These beautiful photos were taken by Kirk Robinson, who writes this about them –
The pecked images, such as the Rochester panel, are called petroglyphs; and the painted ones, such as the Sego Canyon panel, are called pictographs. Originally, many of the petroglyphs were also painted. They may have also been decorated with feathers and other natural materials.
There is obviously a lot of meaning in these interesting figures, but it is hard to know what they mean. Sometimes you can tell what individual images represent – desert bighorn sheep being the most common of the petroglyph figures in most of the West, but also deer, bears and birds, etc. – but other times they are mythical creatures or spirits that combine body parts from more than one animal. Some look like images of prehistoric animals. Others are what we call anthropomorphs, because they have a generally human shape with a torso and head, and sometimes hands and legs. They might represent spirits or shaman. Some images appear to be shields. However, most of the panels are more than just a set of images. They tell a story, or multiple stories, and are not simply representational. Some Indians might have more insight into their meaning than we foreigners. We tend to be too literal, whereas their traditions involve a lot of symbolism.
Unfortunately, vandalism is a big problem for Native American rock art. The easier it is for people to get to rock art panels, and the more well-known they are, the more likely they are to be vandalized. A lot of folks think they are just graffiti, which is not true. That belief is a reflection of ignorance. Many of them required great skill and a lot of time to make, and were used for important religious ceremonies. They are like murals and the sites were carefully chosen. Often times a panel features multiple stories from different periods and different cultures, one overlaid on another or right next to each other. It is nearly impossible to date rock art accurately, but many panels are several thousand years old, while some are only a few hundred years old. Some of the more recent ones show cowboys on horseback and locomotives.
It is important that we respect these treasures and protect them. Never touch them with your fingers or any other object. Time alone will erase them soon enough without our help.
I was invited to travel with a friend who is one of the “guardians” of the most ancient rock art paintings in the United States. I had no idea what I was going to see nor that it even existed when I just felt that old familiar pull from within that said “Go with her.”
Truth be told, I have not been to many places in Texas since I moved here. The only thing I knew was that we were headed for the Mexican border. Lots of emotion around that, since Texas has had such a big influx of illegals, including lots of children on trains from all over central America. Such heartbreak, trauma, families torn apart, and such divisive opinions amongst the people here. We had been told that the cabin we were to stay in had been broken into by illegals just a couple of weeks ago. Feeling’ real safe about hearing that!
So Melinda and I packed up and headed down to a place called Seminole Canyon where all this awesome rock art lives. To Melinda, it is like her spiritual home. She was born and raised mostly by a single mom in eastern Texas. It amazes me to see how all of us can have such humble beginnings and still end up shining our spiritual light into the world. Now she is an RN, an acupuncturist, and I met her at a tai chi class that she reaches. She lives just up the road from me.
All I know is that we are heading south, through the wildflower covered fields of the hill country, and I watched as the scenery changed into thick bushy mesquite trees and cactus, albeit blooming cacti. Ocotillo, prickly pear, acacia bushes, lechuguilla, all enriching the high desert plateau of western Texas. Towns like Boerne, Uvalde, Del Rio flashed by on green road signs as I enjoyed the feeling of the changing ecology. Soon we came upon a large body of water.. What? Here? It is a man made reservoir called Lake Amistad. Bridges arching gracefully over fingers of clear blue water, leading off into what looks like nowhere. One road just ended right into the water; got flooded out after the dam closed. And there was an incident a couple of years ago where an American was shot while riding his Ski-doo in the Lake by someone on the Mexican side. His wife saw him fall and went to his rescue but couldn’t l save him and he drowned. I’m surprised she wasn’t shot. The International border is in the center of the lake but who knows where. Prickles of Weirdness creep up my spine.
But Melinda is full of excitement and begins to weave a web of magic about how the rock art we are about to see was found in the 1930s and about the long process of acquiring the land and regulating the caves where the murals are painted. We drive past the reservoir and unlock a gate, bounce over a couple miles of dirt track and the cabin comes into view. It sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the lower Pecos River, which looks huge there because it is running into Lake Amistad and backs up there. Gorgeous!. The cabin is empty, we bring everything including our own water. Primitive but screened in and has a stove. I’m cool with that.
Desert birds fill the evening skies with song, a pair of blue herons fly in harmony in the late day breeze and greet us with a flyby over the cabin. I had a hidden agenda in that I wanted to see the night skies, clear and unobstructed from the sweet oak trees that drape over my little cabin in Wimberley. Big night sky and Jupiter, Venus and Mercury were all present for the big reveal which made my heart beat with joy.
Early morning and we hike down into the canyon to see the White Shaman. The ancients here made this area their home around 3500 years ago. Long before the Anasazis inhabited the Four Corners area. No one knows who these people were, but skeletal remains have been used to replicate faces and they have been honored in bronze statues here. The theory about the White Shaman mural that I can relate to is that they used peyote and datura plants, which are represented in the paintings, fell into an altered state and saw beyond their third dimensional lives. They left recordings of traveling into the “otherworld” and instructions on how to do it. It reminds me of the Egyptian hieroglyphs and their meaningful journeys. And both cultures would be overlapping in time. I always thought that streams of consciousness wove through civilizations, just waiting for people to become aware of them. In the White Shaman mural, there is much symbology of the number 5, and there are 5 shamans standing in line, with a white shaman emerging from the body of the center shaman.
We spent a couple of hours musing over the figures, then turned our attention to the canyon behind us that we had just climbed down into. A peaceful, private, lush green canyon with a crazy canyon wren singing his laughing song to us, and a beautiful painted bunting, one of the most brilliantly colored songbirds in the US, sat in full view for us to admire him. I could have died right then and there. Then, I almost did. As we left the cave and climbed up the steep narrow pathway that was littered with crumbled limestone, out of nowhere, I slipped and fell. Reaching out to grab something, I impailed my arm on a dead twig. I had to lift it off the branch and one look told me that it was deep. Melinda went into nurse mode, wrapping it up and as soon as I fought off the shock of it all, we hiked up to the rope and I had to use that arm to pull myself up the slick rock hand over hand to get up to the edge of the canyon. All the way to the car we went back and forth abut whether to seek urgent care or wait three days to get help. The winning course of action was to drive into Del Rio and get it stitched up and get antibiotics for infection. It was just too damn deep. Well, that took care of a whole afternoon. But I wasn’t willing to return home. It was just my forearm, after all.
Melinda had to guide a tour on Saturday, so I stayed at the cabin and let the pain pills float me into a lovely time warp that lasted all day. I had no idea what time it was, and let my spirit soar free as I looked out over the Pecos river and read the books Melinda brought about the history of the rock art in the area. Birds sang, herons circled together below, the wind blew, keeping it cool and the sky played the most magic picture show of soft, soaring clouds and then a brilliant orange sunset . That evening another guide from the rock art foundation showed up, lit a fire in the pit, and told his tales of life as it is for him since he moved there. He, too, is smitten with the rock art, like it has beckoned to its spiritual family to come and protect it and these people have felt so drawn to be there. I recognize that calling, as I too, was called to go to Macchu Picchu years ago. Maybe these people were the ones who painted the pictures on the walls of the caves. Who knows? I smile at the Bigger Picture that we are all drawn into. Nothing is as it seems. Nothing.
Our last day there lured us over the Seminole Canyon State Park, where another mural called Fate Bell is accessible. Larger tours go there and it is much easier to get to. Meaning that over the years, it has been plundered a bit. But a particular guide that is very knowledgeable was giving his last tour and Melinda was eager to hear him. He is young and his wife is not as enamored with the vast western desert and it’s lack of amenities as he is. So they are moving. The tour was very powerful with many cosmic signs that I recognized as spirit on the move through us all. The young man spoke of the connection of the ancients with the modern day Huichols of northern Mexico and how so many of the ceremonial rituals are alike. He thinks the Huichols are the decendants of this culture and that the peyote ceremonies are practices in many of the same ways. And it is all written on the walls of these caves. There are 123 known cave murals in Texas and no one knows how many are on the Mexican side. It is too dangerous to travel over there at this time, but someday in future, when peace spreads over the land and borders are a thing of the past, we can work together to uncover the rest of the rock art. I know it seems unlikely, but then nothing is what it seems……………………..