Sunday, December 20, 2015

Seminole Canyon State Park, TX

Seminole Canyon...a place to satisfy many interests. Scenery, birding, hiking, history...both ancient and modern, geology, and more.
The campground sits on a hilltop overlooking a desert vista.
My view looking south towards the Rio Grande River and Mexico...a view even more spectacular at sunset and sunrise.
There is a short birding trail that leads from the campground. Thistle and I used it to stretch our legs after we arrived.
We were rewarded with a Cactus Wren,
I don't know who this guy is.
A bright male Cardinal.
I found a couple of nests that look like Oriole nests. 
And I thought this was an unusual one made of some other material.
Until I got it on the computer and realized it was a wasp nest!
The Roadrunner was in the campground too.
Greater Roadrunner
The Southern Pacific, the nation's second transcontinental railroad when completed in 1883, crossed what is now park property.
A few remnants of that era remain, like this bake oven used to feed the railroad workers.
After lunch, Thistle and I hiked the Windmill Nature Trail. The windmill was used to pump water from a spring which we will pass on the trail.
Looking down into a small side canyon.
Look who's down there, a Pyrrhuloxia!
Under the trees is the natural spring used by early Indians, railroad workers, and ranchers throughout history.

Remains of the pipes that carried water to the tank by the windmill can be seen.
This Spotted Ground Squirrel was hanging out near the spring.
The trail ends below the Visitor's Center.
Overlooking Seminole Canyon.

The next day I took a guided tour into the canyon to see the Pictographs left by Archaic Indians.
"Maker of Peace" Bill Worrell created this sculpture as a tribute to the Desert Archaic people, whose pictographs adorn the canyon walls. In its right hand is a spear-thrower, a tool used by these people.
The circle is a "sun catcher," and if you stand in the right place at sunrise, the sun shines through the circle as it rises over the mountains.
Just before sunset from my site.
 Just after sunset.
 I tried to get a shot of the incredible night sky.
 A partial moon setting over the mountain like a big red smile.
Sunrise was equally beautiful. 
I took the morning guided tour into the canyon:

Our tour guide explains how the early people used the bulb of the Sotol plant for food. 
The bulbs first had to be baked several days to rid them of a chemical that has a strong laxative effect.
The result was a highly nutritious "energy bar" that tastes like dirt, lol.
We begin our tour by descending these stairs into Seminole Canyon.
The rock shelters that are known as the Fate Bell Pictograph Site are located just below the Visitor Center, but cannot be seen from above.
 Approaching the two large rock overhangs that contain the Pictographs.
This is what we see in the first one. Our eyes are drawn to the lower ones...names of railroad workers. The rock sticking out below their names indicates the level of the floor at that time.
The ranger explains that this is considered historical graffiti, and is left because of its historical value. Other more modern graffiti has been removed by park staff.
The original Pictographs are higher up on the wall. The small pieces of rock beneath them indicate the floor level 4000-5000 years ago when the Pictographs were painted. 
The figure on the left is a spitting panther.
Other animals, such as white-tailed deer are depicted as well. 
I think I saw this critter out on the trail I hiked that afternoon.
Don't you think?
Moving on to the next rock shelter.
There are pictographs on the wall behind the split rock that are faded from weathering. They are located in a more exposed area.
A couple came here in the 1920s-30s and carefully recorded (drew) these images while they could still be seen, as nothing much can be done to protect them from the weather. 

 This is the largest area and main site activity for the archaic people who lived here.
High above the canyon floor. 

This large stone was believed to be a sort of work bench. Cuts can be seen, and a hole where grains or paint was ground. It is shiny and smooth from the oils of many hands. 
The back of the shelter contains many Pictographs. Part of the floor has been excavated. The holes are pit ovens where things like the Sotol bulbs would have been baked. The black on the ceiling is from soot of many fires. 
Woven mats and baskets were found here during the brief excavation. Excavation was halted to prevent damage to the site. 
The lower wall is covered with Pictographs covering other Pictographs. 
The Pictographs above depict birds and other figures. 

The figure in the middle of this symmetrical panel resembles the statue outside the Visitor Center, with a head like a deer, and wings of a bird.
There are also much older fossils of ancient sea creatures from the time this area was covered with a shallow sea....millions of years ago.
View from the shelter. 
This limestone rock was pitted by wind erosion I am told. 
After lunch I took a long hike on the Rio Grande Trail to an overlook of Panther Cave, another Petroglyph site near where Seminole Canyon meets the Rio Grande River.
On the way there were birds... what kind?
This is a White-crowned Sparrow. 
A Meadowlark...I know not whether Eastern or Western. 
A Loggerhead Shrike 

Another Pyrrhuloxia. 
A Black-throated Sparrow. 
Panther Cave Overlook. On the right, around the corner is the Rio grande River with Mexico on the other side. 
Panther Cave can only be accessed by boat. 
Among the Pictographs here is a panther image nine feet long. I was hoping to see it with my binoculars or zoom lens.
But it was not to be. 
On the way back I took a picture of this bright red cactus fruit. 
And some mysterious "kitty" tracks. 
There are other long trails, but I was tired.

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