Seminole Canyon Rock Art

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In South Texas along the Pecos river, mighty canyons slice apart the desert floor. Since the time of dinosaurs, the erosive force of rains and floods have shaped the limestone canyons. Archaeological records date the earliest inhabitants to about 10,000-12,000 years ago and possibly further back in time. The most exciting historic evidence, dating 4200 - 2500 BCE, is the Pecos River style rock art upon the canyon walls, known as pictographs. The highly skilled paintings suggest a cultural belief system of the past inhabitants. The Seminole Canyon Rock Art of Fate Bell Shelter is some of the oldest native pictographs in North America. FullSizeRender 4

Fate Bell Shelter

FullSizeRender 5The images are anthropomorphic, part human and part animal

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe pigments from the rocks were mixed with animal fats and other natural binders

The canyon dwellers survived for over 2000 years from hunting deer, rabbit, small mammals, and occasionally bison during wet climates. The inhabitants also utilized the desert vegetation as sustenance, such as, agave, sotol, peyote, prickly pear cactus and other seasonal plants and fruits. The canyons were fed by springs and rain lending to an oasis like environment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe root was boiled and eaten, at bottom right. The root also makes a liquor like agave tequila.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpring fed canyon with lush vegetation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rock shelter provided protection from the sun and rain. The reddish and black colors along the bottom are deteriorated images that once adorned the canyon walls.

According to our State Park guide, the canyon dwellers of the Lower Pecos are one of the longest continuous civilizations in history. My father said Egypt, but the natives of the Lower Pecos lived in a small canyon region with a similar lifestyle and culture for over 2000 years. Most of the ancient sites are on private land. There are 250 canyon shelters in Texas and another 50 or so in Mexico. Seminole Canyon was donated to the state by a cattle farmer in the late 1970's. The archeological studies are recent and there is much more analysis needed. A guided tour is necessary to view the ancient rock art to avoid potential acts of graffiti. There is hiking in the state park along the canyon rim for spectacular views across the desert and into the canyons including a Rio Grande overlook. Camping sites are also available. Regretfully, Cody and I only visited the park for a day. There are many more guided tours to several other pictograph sites and some only accessible by boat (possible future canoe trip). For more information visit the Texas State Park website



Hiking the Canyon Rim


The Seminole Canyon Rock Art is rapidly deteriorating due to the increased humidity from Lake Amistad. The Rock Art Foundation is a nonprofit "that promotes the conservation and study of Native American Rock Art in the Lower Pecos Region." If you are interested in contributing to the preservation of native art visit

Seminole Canyon is a fantastic opportunity to visit the people of the past. It's not a museum exhibition but a real place in time. A great book about the Lower Pecos canyon dwellers is Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyons by Mary S. Black. The novel is about a man becoming a great shaman and bringing the peyote medicine back to his people. There are some graphic hunting scenes based on real archaeological findings.

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* Carolyn E. Boyd. Rock Art of the Lower Pecos. 2003. Texas A&M University.

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As an anthropologist I found this book fascinating and helpful to understanding the rock art and the native people. Carolyn E. Boyd is research director at the SHUMLA School, an archaeological research and education center for the studies of human use of materials, land, and art.

Next Week: Tour a Private Garden

adventure adventure travel Adventures Ancient Rock Art Art Del Rio Historic Travel History Indian Rock Art natural caves Rock Art Rock Art of the Lower Pecos Seminole Canyon Seminole Canyon State Park Seminole Rock Art Texas Texas History Texas Native Peoples Texas Travel travel Val Verde County

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  • Southwest Texas is quite brilliant in colors. I have heard about the beauty of Idaho also. A friend of mine was a river guide there. Small world.

    Sunshine on
  • I’ve totally been here.really beautiful.It ‘glows’ right at dusk,(or maybe that was just me,lol).When I worked on the Snake River in Idaho as a river guide, we found some caves where cave dwelling Indians lived,about the same time period as this.The caves are about 200 ft up from the river, and inside, you can see the drawings.Much later, in the 1870’s when the US Army was pursuing the Nez Perce, the tribe used the caves as shelter.

    Stephen Loy on

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