What we saw while driving northwest along US-90 towards Seminole Canyon State Historical Park was flat wilderness – all the way to the horizon in every direction. I’ve heard a lot about boring drives through Texas, and I believe this is one of those parts of the state that people refer to.
Seminole Canyon State Historical Park is located just off US-90, at the junction of the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers. So of course that puts it right on the border with Mexico. The rugged 2,172-acre park features some impressive deep canyons with rocky terrain and sparse desert vegetation. And hey, there are lots of birds here, too 🙂
With a week to explore under sunny skies, we were both pumped up and ready to go exploring every morning. During our stay we racked up 29 miles of walking and hiking throughout the park, completing every trail – and some of them several times. We finally got our leg muscles back in shape!
The trails here were rocky but not difficult, with only a 210-ft maximum elevation gain. We found that the trail listed as “strenuous” was really only “moderate” by our standards, but perhaps they were considering the condition of parts of the trail more than physical difficulty.
Parts of some trails were a bit boring, but coming upon the rim of the deep canyons and the river that ran through parts of them took our breath away. Fortunately, it was springtime and some sparse wildflowers could be seen blooming along the trails. That stopped me in my tracks for a few shots of the beauties.
We were excited to see a couple of Javelinas walk across a trail in front of us! They were too quick for us to get a picture, so Steve ran through the scrub brush with the camera to pursue them. He finally gave up, with nothing to show for his efforts but a bunch of cactus scratches on his legs that are still healing.
A point of interest along one of the trails was the Panther Cave Overlook. It lies at the confluence of Seminole Canyon and the Rio Grande. Panther Cave is a rock shelter used by the Desert Archaic culture between about 1,300-8,900 years ago. Visible across the canyon from the cave was an immense pictograph panel that spanned the back wall of the rock shelter, and it included a panther image nine feet long. Access to this cave shelter is by private boat only, and tours had been canceled due to shallow waters.
I zoomed into the cave from across the canyon, and the Panther was visible on the right side of the wall. The plaque at the overlook indicated that some archeologists believe the Desert Archaic people were depicting the shaman’s journey to the spirit world. Caves and rock shelters like this one served as sacred portals or passageways for the shamans, and the panther represented an animal tutelary or guardian that protected them.
We were interested in viewing some of the ancient rock art, and this park’s focus is on the Fate Bell Shelter, the largest rock shelter in the region. In many of the canyons, erosion over millions of years has carved massive rock overhangs that were used by prehistoric Indians for shelter. Hiking in the canyons and viewing rock pictographs can only be done on guided tours. We joined two of the tours to see some prehistoric rock art, and to walk on the floor of the canyons.
The Fate Bell Tour involved a fairly rugged walk to the bottom of the canyon, then over to the huge cliff overhang containing many good examples of Pecos river style pictographs.
Radiocarbon dating suggests these pictographs were created between 2,950 and 4,200 years ago. Because they are so old, experts know very little about the people who created them. The walls were once densely painted, but only isolated panels have been able to resist the effects of time and indiscriminant looting of the site before its acquisition by the state.
Our tour guide explained that colors were made with pigments from local stones such as hematite (red ochre) for red, limonite (yellow ochre) for yellow, manganese oxide for black and calcite (or gypsum) for white. These rocks were ground into a fine powder and mixed with a binder (probably animal fat) to make the pigment stick together and to the wall. The soapy juice of the yucca plant root, mixed with water, may have been used to thin the pigment and fat mixture into a smooth paint that has held up for thousands of years. Is that amazing or what?
One of the guided tours we joined was the Upper Canyon backcountry hike, which included visits to a variety of sites that had prehistoric and historic rock art styles. The latter of these were created by folks who built the railroad in the 1880’s that ran through this area.
Did I forget to mention that this park is also another Texas birding trail? The Pyrrhuloxias shown below, along with many Cactus Wrens, alternately sang to us during our walks. And the Canyon Towhees and Black-throated Sparrows helped the beautiful Cardinals empty our feeder every day.
The birdies all knew there was free food at site #1, and we spent many hours sitting by our campfire and watching the excellent variety of birds competing for the goodies.
A sunset with bird silhouettes capped a wonderful week full of outdoor fun. The sun was finally shining on us!
All of the outdoor activities made me forget my strange medical issue. I want to express my appreciation to everyone for sending me your warm thoughts and messages of concern. Just the thought that all of you are thinking of me makes me feel better. I will soon find out what my new doctor has to say!
Thanks for taking us with you into this beautiful canyon. Texas surprises us sometimes, doesn’t it! Riding along through the panhandle on I-40 you pass right by another wonderful canyon…Palo Duro State Park. There is no hint that its there in the flat, flat landscape until you suddenly come upon it. One of the things I love most about traveling this beautiful country, finding hidden spots.
What a gorgeous sunset! And I love the rock art. Hope all goes well with your new doctor.
I could have suggested this park to you but you have a different goal in your route this summer.
Unfortunately there just isn’t enough time to see everything.
Of course the female bird was yelling ;-). That looks like a great place to explore with a group. Don’t worry-when you get to Fort Davis SP, you’ll see javelina everywhere. Take care and safe journey!
You got it Cheryl, she was yelling at that boy who was just looking at her.
What a great adventure your week was…I love the picture of the huge overhang. And yes, it is way cool to learn how the paints were mixed and used so many, many years ago!
The male bird is quite handsome!
And I do agree with Sue…it is the hidden gems we discover along the way that add so much excitement and adventure to this life style…enjoy you two!
Thanks Gay, the state park fortunately was on our route and boy were we happy that finally there are some hidden gems in TX.
Glad to see you got your hiking legs back. Flowers, birds, and canyons…. can’t go wrong. BTW… I like Steve’s new socks 🙂
Ha ha, Steve says we think alike about those socks. He is still adjusting to the low cut ones. We did have an enjoyable stop at Seminole Canyon SP. For once our drab TX stops finally has some great spots to enjoy nature again.
Glad to see you up and running…what cool rock art! We missed a Big Bend visit for a rally. Can’t wait to hear about your visit there next.
Thanks Carl. I think you would like Big Bend and should be on your list for places to see.
I like this park!! How nice that they have so many guided tours. I enjoy the guided tours and learning about what I am seeing. Too bad the water was too low for a tour of that cave. I bet that would have been very cool. Glad there were some spring flowers for your hiking:) Great bird photos!! Good to know your legs are back and ready to go…wahoo!!!
Oh yeah, this was really an active stop for us, daily hiking was just what the doctor ordered.
Ah, the illusive javelina! A couple of times when we have seen them Hans would go around to kind of herd them in my direction so I could take pics! It’s worked pretty well for us. Looks like a fun stop with lots of nature (I am missing nature right now). Love the beetle though I don’t know what kind it is! 🙂
Hmm maybe we will follow your trick next time. Although we have seen them in AZ, Steve still wants a picture 🙂
Such beautiful rock art, and that sunset is really breathtaking. The Female Pyrrhuloxia looks as though she’s giving her mate a bit of a mouthful. 🙂 Hope your new doctor is able to sort out your health issue, MonaLisa. xx
Lots of birdies in this state park and for once it is not the Grackle nor the blackbirds.
So good to see you back on the trails. You are becoming quite the birder MonaLiza. I hope you can get to the bottom of your health issues at your next doctor’s visit.
Thanks LuAnn, sunshine and hike is probably what the doctor would have ordered.
We almost made our way down to Seminole but at the last minute I headed towards Monahans… your insect is one of the weevils (you can tell by its “snout” and roundish body), now which one would require too much research on my part 😉
John thank you, did you happen to see this guys in your hike?
Yet another state park we need to add to our list. Lovely post about this hidden gem of a park. You may see some javelina at Davis Mtns SP. When we first started going there three years ago, we saw lots of them on each trip in the park. However, on the last three trips, we have only seen two javelin, nothing like we saw those first two years. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the fact that the area is no longer in a drought or not. We wondered if they were so plentiful in the campground areas looking for food and water in those first two years we visited. The locals often call them “suicide pigs,” though, as they can run out in front of cars at night on the mountains roads in the area. We have seen them on the roads twice, so just keep an eye out and you may see them in the evenings. Hope you are doing well!
Seminole Canyon SP is the first state park that we really like so far. Am looking forward to see those Javelina. We actually saw them in AZ in 2012 but would like to catch a glimpse again of these not so good looking wild animals.
What an interesting walk! Loved all the pics. The female bird at the end was amusing. The insect in the photograph is a kind of weevil. Great post. Thanks for sharing it. 🙂
Weevil, never heard of it until now, thank you Jane.
MonaLiza, I’m so happy to hear that you’re feeling better. There’s nothing like sunshine, hiking, birding and wildflowers to heal the body and spirit. 🙂 In all of our Texas adventures, we’ve never been to Seminole Canyon. Thanks for the tour — we would enjoy seeing those pictographs. And I love the Maker of Peace sculpture — I’ve seen that exact sculpture in Santa Fe — it must be the same artist.
Laurel, if ever you plan to visit Big Bend NP, include Seminole Canyon in your itinerary then turn around 🙂
This is such a great post… I love the rock art…
That insect looks gross. How in the world would John, Heyduke, know what it is…lol
Seminole Canyon is one of the very few places in Texas we haven’t visited. I agree with Sue above. If you get a chance, please go see Palo Duro Canyon. It is as beautiful as the Grand Canyon. Actually, it is called the Grand Canyon of Texas.
Glad you were able to put your health issues on hold for a little fun. Keeping you in my prayers for relief.
Perhaps Palo Duro will be a reason to swing by TX again, one day.
My pleasure Sue. Agree with you after so many months of seeing not so good part of TX we finally found a gem in our route. From this stop on until our last stop in TX will thankfully be all beautiful.
Too bad Palo Duro State Park is way out of our way, perhaps when we pass thru TX again we will take Betsy there.
Not sure how I missed this great post in my blogroll. It seems to have just appeared. Those tours look wonderful. I just love petroglyphs and pictographs. 29 miles’of hiking also sounds terrific. You find lots of places I have never heard of. I know nothing about Texas.
I’m having such a difficult time finding information about the Panther Cave tours. I know it’s only accessible by boat but I don’t have a boat. Do you have any leads on a company offering tours?
From what I learned from the State Park Office, due to low water levels Panther Cave tours are no longer available. The closest we got to the cave was just across the river when we hiked there.
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