Seminole Canyon State Park, Val Verde County, Texas. One of the more remote state parks, tucked into the southwest corner of Texas about an hour's drive west of Del Rio.
This area has been inhabited since the very earliest days that humans set foot in North America, going back nearly 12,000 years - back during the last Ice Age when the land was more verdant with now-extinct animals still roaming the surrounding prairies and forest. But over the millenia, the climate changed to its current, arid desert landscape - and the Indians adapted.
All through these years, the local Indians drew pictograms all over the surrounding canyon walls and caves. In the dry climate, protected by overhanging rock walls, many of these pictograms survived through the ages. Some of the more famous sites, such as the Fate Bell and Panther Cave, are the feature attractions of Seminole Canyon, and can be visited by guided tour through the park.
However, I have not yet visited these sites - instead focusing on other areas of the park. On the first visit (March 9th, 2008), I arrived after the park had closed for the day. I walked along the short 'Windmill Trail', a small loop near the visitor's center. This trail leads down to a small year-round spring and the ruins of a water catchment system that was used by local settlers over the past hundred years.
The return trip (September 27, 2008) was much more fruitful - I chose to hike the Rio Grande River Trail, a six-mile out-and-back loop that leads to the far corner of the park, almost a stone's throw from Old Mexico. With recent rains it was fairly lively and green, with countless butterflies passing through on their annual migration. The trail starts alongside the original 'Loop Trail', the 1882 railroad alignment that was abandoned a decade later when a less strenuous route was forged and the Pecos River High Bridge was built.
The trail itself is pretty boring - a flat, featureless hike across a nondescript desert plain. But the main highlight of the hike quickly comes into view. There is a mile-long spur shooting off to the left called the Pressa Trail, which leads to an overlook looking down at a three-way intersection in the Seminole Canyon below. Here, the waters from Lake Amistad many miles away along the Rio Grande peter out; to the right, the waters are wide and deep, muddied from the recent rainstorms. To the left, the two forks of Seminole Canyon are mostly dry. From the top of the overlook, sheer cliffs lead staight down over a hundred feet to the waters below. The view is, well, *breathtaking* - and worth the trip.
Back on the main trail, a few miles later it comes to an abrupt end at the junction where Seminole Canyon merges with the Rio Grande. The location overlooks the Panther Cave pictograms, on the opposite shore far below, accessible only by boat. To the right, a few hundred yards away, are the hills of Mexico. Here, the water is deeper, the canyons steeper, the chasm wider. An impressive view, although not as amazing as the Pressa Trail overlook.
From here, it is a straight hike back along the south portion of the loop, my only companion a great horned toad trying to hide in the gravel of the trail. I would like to return to this park to take the guided tours, and there are other tours available nearby on private land to other pictogram sites as well. And I am told this park is also fabulous for bird watchers as well.