January 18, 2008 -- Seminole Canyon State Park near Comstock, TX
Sometime around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, some native hunter/gatherer Indians would occasionally occupy large natural limestone shelters created by flash-flood waters at bends in various canyons near here. These shelter areas were carved out of the relatively soft limestone by water washing away the softer lower portions of the rock walls leaving an over-hanging upper portion that served as a protective roof. While occupying these spaces, some of these natives got a little creative, mixed natural pigments into paints, and painted figures on the walls and ceilings of many of these shelters around this area of Texas and Mexico. These paintings, or pictographs, are very old and supposed to represent things that were important to these people.
In order to protect these important early works of art, the State of Texas purchased some of the lands around Seminole Canyon in an area along the Rio Grande River just to the west of the junction with the Pecos River. The state added a visitor center, museum, guided tours and longer hikes, and an RV park and campground. We stayed here for two nights.
On one level, I do appreciate the historic nature of ancient pictographs like these. I also like to listen to the interpretations of the experts about what they think the pictures represent, who did them, and why. For example, this group of ancient peoples is thought to have only spent an hour or two a day gathering and preparing enough food for the day. Once that was done, they had a lot of time to spend on other activities. There were no books to read, no TV to watch, no beer to drink, so what's there to do? Here, some experts tell us that some of the best, brightest, and more artistic members of the tribe fulfilled a need to communicate by collecting natural pigments and dies, carefully mixing them with exotic binders and carriers to make a primitive paint, and making a deliberate, serious effort to produce the finest artwork of the day. They wanted to reach out to future generations and tell us about their society and spirituality. How they believe their shaman, or sorcerers, who are designated by the tribe to travel to the invisible spirit world and bring back information that will make life easier for the tribe.
But maybe there's another possibility. Ma Indian and Pa Indian are having a pretty good life for the time. Food's relatively abundant but a daily chore nonetheless. They've decided to move into this limestone shelter near a bend in the canyon and close to the big river. The biggest problem they have is their adopted teenage son, Uggah. He's just "not getting it", accorrding to his Mom. He's spending a lot of time laying around the shelter, chewing on Yucca beans and another mind-altering plant root. He doesn't help with food gathering and he refuses to hunt. One day, while Pa Indian is out hunting rabbits and Ma Indian is out gathering roots, Uggah finds some leftovers from Ma Indian's dinner the previous night. It was some kind of bean dish mixed with meat fat. Well, before you know it, Uggah, in a drug induced stuppor, has used Ma's bean dish to paint all kinds of things on the walls and ceilings of the shelter. When Pa Indian arrives home after a long day on the trail, sees Ma Indian crying, and the walls defaced with horrible demonic images, he's finally had enough. Uggah is sent away -- out of the clan. Of course, he finds another clan at the next limestone shelter and the cycle starts again. Maybe it didn't happen this way, but who's to say?
Besides the history, we did also enjoy the hilltop on which we parked the camper. We could see for miles around both the USA and Mexico. The clear crisp dry air makes it possible to see sharply all the way to the horizon. As the sun sets the reddish brightness slowly gives way to a cloud of stars... millions of light specks... that you never get a chance to see in the big city. This could be the view that motivated those ancient native Indians to think larger than their simple lives.