding of San Antonio by Spanish settlers in Texas

1718 Founding of New Orleans by the French

 1700-1875   Comanche, Kiowa and Apache rule the Great Plains of North America

1642 Founding of Montreal, Canada by the French as Ville Marie

1620 Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts

1610   Don Pedro de Peralta establishes Santa Fe in New Mexico as the capital of the province of New Spain

1532 Pizarro begins the defeat of the Incas in Peru

1521 Cortez conquers the Aztecs in Mexico

1492 AD   Christopher Columbus makes landfall in the Caribbean

1000-1400 AD   Navajo and Apache migrate south from present-day Canada

http://newmexicohistory.org/places/navajo-nation-from-prehistory-to-the-twentieth-century, http://www.ihs.gov/navajo/index.cfm?module=nao_navajo_nation, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache, http://www.indians.org/articles/apache-indians.html

Cahokia, courtesy of Britannica.com

Cahokia, courtesy of Britannica.com

700 AD   Cahokia settlement first established near what is today St. Louis http://cahokiamounds.org, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/01/cahokia/hodges-text, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cahokia

0 The Common Era Begins

44 BC        Death of Julius Caesar

776 BC     First Olympic games

449 BC     Construction begun on Acropolis in Athens

800 BC     Founding of Rome

1,000 BC  Adena culture appears in what is today Ohio http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adena_culture

2,000 BC     Pecos River style polychrome rock art along the Rio Grande

Lower Pecos rock art

Lower Pecos rock art

http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/pecos/art.html, http://www.rockart.org, http://www.shumla.org

  • 1790 BC Code of Hammurabi
  • 2000 BC Maya Pre-Classic period in Central America
  • 2000 BC Minoans worship the mother goddess in Crete
  • 2600 BC Stonehenge begun in Britain
  • 2750 BC First Egyptian pyramid begun at Saqqara

3000 BC Evidence of silk production in China

  • 3114 BC Beginning of the Maya Long Count
  • 3200-2340 BC cities begin in Mesopotamia
  • 3300 BC Bronze Age begins in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and perhaps Britain
  • 3300 BC “Otzi the Iceman” dies in the Alps between today’s Austria and Italy
  • 3700 BC invention of wooden carts in Central Asia
  • 3750 BC First evidence of cotton weaving in India
  • 3761 BC Origin of the modern Hebrew calendar

4,000 BC     Old Copper Complex emerges in what will one day be Wisconsin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Copper_Complex

  • 4000 BC First Egyptian hieroglyphs

6,000 BC     Domestication of corn in Mexico http://teosinte.wisc.edu/questions.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maize

The bones of Kenniwick Man, courtesy of the Seattle Times

The bones of Kenniwick Man, courtesy of the Seattle Times

7,500 BC     Kenniwick Man lived on northwest coast http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennewick_Man http://www.burkemuseum.org/kennewickman

  • 11,000 BC Clovis culture emerges http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clovis_culture

19,000-12,000 BC       Human beings arrive in North America http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buttermilk_Creek_Complex, http://www.gaultschool.org/Home.aspx, http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/gault/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meadowcroft_Rockshelter


Taste of the Past with Leslie Bush



When from a long distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered . . . the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls . . . [They] bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection. – Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

Dr. Leslie Bush, owner of Macrobotanical Analysis  (www.macrobotanicalanalysis.com), joins us today for Part 2 of her conversation about cooking with native plants. See the Archives for June, 2014, for Part 1.

Dr. Leslie Bush analyzing ancient plant remains.

Dr. Leslie Bush analyzing ancient plant remains.

Leslie: Sure. The important thing to know here is that I don’t have a garden in my yard – I was cooking with native Texas plants that grow uncultivated* in many parts of the state. Lots of people are eating uncultivated plants these days, whether at the “World’s Best Restaurant”, sticking to an allegedly Paleo diet, or eating the weeds. I won’t say “wild” because human influence is so pervasive on the landscape, even in remote areas, that all of the planet is effectively under human management. (See the work of ethnobiologist Eugene N. Anderson.)  Here are some things I’ve tried:

Kunuch Cake

Kunuch Cake

Kunuche Pecan Balls  for Cherokee Nut Soup Traditional Cherokee nut soup is made from hickory nuts, usually black hickory (Carya texana). The most common hickory in the Austin area is pecan (Carya illinoinensis), so I made the soup balls from pecan nuts.

Step 1: Pecan Balls. To make the balls, I cracked each pecan nut on my concrete porch with a grinding stone, then picked out and swept away the larger pieces of pecan shell. I put the nutmeats and the remaining bits of inner shell into a basalt molcajete and ground it into a coarse paste. I formed the paste into balls about 2 inches in diameter. The balls can be frozen for a few months or put in a ziplock in the refrigerator for a few days until you’re ready to use them.

Step 2: Pecan Soup. To reconstitute the balls into soup, just add boiling water and stir. Use one ball for a large coffee mug. Let the soup settle for a few moments so that the pecan shells drop to the bottom. Be sure not to drink the last drops, or you’ll end up with shells in your mouth! You can flavor the soup with dried cranberries (my favorite), dried corn, or even bits of turkey jerky.

Sumac-ade This recipe for sumac-ade comes from my friend Neal Stilley, whose many talents include primitive arts such as fire-

Simmering Sumac-ade

Simmering Sumac-ade

making and cooking uncultivated plants. The batch of sumac-ade I made this spring was from flameleaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata) harvested in February. Harvesting when the fruits have been on the plant for such a long time doesn’t make the best-tasting tea. I’m eager to try another batch in a few of weeks when the fruits will be fresh.

  • Wash sumac fruits under cold water.
  • Bring 1 part sumac fruits and 5 parts water to a simmer, being careful not to boil.
  • Simmer for 2-5 minutes, then turn off heat and let stand for 10-15 minutes.


Mesquite Cake

Mesquite Cake

Mesquite Cake Grinding mesquite pods into flour is a tedious undertaking. It’s probably best done with a big group of girls and women, sitting in the shade, singing songs, sipping cool beverages, and speculating on the activities of your neighbors. In ancient times, Native women used a gyratory crusher, a sort of funnel-shaped metate, to crush mesquite pods with a heavy wooden pestle. The crushed pods fell through the hole into a basket. The beans and the brittle, outer pod were winnowed out, and the inner pod parts were re-ground into fine flour. Since I live in central Texas and not the Sonoran Desert, I had to make my pods “desert-dry” by roasting them in the oven at low heat before I tried to grind them. I used a flat-bottomed cobble to grind pods on my concrete porch, but it was a very slow process without the walls of a metate to keep the pods under my grinding stone. I decided pretty quickly that

Mesquite Cake

Mesquite Cake

producing and tasting a couple of teaspoons of flour would be enough old-school experience to satisfy me. Most modern mesquite eaters use a high-powered blender or a hammermill to process mesquite – and now I know why! Mesquite flour is very sweet, even before you add sugar to the recipe. The high sugar content makes baking with it difficult –the centers of baked goods tend to stay soft and mushy. I recommend baking very thin things such as these thin yellow cakes I made with mesquite flour from The Mesquitery.

Yucca Petals (raw) The flowers of all the yucca species I’ve tried have been edible and delicious. They

Yucca Blossoms

Yucca Blossoms

have a texture like green onions but with more substance. Most plants I’ve tried taste like radishes. A few lack that spicy kick and taste more like carrots. Some people eat the pistils and all the inner flower parts, but I stick to the petals. You can even eat them straight from landscaping in the mall.  (See blog articles from the Archives for June and July, 2012, for my own yucca experimentation–MSB.)

Woodsorrel Greens (raw) Woodsorrels have cute little heart-shaped leaves in a clover-like configuration. Here in central Texas, we have two woodsorrels: yellow woodsorrell (Oxalis dillenii), a branched plant with small yellow flowers, and Drummond’s oxalis

Wood Sorrell

Wood Sorrell

(Oxalis drummondii), a single-stemmed plant with larger, pink flowers and a bulb below ground. The wonderfully sour, refreshing leaves can be sprinkled on salads or tossed in cream sauce over pasta. Be careful not to eat too many of the raw leaves at a time, though: oxalic acid interferes with iron absorption, and too much of it can be very serious for people with impaired kidneys.

Commercially Available Sources For the May meeting of the Native Plant Society, I rounded out the table of native plant snacks with purchases from the local grocery store: agave syrup, prickly pear soda, nopalitos, and pecans. I’ll have to see what’s growing in my yard for the Caldwell County Genealogical and Historical Society next month . . . .

Grocery Store Snacks from Native Foods

Grocery Store Snacks from Native Foods

Jack and Missy Harrington: Landowners and Benefactors

Jack and Missy Harrington

Jack and Missy Harrington

I’m glad to welcome Jack and Missy Harrington from Comstock, Texas, to the blog today. They have lived in the Lower Pecos area all their lives, maintaining family ranches and contributing to the small town of Comstock in many ways.  Comstock is located 29 miles west of Del Rio, Texas, near the Rio Grande, in a region known for rock art that is thousands of years old. The town was founded in 1882 when the railroad built a station there. Currently the town has a population of 223.

Thanks for being with us today.  How did your family get to Comstock?  Missy: My great-grandfather bought the land sight unseen because he was told it had rivers on three sides, about 9000 acres. They lived in Mexico at the time. Five of their kids died of smallpox when little. When the two girls got older the family moved across the river to the property. They didn’t know there were steep cliffs to get to all the

Paintings of Painted Shelter rock art by Forrest Kirkland

Paintings of Painted Shelter rock art by Forrest Kirkland

water, and that the cows couldn’t get to it!  Grandmother didn’t want to live out on the ranch with a baby, so they got a house in the town of Comstock.

Tell me about growing up here. What did you think of the rock art?  Missy: I was born and  raised in Comstock, but Jack was from Del Rio. We used to have picnics at Painted Shelter [ on grandfather’s property], and I thought everybody had paintings on the wall. Kids could play in the water in the creek there, and the grown ups liked the deeper holes.  I wish I had known more about the rock art when I was a kid. The rock art’s not gonna last for ever. It makes sense to educate people about it. I remember when they built Seminole Canyon State Park. My family owned that property. I remember my grandmother was so mad cause the state wanted it so they could “take care of it.” Who did they think had

Harrington Campus pavillion at Shumla School, near Comstock, Texas

Harrington Campus pavilion at Shumla School, near Comstock, Texas

been taking care of it for 100 years?

A few years ago you donated land to the Shumla School, an outdoor experiential school and research center for rock art and archaeology run by Dr. Carolyn Boyd.  Yes, now they have the Harrington campus. After hearing Carolyn’s ideas to have a school, we decided why not? We deeded about 70 acres to Shumla as a non-profit about 1998. We had two field experiences for teachers before we had any facilities of any kind. They used portable showers in plastic bags. The pavilion and bath house were built first.  Bath house finished the Friday before the Monday.  Immediately we had a teacher training for all Comstock teachers the end of August. It was 112 degrees.  The workshop impressed the teachers for years. We’ve both worked with Shumla ever since.   Now they do programs for kids–all the Comstock and Del Rio kids have come–and for teachers. Each spring Carolyn holds a rock art workshop for adults. This past spring the Harrington campus was used by Dr. Steve Black for his Ancient Southwest Texas Project through Texas State University.

How did you and Jack meet? Missy: He used to date my neighbor. But he decided to check around for other quail. The way it was, Comstock girls had to date Comstock boys, but not the other way around. I broke out of that. We started going together when I was a junior in high school, and now we’ve been married 47 years.

Congratulations! That’s a pretty good record!  You went to college in San Antonio, right Missy? I went to Incarnate Word San Antonio. My degree is in biology, with minors in chemistry and math. I had a job lined up in research. I didn’t plan to teach school. But we decided to move back, and the only job was teaching school in Del Rio. I’d never seen a grade book before in my life. But I taught 31 years all together, 3 in Del Rio, 28 in Comstock.

Comstock ISD

Comstock ISD

Tell me about teaching school.  Missy: Well, I went to school in Comstock, K-12. We had about 90 kids back then.  We had 125 when I taught, a lot of small classes, maybe one or two kids. Sometimes 20.  We had three computers Apple 11e . You wear a lot of hats in a small school. I taught every science from 6th grade  to 12th grade. Now there are about 200 kids. One day a boy was swinging a dead rattlesnake around his head scaring the girls. I made him throw it away, and he coiled it in the trash can to scare the janitor.

Jack, you were on the Comstock ISD school board for 20 years. Yes,  I have a soft spot in my heart about school. It’s remarkable what some of these kids can do. This year we were ninth overall in UIL in Division 1A, and tied for first in physics. Diego Fausett, did that. His coach is Dr. Phil Dering, who teaches science in Comstock now, instead of Missy. Nobody falls through the cracks in Comstock ISD. Class size capped at 18. More

Students from Comstock ISD in Shumla Scholars program  work with Ancient South West Texas Project in Spring, 2014

Students from Comstock ISD in Shumla Scholars program work with Ancient Southwest Texas Project in Spring, 2014

individualized, one on one. Good teachers. Lot of home-grown teachers. Strong culture of the school. Many teachers were Missy’s students. K-12 intermingle. It’s good cause the little kids look up to the older one, and older ones model good behavior. They’re sisters and brothers. Older kids can work with the younger ones. Everybody takes care of everybody. The kids are safe and they know they are. Comstock ISD has over 2000 sq. miles, but only 50-60 kids live in CISD. The rest come from Del Rio. Three busses bring them. Kids have to apply to come to Comstock. They can’t have bad grades, failed tests, or bad behavior. If they break the rules they go home. We don’t compromise. We set standards and we hold ’em. Missy: I planted the cottonwood trees when I was a freshmen in high school. There were only two trees on campus when I was in school. Our principal bought about 11 trees. Now there are about 40 trees and lots of grass.

You were also with the volunteer fire department, right Jack?  I was a volunteer with the fire dept. for 40 years. There was a fire around Juno [ now a ghost town]  in the 1990s burned over 20,000 acres, took about two weeks to put out.  This spring there was one near Pandale, then around Juno too. Burn bans are serious. Forest service came in for this one, and another big crew came to cook and set up a kitchen. They had a huge mobile kitchen and 18-wheelers full of food, and big refrigerated trucks. There were over 300 fireman. We served dinner in the school cafeteria. About 6 of these volunteers and 5-6 of us local Comstock folks.  We cooked breakfast, made sandwiches for lunch, and made dinner at night. They would come at daylight.  Volunteers came from everywhere:Wisconsin, Colorado, Montana, California, fireman from everywhere. The kindergarten kids made laminated placemats for the firemen. The men took them home with them.

What makes Comstock a good place to live? Missy:  It’s nice and quiet. We don’t even have a key to the house. We’ve never locked the house, even when I read Helter Skelter. It’s just a different way of life. We grocery shop like a rancher, go to town once a week. The two custodians at school across the street keep their soda water in our refrig on the breezeway. It’s peaceful. No traffic. Might have to worry about a cow or two on the road, though.

Thank you both for talking with us today! As of this publication date,  Jack and Missy are in Houston awaiting the call for a  medical procedure. Best wishes, Smilin’ Jack! We wish you only good things!