1-13 and 1-14 2014 Big Bend to Seminole Canyon to Corpus Christi

I guess it is time for a reminder.  Mo had forgotten this little trick and she reads the blog often.  Hover over the photos for the caption, and if you click on them you will get a larger image.

inside the visitor center at Seminole CanyonSeems as though Big Bend struck a popular note for blog readers.  Lots of folks have either visited or wished that they could and I have enjoyed reading the comments about the different ways of visiting the park.  Some have immersed for a much longer time than we did, doing many of the hikes we couldn’t.  Others traveled through for just a day-long road trip, and still managed to see the Scenic route, Santa Elena Canyon, and the Chisos Basin.  Many expressed a desire to return for more time.  That is my desire as well, and it was with a bit of nostalgia that we packed up on Monday morning getting ready for the long drive across south Texas to our next destination.

rest stop texas styleAfter last night’s sunset, with all the clouds milling about, it was surprising to wake to perfectly clear skies and a LOT of wind.  The previous day driving through the park, the winds had been up to 35 MPH, and on the high exposed ridges, sometimes it felt as though the kayaks would just lift us, car and all, and dump us into the desert.  Didn’t happen, of course, but we were a bit worried about those winds, so Mo double checked all the rigging for the bikes and kayaks before we left on our next leg of the journey.

From point A at Rio Grande Village in Big Bend, to point F at the NAS Corpus Christi is 557 miles, more than we wanted to do in a day.  I spent some time last summer trying to figure out this route and where to stay, but it was again with the great letter from MBZ that I found Seminole Canyon State Park, (Point B).  At first I thought I wouldn’t bother to make a reservation, but thought again and did so.  I was glad I had when we arrived Monday afternoon and discovered the park nearly full.map across texas

The drive was uneventful, the Panther Junction highway north to Marathon travels through large alluvial desert landscapes that were a bit less than spectacular.  There was dust in the air from the winds, but thankfully those winds died down a bit during the day and we had no problems.

Seminole Canyon_004In Marathon we filled up the MoHo at 3.53 per gallon, a mistake since we could have continued a few miles farther to Sanderson where fuel was back to the going price of 3.07.  I tried to look up gas prices with Gas Buddy, but somehow missed the opportunity at Sanderson.  The only station at Marathon was quite small, and I asked the owner if it was the only station in town.  He replied, “Now it is, that burned down building next door was a Shell station owned by my brother.  We think it was lightning or something and it burned down a couple of weeks ago”.  That seemed a bit interesting, I thought. Two gas stations owned by brothers in a little town and one burns down?

The route was uneventful, with large spaces filled with emptiness punctuated by an occasional ranch gate and somewhat dull wide landscapes.  This part of Texas was as empty as Big Bend, but instead of being really empty, there were fences and telephone poles, and garbage on the roadsides. 

Seminole Canyon rock art tourOnce we again approached the Rio Grande River to the east, the landscape shifted a bit, with shallow canyons and rolling hills covered with brush giving a reprieve from the boredom.  We arrived at Seminole Canyon around 2 in the afternoon, checking in at the visitor center for our reserved campsite.  What a surprise!! 

It seems that Seminole Canyon is home to one of the more fascinating rock art sites in the southwest.  Unlike the Fremont and Anasazi rock art in the Utah and New Mexico canyons, the pictographs in Seminole Canyon are from a separate group of indigenous people and are referred to as Pecos Style.  There are no petroglyphs (carved images in stone) but the pictographs (painted images) are beautiful.

Seminole Canyon rock art tourThe visitor center had some wonderful imagery of what we could see in the canyon below, but we discovered that the only way to hike to the Fate Bell Shelter was on a tour.  Tours are conducted by volunteers at 10AM and 3PM.  Hmm…it was 2:30.  Could we get set up and back down to the center in time for the tour?  Were we really UP for a tour after driving all day??  Yup, of course.  You do it when you can.  Rest is not an option if there is something cool to see that we might never see again.

Our guide, Kevin, was incredibly informed, and wonderfully talkative.  He explained in detail about the different plants, showing us which yucca worked best for making rope, and which plant had the most saponin, used as an emulsifier with pounded rock to make the paint used in the pictographs.

Seminole Canyon rock art tourThe path to the shelter was in good shape, with paved rocky steps and guardrails where it was steep.  It was only a mile or so down into the canyon.  Even though Seminole Canyon drains into the Rio Grande, it isn’t an actual river, just a big “wash” that fills with water from overland flow after rains. 

We enjoyed all the detail of the tour, and since we were the only two people on the tour we had Kevin’s undivided attention.  Forgot to mention, the tour costs $5. per person, and we had no idea, so didn’t bring wallets.  The park staff said, “Fine, just drop it by in the morning before you leave”.  Pretty nice.

Kevin took us into the shelter, explaining the various pictographs and discussed the saddest aspect of all.  The limestone walls, after 4,000 years, are degrading, and the pictographs so visible for that time are disappearing.  In the 1930’s, an artist/historian Forrest Kirkland painted detailed watercolors of the images, and there are displays of those paintings at the site.  Comparing what they saw in the 30’s with what is seen now, the expectation is that the rock art will only be visible for another 25 years or so.Seminole Canyon rock art tour

Seminole Canyon rock art tourSeminole Canyon_054Questioning why there hasn’t been similar deterioration in Colorado Plateau rock art, he suggested that the humidity form the giant Amistad Reservoir has shifted the climate and the limestone is susceptible to degrading as a result.  Interesting theory.  Another interesting theory links the Pecos Style rock art to the Huichol Indians of Mexico.  A new book by a recognized authority on rock art will be coming out soon that discusses this possible relationship.Seminole Canyon rock art tour

By the time we got back to the campground, the sun was getting low in the sky.  The campground sits high on the mesa above the canyon, and we were asked if we wanted a pull through site with no view or a back in site with a better view.  We were directed to site number 1, and had no idea what she meant by a view.  The only view we had was from the step of the MoHo of the flat, brushy mesa and our very nice shade shelter. 

Seminole Canyon rock art tourBest thing about this park was the number of trails that follow the perimeter of the canyon.  The trails are all dog friendly, although prickly things abound and Mo spent some time picking stickers from Abby’s paws even in the area around our camp.  It was too late to take the six mile trail  to the Panther Cave overlook at the junction of the canyon with the Rio Grande, and even too late for the 3 mile hike along the edge of the canyon.  Darkness was falling quickly and we were ready to relax.

Still, I was surprised at this great little park, with electric and water, a good dump station that was actually angled the right way, and a wonderful visitor center with nice trails.  A good spot to spend some time.  As usual, this trip is an exploratory one for us, covering new ground and finding places that we may want to see again and give a bit more time.  Not sure if this would be a destination, but if we were passing this way, I might stay two nights at least to give us a full day of hiking and exploring.

driving into the morning sun going east in Texas at Amistad ReservoirOn Tuesday morning we continued east toward Corpus Christi, following a route farther south than Google Maps suggested.  I didn’t want to go up to San Antonio and through Pleasanton, wanted to see parts I hadn’t seen before so we drove south to get fuel at the HEB in Eagle Pass.  Daughter Deb discovered HEB stores when she lived in San Antonio and says they are even better than our beloved Fred Meyer stores in the northwest.  Sure enough, I found some guacamole, fresh made and fantastic, a couple of bottles of wine and a few supplies that we needed while Mo fueled up the rig at the big station with the best price around.

looks like they really pay attentionThe rest of the day, through Carizzo Springs, and east toward Alice, we were somewhat appalled at the level of ugliness.  Oil is king here, and the highway I chose was heavy with big truck traffic, and where the traffic was less along highway 44, the road was bumpy like a roller coaster.  The views were of what is called “Texas Brush Country” and it was definitely brushy.  It was also flat, but the brush made it seem really claustrophobic compared to some of the flat country we have been farther north.

There are huge wild game reserves in this area, with gates so big we sometimes wondered why someone would build a house so close to the road.  Oops, nope, it is a gate.  We saw some Orricks and some other wild animals behind the fences, lined up ready for someone to shoot them.  I once worked for someone who came down here to shoot a wild boar, and I had to dust that dang thing down in the game room.  Haunted me. 

site 43 not too crowded as long as you don't mind sea spray and windThe landscape just seem to get flatter and flatter as we approached Corpus Christi, a wide coastal plain without much to see right up to the point when we entered the Naval Air Station gate and could finally see Corpus Christi Bay to the…north??  east??  south??  I make maps, remember?  I have a great sense of direction, remember?  Well here on this flat coastal plain where the water is everywhere and the big water is in the wrong direction, half the time I have no idea which direction I am facing.

We checked in at the marina as directed, and decided on one of the available water front sites with a large cement pad and full hookups.  We were warned that it could be windy and that there was a lot of sea spray.  Still, we wanted the site because it seems as if it is all alone our here on the peninsula, even though the campground is full.  Sure glad I had a reservation here!

rising moon at NAS Shields CampgroundThe laundry is just across the way from our site, so I trundled off with soiled rugs and blankets to discover a huge, clean beautiful laundry with home style machines and they were all free!  Yippee!!  I just love having the chance to freshen everything up without having to pay a huge ransom to do it.

We watched the sun set and the moon rise at the same time, tried to figure out which way was east and which way was west…oh yeah…that sun thing, but it still didn’t help much when looking at the maps and trying to figure out which way we were traveling the next day.  Everything, I mean everything is at an angle of some sort and is surrounded by water.  It is fun, and after a few days here I am beginning to get my bearings, but I was surely glad for all the map aids I had in the baby car when we went exploring.

We have been here for a few days now, with some fun adventures in Port Aransas, on North Padre Island and the National Seashore still to write about, and a great time meeting up with friends.  More to come soon!

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

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