The Seminole Canyon State Park and Historical Site is ranked #5 in the top ten best archaeological sites and #23 of the best parks in the United States. The drive along US Hwy 90 from San Antonio is rather pleasant passing through the towns of Castroville, Uvalde, and Del Rio. One can see the changing geography from the Texas Hill Country of the Edwards Plateau to the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of the Trans-Pecos Natural Region. If for no other reason than the difference of approximately 30-inches of rain per annum in San Antonio to half of that in Seminole Canyon.
The Park contains 2173 acres of canyonland complete with all life found in Northern Chihuahuan Desert terrain. Although we only stayed one night due to weather, we saw white-tailed deer, snake, and a myriad of birds, including the resident road runner. (For some beautiful photos of the park visit their Facebook page: Seminole Canyon State Park – Texas Parks and Wildlife).
We camped on the hill with only one other camper several sites from us. The views are stunningly peaceful with the mountains of Mexico only 4 miles away. We enjoyed watching a distant thunderstorm to the west as the sun dropped below the horizon.
As night fell we saw something that we have not seen in a good while… the Milky Way. The night sky was lit with the jewels of our galaxy seemingly within grasp. We rose early the next morning to coffee and tea with hopes of a nice sunrise. Unfortunately the clouds prevented that, but, they did give the morning air a bit of a chill. At 9:30 AM we rode over to the Park station for a guided tour of the Fate Bell Shelter with all of those amazing pictographs.
The Park station holds an interesting exhibit chronicling the history of Seminole Canyon. It includes dioramas of the hunters of 12,000 years ago and the gathers of 7,000 years ago inhabiting the area.
The Fate Bell Shelter Tour lasts approximately 90 minutes depending on the number of people. (Fate Bell was the one time owner of the land.) We were fortunate in that our group had only six including the two guides. That gave us a more intimate viewing and discussion. The trail is well developed down into the canyon and up to the rock overhang that contains many pictographs. The shelter is about 150 yards long and 40 feet deep with artifacts of habitation from the Archaic Period (BCE 8000 – 2000) to the Late Prehistoric Period (1000 – 1500 CE).
It is not a difficult trek for one who is in average shape. With an elevation change of 250 feet in a mile, there are concrete and rock steps built into the trail. A shaded rest stop is about one-half the way down. It is rather steep in places with loose rock. Avoid walking across wet spots in the canyon basin as they are very slippery. Other than those caveats, it is not a bad hike.
The pictographs are of the Pecos River style depicting various shamans. They are dated at between BCE 3,000 – 4,000. At the shelter there are reproductions of a series of drawings and watercolor paintings made in the 1930s by O.F. Kirkland. These give one a deeper and brighter picture of what one sees on the shelter wall. The originals are on display at the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin. The following photos show the drawings of the rock art at right.
Some of the other interesting objects are the fossils embedded in a large rock and what our guide called ceremonial rocks with scooped out depressions about the size of a baseball. An interesting ceremonial rock seems to have been perched on two other boulders at the edge of the shelter.
As one can see in the video, the shelter seems dingy and gray. It is due to the dust that collected on the walls during the shelters use as amusement for tourist digging for arrow heads. No one has discovered how to clean the wall without damaging the rock art. The initial names in black are of two railroad workers with the Southern Pacific Railroad that connected El Paso with San Antonio in the latter 19C.
This is truly a delightful tour giving one pause for imagining life and culture in the canyon several millennia back. We highly recommend it.
As I mentioned, we only stayed the night due to inclement weather approaching. However, that was time enough for us to begin planning an extended trip through here on the way to Big Bend NP.