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Seminole Canyon State Park

Seminole Canyon's most spectacular rock art isn't easy to get to, but it's worth the effort.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Long before bows and arrows, prehistoric hunters relied on a spear-throwing device called an atlatl, commonly pronounced "a-till-lattil." Go ahead, say atlatl fast a few times. If you think that's hard, imagine living thousands of years ago when spear marksmanship often meant the difference between eating well and going hungry.

Rock art depicting American Indians armed with atlatls can be seen at Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site, which lies on the eastern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. Part of an atlatl was also found in the Fate Bell Shelter, one of the park's many cliff dwellings.

Access to the Fate Bell Shelter and Seminole Canyon is by guided tour only. The fairly rugged 1.5-mile hike takes about 90 minutes. From the canyon rim, the rocky trail winds down into the huge limestone overhang, where ancient Native Americans painted colorful pictographs on limestone walls and ceilings some 4,000 years ago.

Up for some challenging adventure? Once a month, volunteers with the Rock Art Foundation - a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving prehistoric art - lead a strenuous, all-day hike into Presa Canyon, a remote area closed to the public. Participants must be 12 or older and in good physical condition.

"There's no trail, so you'll climb over rocks and through bushes," says park manager Emmitt Brotherton of the 8-mile round trip. "Expect to get wet, too, because the hike goes through shallow potholes filled with water."

A shorter but still strenuous hike to upper Seminole Canyon includes a stop at a watering hole used by Seminole-Negro Indian scouts (for whom the park is named). The U.S military scouts - who camped within the park between 1872 and 1914 - tracked and fought Comanches and Apaches in many battles. Against the odds, no Seminole scouts died or were seriously wounded in skirmishes with the Indians.

This month's Presa Canyon Tour is Saturday, February 16, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Fee, $25; Texas State Parks Pass member, $20. Pack lunch and water; walking stick recommended. The Upper Canyon Tour is Sunday, February 17, from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Fee, $12; Park Pass member, $10. Reservations required for both hikes.

Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site is located nine miles west of Comstock on U.S. 90, east of the Pecos River bridge. Campsites available; on short notice, call ahead. No guided tours Mondays or Tuesdays. For more information, call (432) 292-4464, or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/seminolecanyon>.

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