Taste of the Past with Leslie Bush

 

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When from a long distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered . . . the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls . . . [They] bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection. – Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

Dr. Leslie Bush, owner of Macrobotanical Analysis  (www.macrobotanicalanalysis.com), joins us today for Part 2 of her conversation about cooking with native plants. See the Archives for June, 2014, for Part 1.

Dr. Leslie Bush analyzing ancient plant remains.

Dr. Leslie Bush analyzing ancient plant remains.

Leslie: Sure. The important thing to know here is that I don’t have a garden in my yard – I was cooking with native Texas plants that grow uncultivated* in many parts of the state. Lots of people are eating uncultivated plants these days, whether at the “World’s Best Restaurant”, sticking to an allegedly Paleo diet, or eating the weeds. I won’t say “wild” because human influence is so pervasive on the landscape, even in remote areas, that all of the planet is effectively under human management. (See the work of ethnobiologist Eugene N. Anderson.)  Here are some things I’ve tried:

Kunuch Cake

Kunuch Cake

Kunuche Pecan Balls  for Cherokee Nut Soup Traditional Cherokee nut soup is made from hickory nuts, usually black hickory (Carya texana). The most common hickory in the Austin area is pecan (Carya illinoinensis), so I made the soup balls from pecan nuts.

Step 1: Pecan Balls. To make the balls, I cracked each pecan nut on my concrete porch with a grinding stone, then picked out and swept away the larger pieces of pecan shell. I put the nutmeats and the remaining bits of inner shell into a basalt molcajete and ground it into a coarse paste. I formed the paste into balls about 2 inches in diameter. The balls can be frozen for a few months or put in a ziplock in the refrigerator for a few days until you’re ready to use them.

Step 2: Pecan Soup. To reconstitute the balls into soup, just add boiling water and stir. Use one ball for a large coffee mug. Let the soup settle for a few moments so that the pecan shells drop to the bottom. Be sure not to drink the last drops, or you’ll end up with shells in your mouth! You can flavor the soup with dried cranberries (my favorite), dried corn, or even bits of turkey jerky.

Sumac-ade This recipe for sumac-ade comes from my friend Neal Stilley, whose many talents include primitive arts such as fire-

Simmering Sumac-ade

Simmering Sumac-ade

making and cooking uncultivated plants. The batch of sumac-ade I made this spring was from flameleaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata) harvested in February. Harvesting when the fruits have been on the plant for such a long time doesn’t make the best-tasting tea. I’m eager to try another batch in a few of weeks when the fruits will be fresh.

  • Wash sumac fruits under cold water.
  • Bring 1 part sumac fruits and 5 parts water to a simmer, being careful not to boil.
  • Simmer for 2-5 minutes, then turn off heat and let stand for 10-15 minutes.

 

Mesquite Cake

Mesquite Cake

Mesquite Cake Grinding mesquite pods into flour is a tedious undertaking. It’s probably best done with a big group of girls and women, sitting in the shade, singing songs, sipping cool beverages, and speculating on the activities of your neighbors. In ancient times, Native women used a gyratory crusher, a sort of funnel-shaped metate, to crush mesquite pods with a heavy wooden pestle. The crushed pods fell through the hole into a basket. The beans and the brittle, outer pod were winnowed out, and the inner pod parts were re-ground into fine flour. Since I live in central Texas and not the Sonoran Desert, I had to make my pods “desert-dry” by roasting them in the oven at low heat before I tried to grind them. I used a flat-bottomed cobble to grind pods on my concrete porch, but it was a very slow process without the walls of a metate to keep the pods under my grinding stone. I decided pretty quickly that

Mesquite Cake

Mesquite Cake

producing and tasting a couple of teaspoons of flour would be enough old-school experience to satisfy me. Most modern mesquite eaters use a high-powered blender or a hammermill to process mesquite – and now I know why! Mesquite flour is very sweet, even before you add sugar to the recipe. The high sugar content makes baking with it difficult –the centers of baked goods tend to stay soft and mushy. I recommend baking very thin things such as these thin yellow cakes I made with mesquite flour from The Mesquitery.

Yucca Petals (raw) The flowers of all the yucca species I’ve tried have been edible and delicious. They

Yucca Blossoms

Yucca Blossoms

have a texture like green onions but with more substance. Most plants I’ve tried taste like radishes. A few lack that spicy kick and taste more like carrots. Some people eat the pistils and all the inner flower parts, but I stick to the petals. You can even eat them straight from landscaping in the mall.  (See blog articles from the Archives for June and July, 2012, for my own yucca experimentation–MSB.)

Woodsorrel Greens (raw) Woodsorrels have cute little heart-shaped leaves in a clover-like configuration. Here in central Texas, we have two woodsorrels: yellow woodsorrell (Oxalis dillenii), a branched plant with small yellow flowers, and Drummond’s oxalis

Wood Sorrell

Wood Sorrell

(Oxalis drummondii), a single-stemmed plant with larger, pink flowers and a bulb below ground. The wonderfully sour, refreshing leaves can be sprinkled on salads or tossed in cream sauce over pasta. Be careful not to eat too many of the raw leaves at a time, though: oxalic acid interferes with iron absorption, and too much of it can be very serious for people with impaired kidneys.

Commercially Available Sources For the May meeting of the Native Plant Society, I rounded out the table of native plant snacks with purchases from the local grocery store: agave syrup, prickly pear soda, nopalitos, and pecans. I’ll have to see what’s growing in my yard for the Caldwell County Genealogical and Historical Society next month . . . .

Grocery Store Snacks from Native Foods

Grocery Store Snacks from Native Foods

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Jack and Missy Harrington: Landowners and Benefactors

Jack and Missy Harrington

Jack and Missy Harrington

I’m glad to welcome Jack and Missy Harrington from Comstock, Texas, to the blog today. They have lived in the Lower Pecos area all their lives, maintaining family ranches and contributing to the small town of Comstock in many ways.  Comstock is located 29 miles west of Del Rio, Texas, near the Rio Grande, in a region known for rock art that is thousands of years old. The town was founded in 1882 when the railroad built a station there. Currently the town has a population of 223.

Thanks for being with us today.  How did your family get to Comstock?  Missy: My great-grandfather bought the land sight unseen because he was told it had rivers on three sides, about 9000 acres. They lived in Mexico at the time. Five of their kids died of smallpox when little. When the two girls got older the family moved across the river to the property. They didn’t know there were steep cliffs to get to all the

Paintings of Painted Shelter rock art by Forrest Kirkland

Paintings of Painted Shelter rock art by Forrest Kirkland

water, and that the cows couldn’t get to it!  Grandmother didn’t want to live out on the ranch with a baby, so they got a house in the town of Comstock.

Tell me about growing up here. What did you think of the rock art?  Missy: I was born and  raised in Comstock, but Jack was from Del Rio. We used to have picnics at Painted Shelter [ on grandfather’s property], and I thought everybody had paintings on the wall. Kids could play in the water in the creek there, and the grown ups liked the deeper holes.  I wish I had known more about the rock art when I was a kid. The rock art’s not gonna last for ever. It makes sense to educate people about it. I remember when they built Seminole Canyon State Park. My family owned that property. I remember my grandmother was so mad cause the state wanted it so they could “take care of it.” Who did they think had

Harrington Campus pavillion at Shumla School, near Comstock, Texas

Harrington Campus pavilion at Shumla School, near Comstock, Texas

been taking care of it for 100 years?

A few years ago you donated land to the Shumla School, an outdoor experiential school and research center for rock art and archaeology run by Dr. Carolyn Boyd.  Yes, now they have the Harrington campus. After hearing Carolyn’s ideas to have a school, we decided why not? We deeded about 70 acres to Shumla as a non-profit about 1998. We had two field experiences for teachers before we had any facilities of any kind. They used portable showers in plastic bags. The pavilion and bath house were built first.  Bath house finished the Friday before the Monday.  Immediately we had a teacher training for all Comstock teachers the end of August. It was 112 degrees.  The workshop impressed the teachers for years. We’ve both worked with Shumla ever since.   Now they do programs for kids–all the Comstock and Del Rio kids have come–and for teachers. Each spring Carolyn holds a rock art workshop for adults. This past spring the Harrington campus was used by Dr. Steve Black for his Ancient Southwest Texas Project through Texas State University.

How did you and Jack meet? Missy: He used to date my neighbor. But he decided to check around for other quail. The way it was, Comstock girls had to date Comstock boys, but not the other way around. I broke out of that. We started going together when I was a junior in high school, and now we’ve been married 47 years.

Congratulations! That’s a pretty good record!  You went to college in San Antonio, right Missy? I went to Incarnate Word San Antonio. My degree is in biology, with minors in chemistry and math. I had a job lined up in research. I didn’t plan to teach school. But we decided to move back, and the only job was teaching school in Del Rio. I’d never seen a grade book before in my life. But I taught 31 years all together, 3 in Del Rio, 28 in Comstock.

Comstock ISD

Comstock ISD

Tell me about teaching school.  Missy: Well, I went to school in Comstock, K-12. We had about 90 kids back then.  We had 125 when I taught, a lot of small classes, maybe one or two kids. Sometimes 20.  We had three computers Apple 11e . You wear a lot of hats in a small school. I taught every science from 6th grade  to 12th grade. Now there are about 200 kids. One day a boy was swinging a dead rattlesnake around his head scaring the girls. I made him throw it away, and he coiled it in the trash can to scare the janitor.

Jack, you were on the Comstock ISD school board for 20 years. Yes,  I have a soft spot in my heart about school. It’s remarkable what some of these kids can do. This year we were ninth overall in UIL in Division 1A, and tied for first in physics. Diego Fausett, did that. His coach is Dr. Phil Dering, who teaches science in Comstock now, instead of Missy. Nobody falls through the cracks in Comstock ISD. Class size capped at 18. More

Students from Comstock ISD in Shumla Scholars program  work with Ancient South West Texas Project in Spring, 2014

Students from Comstock ISD in Shumla Scholars program work with Ancient Southwest Texas Project in Spring, 2014

individualized, one on one. Good teachers. Lot of home-grown teachers. Strong culture of the school. Many teachers were Missy’s students. K-12 intermingle. It’s good cause the little kids look up to the older one, and older ones model good behavior. They’re sisters and brothers. Older kids can work with the younger ones. Everybody takes care of everybody. The kids are safe and they know they are. Comstock ISD has over 2000 sq. miles, but only 50-60 kids live in CISD. The rest come from Del Rio. Three busses bring them. Kids have to apply to come to Comstock. They can’t have bad grades, failed tests, or bad behavior. If they break the rules they go home. We don’t compromise. We set standards and we hold ’em. Missy: I planted the cottonwood trees when I was a freshmen in high school. There were only two trees on campus when I was in school. Our principal bought about 11 trees. Now there are about 40 trees and lots of grass.

You were also with the volunteer fire department, right Jack?  I was a volunteer with the fire dept. for 40 years. There was a fire around Juno [ now a ghost town]  in the 1990s burned over 20,000 acres, took about two weeks to put out.  This spring there was one near Pandale, then around Juno too. Burn bans are serious. Forest service came in for this one, and another big crew came to cook and set up a kitchen. They had a huge mobile kitchen and 18-wheelers full of food, and big refrigerated trucks. There were over 300 fireman. We served dinner in the school cafeteria. About 6 of these volunteers and 5-6 of us local Comstock folks.  We cooked breakfast, made sandwiches for lunch, and made dinner at night. They would come at daylight.  Volunteers came from everywhere:Wisconsin, Colorado, Montana, California, fireman from everywhere. The kindergarten kids made laminated placemats for the firemen. The men took them home with them.

What makes Comstock a good place to live? Missy:  It’s nice and quiet. We don’t even have a key to the house. We’ve never locked the house, even when I read Helter Skelter. It’s just a different way of life. We grocery shop like a rancher, go to town once a week. The two custodians at school across the street keep their soda water in our refrig on the breezeway. It’s peaceful. No traffic. Might have to worry about a cow or two on the road, though.

Thank you both for talking with us today! As of this publication date,  Jack and Missy are in Houston awaiting the call for a  medical procedure. Best wishes, Smilin’ Jack! We wish you only good things!

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.

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?.

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.

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!