Our 4 night stay at Seminole Canyon State Park near Comstock, TX was a spur of the moment decision. Sometimes that proves to be the best way to travel!
My idea was to take two days/one night to travel to a new location from Fountainebleau State Park that would prove to be a good place to hang out for a few days before moving on to Big Bend National Park. In researching places of interest in Texas that met my criteria, I found Seminole Canyon State Park – a two-day excursion from Louisiana and a half-day drive from Big Bend.
Based on our desired daily mileage, our first day of travel from Louisiana indicated a one-night stopover near the Houston, TX area. I investigated several Harvest Host options in the greater Houston metropolis and landed on the Fortress Beerworks. We had not yet stayed at a craft brewery location so I requested a stay for the night and it was accepted. We pulled in late afternoon in time to get set up in the field behind the brewery and ventured over to the venue for a couple of craft beers. Jim enjoyed the “Shadow Porter” selection and I chose the “Watchtower WIT”. The venue was open air and we felt comfortable being outside with so few people wearing masks. We were joined by just one other RV for the night and it was a peaceful, relaxing overnight stay.
The next day was a long haul to Seminole Canyon State Park but unavoidable. Luckily, it was off-interstate driving and less traffic along the way! 🙂
We arrived in Seminole Canyon just as the visitor center was closing and in time to check in to our site! I was able to grab a couple of brochures and a detailed trail map from the park employee as well. Our site was located in the area that offered water and electric hook-ups (due to a cancellation or we would have been dry camping) and was a nice spot on the outside edge of the loop.
Seminole Canyon State Park has a lot to offer. It is a park rich with cultural, historical and natural environment significance. The main attraction for me when researching the park was the preservation of Native American pictographs in the canyon. I couldn’t wait to see them!
Our first full day in the park we decided to take a hike along the Rio Grande River Trail. Out and back was about 4.6 miles and we tacked on an additional mile by adding a short section of the Canyon Rim Trail to our trip. The Rio Grande River Trail culminates at a scenic canyon overlook called the Panther Cave Overlook. From the overlook, visitors can view a cave opposite the canyon full of pictographs.
It is believed that the pictographs in this canyon were created some 4,000 years ago. The Archaic peoples used the rock overhangs for shelter and lived off the resources of the desert environment. The pictographs – named the Lower Pecos River Style art – were believed to have been created by the Middle Archaic people who inhabited the area 4,000 years ago. They used natural materials to create the red pigment paint used to create the paintings. Paint brushes were made using fibrous parts of desert plants.
Thanks to Forrest and Lula Kirkland, the pictographs were preserved through their dedication to spending their vacations in the 1930’s traveling around Texas and creating watercolors paintings of many of the pictographs. Many of the pictographs have not survived due to physical conditions such as weather and human vandalism but they managed to create an enduring record through their artistry.
We forgot our binoculars on this hike which would have helped to see the pictographs – which are on the opposite canyon wall. However, we vowed to return with them!! The panther cave site is inaccessible most of the time and protected by fencing. Luckily, it remains shaded most of the day and this has helped preserve the paintings and kept them from fading.
Along the trail, there are fantastic examples of fossils embedded in the rock. I’ve never seen so many fossils in one place!!
We left the Panther Overlook and continued on a section of the Canyon Rim Trail that would take us along the Rio Grande River valley. It was interesting to discover that the water in Seminole Canyon comes strictly from rain run-off. At the time we were there, the upper canyon was dry and there was a length of canyon with water near the Rio Grande but it did not extend to the river. Apparently there is an underground aquifer that does keep the ground beneath the canyon floor somewhat moist.
In order to see the pictographs up close and personal, it is necessary to sign up for a ranger-led tour into the canyon. The tour that was operating when we visited was the one that takes you to the Fate Bell’s Pictograph Shelter. This shelter sits directly below the visitor center which is perched on top of the canyon. It is a short but steep walk down to the canyon floor and then a fairly level walk over to the rock shelter. The shelter and site is named after Mrs. Fate Bell who was a rancher who owned the land that the state park now occupies.
On the way to the Fate Bell site, we passed by this bronze sculpture by Bill Worrell completed in 1994.
A set of steep stairs leads to the canyon floor and from there we walk to the pictograph site as the ranger talks and answers questions from the group.
Examples of the Fate Bell pictographs – it was very evident how the introduction of sunlight affected the integrity of the pictographs. The areas of the shelter where sun was strong had pictographs that were almost completely faded out. The ranger explained that there has not been a clear way to prevent this from happening and many pictographs will not survive for long under those conditions.
Along the way, we were subjected to some beautiful scenery!! It was surprising how much plant material was thriving in this relatively dry, desert climate due to the underground aquifer.
After the tour, we spent some time perusing the visitor center indoor display which was a fascinating timeline of human occupation in this area – from the Archaic peoples to the modern day Native Americans to the Ranchers and Railroaders – this area has seen a lot of change. There are many other pictograph sites in neighboring canyons that are on private land and protected by the landowners. Pretty cool place!!
Most of the trails in the part are designated as hike and bike friendly. We decided to traverse the long Canyon Rim Trail on our bikes since it would be an 8-mile minimum round-trip. Let’s just say that it was a challenge for us novice single-track riders!! We had fun though and for the most part could ride our bikes with only a few places we felt the need to get off and walk!!
As the name suggests, this trail wanders through the desert hugging the Seminole Canyon walls and the Rio Grande. It was breathtaking!
We were pleased with the day and tired when we got back to camp from our single-track riding adventure. As we completed more miles, our skills improved and I think we are hooked on trying more single-track trails!!
We moved on to Big Bend the next day! Stay tuned for that awesome experience! I will be in a remote area of Arizona for about a week – so no more posts until I re-enter society – but I will hopefully be writing and editing while enjoying a wild and scenic refuge and be ready to post shortly after returning to cell service!! My husband is patiently waiting for me to finish this post at a local town library – so no further editing – please excuse any spelling/grammatical errors until I have time to edit! 🙂