Animation Nation, Eagle Nest Canyon Style

Skiles shelter in Eagle Nest Canyon

Skiles shelter in Eagle Nest Canyon

 

How do you measure and record the irregular surface of a rock shelter? Archaeologists are using new technology to accomplish this complicated feat. Click the link below to see the latest in 3D animation from the Ancient South West Texas project.  Thanks to Charles Koenig and Steve Black for all their efforts.

Skiles Shelter 3D Animation.

The Canyon Transformed: Again, June 24, 2014

Rain storm in the desert

Rain storm in the desert

Yet more rain fell near Langtry, Texas, yesterday, transforming Eagle Nest Canyon again. This time only about one-third of an inch created a flash flood that roared down the canyon as the crew worked in Eagle Cave. Please click on the link to see photos of this remarkable transformation.  Note that the big willows and other trees are completely gone.

The Canyon Transformed.

The Canyon Runs Deep: Flooding at Eagle Nest

The normally dry Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas

The normally dry Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas

June 20, 2014, saw a catastrophic flood in Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas. They had 11.6 inches of rain in about eight hours. That’s almost the average annual rainfall in that place! Please click on the link below to see a photographic timeline of this event–and a moving documentary on the power of water.  Thanks to the Ancient Southwest Texas Project for posting these photos. click here  The Canyon Runs Deep.

Cord-Wrapped Fiber Bundle: A Most Curious Artifact Comes to Light

Blooming cactus in the rocks above Eagle Nest Canyon

Blooming cactus in the rocks above Eagle Nest Canyon

As excavation in Eagle Nest Canyon heads into the final month, a mysterious fiber artifact is found, of course!  Rumor is that really interesting artifacts are always found just as archaeological  projects are  about to finish.  There are numerous suggestions about what this particular artifact could be, but I’ll let you decide for yourself. Please click the link below to read the latest post from the Ancient South West Texas Project by Kevin Hanselka.

Cord-Wrapped Fiber Bundle: A Most Curious Artifact Comes to Light.

Jack Skiles: Keeper of the Legends

Weather front coming into Langtry, April, 2014. Skiles home is under the trees in background.

Weather front coming into Langtry, April, 2014. Skiles home is under the trees in background.

My guests today are Jack and Wilmuth Skiles of Langtry, Texas, located right on the Rio Grande with a view towards the mountains of Mexico. Their house overlooks legendary Eagle Nest Canyon, home to the famous bison jump at Bonfire Shelter (http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/bonfire/index.html), as well as several archaeologically important dry rock shelters, which were occupied by people 4000 years ago or more.  This spring archaeological research is being conducted in the canyon by Texas State University. The Skiles family has preserved the canyon and the historic legend of Judge Roy Bean, Law West of the Pecos, for almost a century. Jack has been a steward for the Texas Historic Commission for many years.

Thanks for being with us today, Jack.  Tell us how you learned about Eagle Nest Canyon.   I grew up here.

Jack and Wilmuth Skiles

Jack and Wilmuth Skiles

Dad came out here as a kid, and mother came out to teach school. All the mothers used to let us kids run through the canyons, play cowboys and indians in this old rough canyon, and go swimming. There used to be a good swimming hole with a spring right in front of Eagle Cave. When I was about 10, everybody was doing down for a swimming party. I slipped on a mossy slick spot and cut my chin. Still have the scar. I grew up prowling around and hunting arrowheads in this canyon. Our parents didn’t worry about us falling off the bluff. One of my first clear memories when I was three or four is going down on daddy’s back on the ladder the Witte Museum in San Antonio had set up in the mid-1930s for an archaeological project. Dad had been working with the Witte people and ate lunch with them. Dad said, “Git on my back and we’ll go down.” Mama cried, “No,no, no! Hold tight! Hold tight!”

Jack Skiles talks to visitors in his museum.

Jack Skiles talks to visitors in his museum.

You have a small private museum of pre-historic materials and historic artifacts. How did that come about?  Well, mom and dad had collected some Indian things, and he built an addition on the back of his store to display them. After college at Sul Ross in Alpine, I moved to Monahans and took a part-time job at Sand Hills State Park museum. I got to know Bill Newcome, director of the Texas Museum at the University of Texas in Austin, and took a problems course with him when I was there in 1959-60 on an National Science Foundation grant for teachers. He was working on his pictograph book at that time (The Rock Art of Texas Indians, 1967), and Forrest Kirkland’s paintings were all around the walls of his office. I was real interested in that. So, I’ve also had an interest in museums, archaeology, and rock art, cause I grew up around it.

Storm clouds over the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center and Botanical Garden in Langtry, Texas.

Storm clouds over the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center and Botanical Garden in Langtry, Texas.

How did you start the museum and botanical garden in Langtry? In the early 1970s I went into the Texas highway department in Austin one day, and by the time I left they had offered me a job to start the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Bean) and Botanical Garden here in Langtry. The old saloon was still there, and I had a master’s degree in botany, so I knew the plants.The garden trails were already laid out. They had hauled in a load of giant daggers from Big Bend. I leased about 7000 acres, plus our own ranch, so I went out and gathered the plants. I knew which ones we’d want. I spent a lot of time with locals and old timers learning what those plants were used for. Later they brought in some plants that are not native, but they’re not in the cactus garden.

You also wrote a book about Judge Roy Bean. That’s right. I’ve got another one I want to

Judge Roy Bean Country, by Jack Skiles.

Judge Roy Bean Country, by Jack Skiles.

publish too. We’ve had some famous visitors to the house because of Roy Bean, too. The actor Robert Redford spend a weekend with us one time for a movie they were making. It was hot, so he went swimming in the pool, and when he left, he forgot his swimsuit! So Wilmuth has Robert Redford’s Speedos!  Edgar Buchcanon from the 1950s Judge Roy Bean TV series was here at the dedication of the Pecos Bridge in 1957. Also actor Slim Pickens, he was a funny old guy!  One time dad was swimming naked in his original swimming pool when Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas showed up at the door.  He was with Francis X. Tolbert, the writer from Ft. Worth. Dad jumped up and ran to the barn and wrapped himself in a tow sack tied around his waist with rope. And that’s how he met William O. Douglas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_O._Douglas).

What are some of the changes you’ve seen in this area?  Well, when I was born the population of Langtry was

Large catfish head at Skiles Ranch.

Large catfish head at Skiles Ranch.

about 400. Today it’s 14. We used to have a lot of picnics and community suppers, but now we don’t.  There’s hardly any ranching here any more. People can’t make a living. Good for the land. It will replenish without the livestock. Poor for the economy of this area. We still have good well water, but damming up the Rio Grande to build Lake Amistad ruined our fishing. Used to be a beautiful water hole with perch down there. The river used to be 40 feet deep down at Twin Caves. I caught at 48 pound catfish one time. Dad caught one that was 64. Fishing used to be so good, we’d invite people for a fish fry before we even caught ’em! There’s no deep water between here and the Pecos River anymore because Lake Amistad filled it all up full of mud. I could tell you all about that.

You’re right here on the border. How have practical relations with Mexico changed? Untill 9-11 we kept in close communication with people across the river. They kept a boat down there. They’d come and honk, and I’d go down and get ’em and bring ’em up here. For a while there were no deer over here, but there were plenty across the river. We always went over there to go hunting. 9-11 stopped everything. We used to have dope and illegals coming up this canyon. Several came to the door wanting food, and Wilmuth gave ’em food. One day guys were walking down the canyon and I yelled that it’s private property, y’all get out! Made me mad. I got my .30-06 when they acted like they couldn’t hear me. I put a bullet in the gravel bar ahead of ’em and they got out. It was foolish. I shouldn’t a done that.

What are some of the challenges of living here, Wilmuth? The biggest is that we have to go 60 miles to the grocery store and medical care.  And with less population here, it can get lonely.  We had the devil of a time getting TV. We had to go to Del Rio and rent a motel room to watch John Glenn’s first flight, and the same thing in 1969 when NASA went to the moon. Around 1980 we got a great big old dish antenna that finally worked. Jack: I was lucky to have a wife who was willing to move to Langtry.

Claret cup cactus in Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center botanical garden.

Claret cup cactus in Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center Botanical Garden.

What about snakes and varmints? Are they a problem? We’ve had  three mountain lions come up in our yard over the years. I’ve got a picture of one. Now we have a trapper that’s paid by the ranchers for how many mountain lions he kills. Last year that guy caught nine. I haven’t seen a rattler in three or four years. That’s because we have so many road runners that kill ’em. Hawks and owls get ’em too. Little rock rattlers in the canyon are most common, but not in the open uplands. They like it where there’s more cover. Rock rattlers seem rather docile to me. [As we speak there is a line of road runners looking at their reflection in the glass patio doors.]

What would you like to see happen to this canyon in the future? I’ve wanted so badly to get this canyon studied more, so I’m glad the archaeologists are here now.The very best thing would be to have a museum here where the artifacts wold be shown to the public and have tours of the canyon and make sure everything was taken care of archaeologically speaking. I’d like to see my museum stay here. That’s a worry for me. I want to see the stuff protected. I’ve had the canyon rim surveyed for a road so that people could drive around it. But who would take care of it, who would pay for it? That’s a worry for me.

 

Cookin’ in the Canyon

 

Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas

Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas

In April I had the experience of cooking for two weeks for an archaeological crew of 14 currently working in Eagle Nest Canyon. This was as close to cooking for cowboys on the range as I will ever get, and I had always wanted to do that. The chuck box was calling my name! Well, really I wasn’t going to be cooking IN the canyon, but rather in the wonderful kitchen of the Shumla School, temporary headquarters for the Ancient Southwest Texas archaeological project from Texas State University.

Being a planner, I made out menus, downloaded recipes, gathered ingredients and equipment, and took off for the Lower Pecos. I was going to cook everything from scratch, wholesome, real food, with plenty of fresh vegetables and even homemade bread. I could do this, even though I was the only kitchen volunteer the first week. After all, I was only cooking dinner. The crew made their own breakfast, took sandwiches for lunch, and washed their own dishes. What could be hard?

Shumla School Dining Hall and Kitchen Building

Shumla School Dining Hall and Kitchen Building

There were various things I hadn’t counted on, however. Like the stove. A huge commercial kitchen stove, with six burners and a grill. It looks intimidating, but after a day or so, I got the hang of it (the ovens are a bit contrary).  Something else I had to contend with was simply

Shumla's Commercial Stove with Six Burners and Grill.

Shumla’s Commercial Stove with Six Burners and Grill.

finding the stuff to cook with. Where are the pots? ( in the metal cabinet) Where is a spoon? (in the other room) Where are the sharp knives? (there weren’t any–they were all too dull to cut water). Dry food was kept in two huge metal cabinets, and spices were kept in another room–a gigantic pantry. Two freezers held an assortment of stuff, but I basically had to empty them out to find anything. The commercial refrigerator was crammed with my milk, your milk, our milk, and everything else.

Snake Catcher Hanging by the Kitchen Door

Snake Catcher Hanging by the Kitchen Door

I was also overly ambitious. I had planned to make cookies, a main dish, a side dish, a salad, and

dessert everyday. Which I did the first two days. It nearly killed me. I worked on dinner for seven hours on Day 2, which was too much. I was pooped. It took me those two days to get the feel of the group I was cooking for: 1) they didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, and 2) they liked meat.

I had planned for big appetites.  I downloaded several Pioneer Woman recipes (thanks Ree Drummond!) , and they were big hits.  Make her Pizza Lasagna for a crowd!  Delicious.  It uses both ground beef and ground breakfast sausage, then adds pepperoni to the mix. She also uses three

cheeses in this dish: ricotta, mozzerella, and parmesan. I made fresh focaccia bread one night, and corn bread another. I did make several desserts, and my favorite was a chocolate chip cake with chocolate icing.  I was prepared to make some incredible Martha Stewart fig bars too, but had to wait for those until I got home.  Somehow at the end of the day,  beer won out over sweets for most of the crew.

Chocolate Chip Cake

Chocolate Chip Cake

The second week another very welcome volunteer came to help in the kitchen. Michael, thank you!  She was fantastic! Well, she too started out fast and hard, then burned out.  By the end of the second

Focaccia Bread

Focaccia Bread

week she was down for the count. So much for my fantasy of cooking over a campfire for the roundup.  Cooking from scratch for a bunch of hungry people every day is hard work! But I think the crew appreciated it, because after my two weeks was up, they had to go back to cooking for themselves when they got in from working down in the canyon.  Many of us know that routine. Only for them, the nearest fast food joint is about an hour away. They don’t really have a choice. Somebody has to cook to feed them all.

Context and High School Students: Doing What’s Real

Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas, site of the Ancient Southwest Texas Project,  2014.

Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas, site of the Ancient Southwest Texas Project, 2014.

Context is important in many fields. For example the word “cap”  can have radically different meanings depending on context, or the  words around it in a sentence.  “He put the cap on his head,” illustrates one meaning, while “they discussed cap and trade,” conveys another.  “Capping enrollment” is not the same as “capping a graduate.”

In archaeology, the stuff found around an artifact or ecofact is also context, and can inform how the object was used, as the following article from the Ancient Southwest Texas Project, currently underway on the Rio Grande, will explain.  In education, we have known for a long time that context, or the stuff around learning, is also important. The article also describes how some very lucky high school students are learning in a real-world context.

Eagle Cave-Where Context is Crucial.

via Eagle Cave-Where Context is Crucial.

 

 

 

 

Ancient Dead Bugs of the Lower Pecos

wolf spider

The Ancient Southwest Texas Project recently hosted a visiting scholar who studies archaeoentomology, or ancient insect remains. The purpose of this research is to identify insects in soil samples of particular archaeological sites to learn about climate and fauna of the particular time and place.  Steve and I were happy to host Dr. Eva Panagiotakopulu for a night in Austin on her way from Scotland to the Lower Pecos. Read more about her work in the post below from the ASWT Project.

Archaeoentomology?.

via Archaeoentomology?.

Winter in the Canyon: ASWT Project Blog

Bush struggles to grow through rock

Bush struggles to grow through rock

The Ancient Southwest Texas project, led by Dr. Stephen L. Black of Texas State University, is working in Eagle Nest Canyon, about 1/2 mile up from the Rio Grande in south Texas  this winter. Here’s Steve talking about the problem of seasonality in the desert at 29.8086 degrees N and 101.5596 degrees W, where it can go from hot to cold almost in an instant.

Winter in the Canyon.

via Winter in the Canyon.

Earth Oven: Searching for the Trifecta

Prickly Pears with fruit

Prickly Pears with fruit

News from the archaeological research team in Eagle Nest canyon this spring. Follow them at www. aswtproject. wordpress.com.  The Ancient South West Texas Project is led by Dr. Stephen L. Black, Texas State University.

Earth Oven: Searching for the Trifecta.

via Earth Oven: Searching for the Trifecta.