A Better Presa Canyon Experience

Dr. Stephen L. Black leads the Ancient Southwest Texas archaeological project in the Lower Pecos.

Dr. Stephen L. Black leads the Ancient Southwest Texas archaeological project in the Lower Pecos.

Some of you may remember my whine about hiking Presa Canyon in Seminole Canyon State Park last November (see Nov. 2013, Hiking Presa Canyon). I lost five toenails on that one, and very nearly suffered heat stroke.  My husband Steve took a similar hike last Sunday, with considerably better results. In fact he thoroughly enjoyed it.

It was the same canyon, same terrain, but with a few notable differences. First, it was 65 degrees F instead of 95  F last year when I went.  Since stone canyons heat up like ovens when the sun hits them, this difference was huge. No heat stroke for Steve and his companions.  This time of year in the Lower Pecos the weather is variable, and you have to be prepared for anything. I’ve been there in March when it was 95, and I’ve been there in March when it snowed. Luck of the draw on that one.

The second difference was that Steve is in much better physical condition than I was when I went.

Steve gives the Bobcat wave.

Steve gives the Bobcat wave.

After all, he’s been hiking up and down canyons everyday for the past two months. That strengthens the quads, folks. Very useful when climbing over boulders. Now, he did have knee surgery last year, but he did his physical therapy and recovered fully.  I on the other hand, lackadaisically went to the gym twice a week and moaned every time I had to do a leg lift. It shows. I’m still bad.

The third big difference was that Steve and his pals got a kindly rancher to pick them up after six hours, instead of hiking the complete eight-hour trip!  What I wouldn’t have given for a pickup outta there!  I would’ve called EMS for a helicopter ride out except that A) there’s no cell service down in a canyon [yes, my lovelies], and B) it would’ve cost $1500.00.  So I opted to keep walking. But I thought about it!

Because of his better preparation and more hospitable situation, Steve really didn’t suffer.  He slept

Steve Black overlooking the Pecos River in New Mexico.

Steve Black overlooking the Pecos River in New Mexico.

well that night, but he didn’t hurt all over.  I slept 12 hours the night after my hike!  My body needed that much to recover. After all, I’d pushed these old bones pretty hard for a city slicker, which I am but wish I weren’t.

The beauty of the canyon was there for both of us, however, and any of you who make the trip. The cry of the birds, the flower hanging precariously from the stone, the buckeye trees in bloom. And of course the rock art. Because there is rock art, we  fool ourselves into thinking that’s what we go to see, that that’s the reason for going. But it’s not.  The canyon itself is the reason. Just to be there, in the air, surrounded by astounding beauty, as the hawks fly overhead.

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Restoring the Buffalo in Texas

Quitaque  (Kitty-quay) is located in the Texas Panhandle.

Quitaque (Kitty-quay) is located in the Texas Panhandle.

The mighty bison, or buffalo, is currently experiencing a restoration in Texas and other parts of the American west after being almost exterminated between 1870-1880 by commercial hunters.  Some estimate that over a million bison were killed in Texas alone in 1877. Caprock Canyon State Park near Quitaque, Texas is home to the official Texas bison herd. The video above by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department describes the herd today.  Visitors can drive through the park to see bison roaming natural grasslands as they have done for thousands of years. The park also offers various talks and activities, such as the Bison Festival, which was held September 28, 2013, or the discussion of Mary Ann Goodnight on March 22, 2014.   The Ft. Worth Nature Center will also host the Bison Boogie May 4-10, 2014 for the public.

Mary Ann (Molly) Dyer Goodnight (1839-1926) is the person most responsible  for preserving

Mary Ann Goodnight

Mary Ann Goodnight

the American bison from total annihilation. She was married to Charles Goodnight, and together they ran the famous JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle.  She became concerned at the horrendous bison slaughter after the American Civil War, and saved several Southern Plains bison calves herself.  She fed them cow’s milk, which they apparently could tolerant without problem.  According to a story in the February, 1901 Ladies’ Home Journal, the calves drank up to three gallons of milk a day. This was the beginning of the Goodnight bison herd, one of the five foundation herds from which North American bison spring today.  For more on the “Mother of the Panhandle,” see this article from the Texas State History Association http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fgo35.

A group of images by Eadweard Muybridge set to motion to illustrate the movement of bison

A group of images by Eadweard Muybridge set to motion to illustrate the movement of bison

Several public bison herds exist in Texas today, including the one at Caprock Canyon State Park and one at the LBJ National Heritage Park near Stonewall, Texas, and over 40 private herds. In 2008 there were 61 Plains bison conservation herds in North American containing over 20,000 animals, and  over 400,000 bison in commercial herds. A large herd also exists at Yellowstone National Park, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/american-buffalo-spirit-of-a-nation/introduction/2183/.

Bison are the largest terrestrial animals in North America. Adults are about 10 feet long and weigh anywhere from 700-2000 pounds. They can run up to 30 miles per hour and have been known to jump six-foot fences. Both males and females have short black horns that may spread to three feet. Evidence of several massive bison jumps, or stampedes off a cliff, have been found at Bonfire Shelter near Langtry, Texas, on the Rio Grande. To learn about how ancient people accomplished this, see http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/bonfire/index.html.  To read about ancient people of the Lower Pecos stampeding bison, see my book, Peyote Fire, coming soon!