The Pictographs of Seminole Canyon

Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site is home to one of the oldest art collections in Texas — and I do mean really old. This 2172−acre park is nestled along the US-Mexico border nine miles west of Comstock in Val Verde County. Visitors can expect to see some of the most magnificent vistas in the Lone Star State and a whole lot more.
Seminole Canyon Cave ViewAncient inhabitants of this rugged region left their mark on the walls and ceilings of the caves along Seminole Canyon. These natural caves provided shelter and the canvas for ancient peoples to record their own stories. Without question, the rock paintings or pictographs of Seminole Canyon provide visitors to the park with a fascinating visual link to the past.
Seminole Pictograph HandsThose who study rock art have identified the pictographs of Seminole Canyon as belonging to the Lower Pecos River Style. This style of rock art appears only within a fifty mile radius of the confluence of the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers.
Tinajas ViewThe early artists who painted these pictographs obtained everything they needed to produce and to apply their paints from the surrounding environment. The fact that their art is still on display testifies to their ingenuity and to the quality of the materials they produced.
Seminole Canyon Pictograph CeilingThere are more than 200 pictograph sites in the area that contain single paintings and panels of art hundreds of feet long. The pictographs depict animals, birds, weapons — and also human, anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and enigmatic figures.
Seminole Pictograph 3Perhaps the most puzzling thing about these pictographs will always be their meaning. It’s impossible to look at the faded figures without speculating on possible meanings. Regardless of our conclusions, however, the reality is that the exact meaning of these paintings will be forever buried with the ancient artists who painted them.
Seminole Pictograph 4Protecting pictograph sites like those at Seminole Canyon is important. These pictographs are essentially an ancient text preserved on stone. They remind us that even ancient peoples understood the value of recording aspects of their culture, beliefs, and daily life. We owe it to them and to future generations to preserve their artistic and cultural legacy.
Seminole Entry SignThe only way to see the pictographs of Seminole Canyon is by a guided tour. The park offers a daily guided tour for a nominal fee. A park ranger leads each tour and offers insightful interpretive commentary. Expect to walk a couple of miles, including descending into the canyon and up and down stairs that lead to the pictographs.
Bill Worrell SculptureBecause both time and the weather continue to take their toll on the pictographs of Seminole Canyon, plan to visit this ancient outdoor art museum sooner than later. You’ll also see the really cool sculpture by Bill Worrell on your hike down the canyon. Regardless of where you live in Texas, the pictographs of Seminole Canyon are worth a visit. This is one Texas treasure you should not miss.

The Historic Murals of San Angelo

From earliest days, people have been compelled to record their history — the stories of how they lived, what they experienced, and what they accomplished. Ancient peoples cleverly devised ways to tell their stories.

The Egyptians painted hieroglyphs. The ancient Khmer empire recorded their history in the bas reliefs of Angkor Wat. Ancient cave dwellers left pictographs of animal and human figures, handprints, and curious geometric shapes on cave walls.

Even ancient peoples understood that history provides context to our existence. History helps us understand how our own personal stories fit into the larger narrative. Each of us are, after all, shaped by what happened before us and have the capacity to influence what happens after us. We can add to the narrative of history.
Ranch Heritage MuralOne of the coolest examples of recording history is found in the city of San Angelo. Situated along the Concho River, this Texas town is steeped in western history. San Angelo is unquestionably proud of its western heritage and dedicated to preserving and sharing its history and culture.
Public Transportation MuralIn 1997, a woman named Susan Morris founded The Historic Murals of San Angelo. According to their mission statement, this initiative was designed to provide the residents of San Angelo “with a clear, valid understanding of the history-rich legacy of our West Texas forefathers.”
Indians of Texas MuralTheir specific platform for achieving their mission: larger-than-life murals to “expose as many people as possible to the history of San Angelo.” Today, the magnificent history-intensive works of art are on permanent public display on the brick and mortar canvases of the city’s downtown buildings.
Blacksmith MuralThese history-themed murals certainly pique interest in the city’s past. However, to make the learning experience even more enriching, Morris’ educational organization has added an additional component — a self-guided cell phone tour. Each mural has a designated number that you can dial to hear an audio recording with detailed historical information. Brilliant!
Ranchers MuralIf you have never visited San Angelo you will be pleasantly surprised. It is now on my list of favorite Texas towns. This place has a lot to offer — historic places, a beautiful river walk, lots of interesting restaurants, great shopping, and a whole lot more.
San Angelo Visitors CenterStart your visit at the beautiful Visitors Center that overlooks the Concho River. The friendly folks there can get you started on your tour of the murals. There are currently a dozen murals with more in the works. You can either drive or walk to each mural since they are all clustered within a few city blocks of each other.

Kudos to The Historic Murals of San Angelo and their team of directors and artists. They have given a gift to both residents and visitors alike, one that will continue to educate and inspire others into the coming generations. Thanks for putting your rich history on display.

Texas Proud

There is little, if any, doubt that Texans are a proud people. Anywhere you venture within the broad expanse of the Lone Star State, you can see Texas pride on display. The very shape of Texas makes it one of the most easily recognizable states in the Union. The same can be said of our Lone Star emblazoned flag. Texans use both of these iconic symbols to identify their love and pride for the place they call home.
Texas Flag WavingSomeone once said that Texas is a state of mind. And indeed it is. But it is more than that. New York born author John Steinbeck wrote, “For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study and the passionate possession of all Texans.”
Texas Flag BarnFrom its earliest days, Texas has inspired a loyalty from both native born Texans and those who were born elsewhere but got to Texas as quick as they could. Tennessee-born Frontiersman Davy Crockett, also known as the King of the Wild Frontier, said, “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.” That quote reminds me of the line in the song by Chris Wall, a singer-songwriter from Austin: “I’d rather be a fencepost in Texas, than the king of Tennessee.”
Texas Flag PorchAs a kid, I went to see the movie Hellfighters, the story based on the life of Red Adair. John Wayne played the role of this Texas oil field legend who battled oil well fires all over the world. The real Red Adair said, “I’ve traveled all over the world, but I don’t think there is any place better than Texas.” I agree with Red. I have traveled to more than forty countries and there is nothing better than coming home to Texas.
Texas Flag TruckThe bottom line is that I love everything about our great state — beaches and bluebonnets, expansive skies and extraordinary sunsets, barbecue and burgers, country music and mariachi bands, the Chihuahuan Desert and pine forests. In the words of a proud Texan: “If you’re lucky enough to live in Texas, then you’re lucky enough.”

Discover Pan Dulce

Pan Dulce is the bread of my youth. This Mexican sweet bread was always available in our home when I was growing up. Today, a trip to my childhood home in South Texas means a visit to the panaderia (the Spanish word for bakery) to buy pan dulce. Just looking at the trays of pan dulce in the panaderia can stir up the most wonderful childhood memories.
Pan DulceThe history of pan dulce dates back to the 16th century when the Spanish introduced wheat in Mexico. Initially, the indigenous people did not care for the bland taste of wheat. In fact, the first panaderias in Mexico were not popular at all. However, all of that changed when panaderos (bakers) adopted many of the baking techniques they learned from the French.

Soon, the panaderos added new ingredients such as corn flour, chocolate, vanilla, native fruits and vegetables, and raw sugar cane to their culinary creations — giving their breads distinctive flavors. The panaderos also created breads with playful designs and gave them names associated with their appearance.

Today, pan dulce is a tradition that is deeply ingrained in Hispanic culture. Pan dulce is enjoyed in the morning over a cup of hot coffee or cocoa or as a merienda (mid-afternoon snack). These sweet breads are enjoyed on ordinary days and holidays by people around the world. That’s because panaderias have made their way from Mexico to countries all over the planet.

When it comes to pan dulce, I have my favorites but confess that I have never been disappointed with anything I have sampled at a panaderia. If you have never visited a panaderia, I encourage you to do so. Discover pan dulce. Live adventurously. Spend a few bucks. Sample a lot. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

The photos below are of a few of my favorite Mexican sweet breads.

Conchas from the Spanish word for seashells.

Conchas, the Spanish word for seashells.

Huaraches from the Spanish word for sandals.

Huaraches, the Spanish word for sandals.

Marranitos, the Spanish word for piglets.

Marranitos, the Spanish word for piglets.

Orejas, the Spanish word for ears. Also called Elephant Ears.

Orejas, the Spanish word for ears. This pan dulce is also called Elephant Ears.

Empanada, the Spanish version of a fruit-filled turnover.

Empanada, the Spanish version of a fruit-filled turnover.

Don Pedrito Jaramillo

Known as the Healer of Los Olmos and the Saint of Falfurrias, Don Pedrito Jaramillo remains highly regarded by folks in South Texas. He was born to Indian parents sometime around 1829 in Guadalajara, Mexico. After the death of his mother in 1881, Jaramillo moved to the Los Olmos Ranch near present-day Falfurrias.
Don Pedrito JaramilloAccording to legend, this poor Mexican laborer fell off his horse and broke his nose while working as a cowboy on the Los Olmos Ranch. The pain of his injury kept him awake for several days. When he was finally able to sleep, he was told by God in a dream that he had been given the gift to heal people.
Don Pedrito Shrine ExteriorDon Pedrito, as he affectionately came to be known, started treating the sick and injured who lived on the surrounding ranches. He quickly earned a reputation as a curandero, the Spanish word for healer. Curanderos are a part of the rich texture of Hispanic culture in Texas. In days when doctors were few and far between and folks had little money to pay a physician, curanderos offered palliative solutions and cures to the poor.
Don Pedrito Shrine InteriorDon Pedrito’s cures included mud packs (what he had used when he broke his nose), various poultices, herbal plants, and drinking large quantities of water. The compassionate healer often provided what he prescribed to his impoverished patients. His cures were so effective that people from throughout the region and, reportedly, from as far away as New York sought him out. In the years before easy access to medical care, Don Pedrito was to the folks of his day what dialing 9-1-1 and emergency rooms are to us today.

Although Don Pedrito never charged for his services, he regularly received unsolicited donations. He gave much of this money to local churches and kept some on hand to fund a large food pantry to help people in need. By some reports, Don Pedrito would spend hundreds of dollars at a time to buy food to give away. When he died in 1907, he still had more than $5,000 in 50-cent pieces set aside for his philanthropic work.
Don Pedrito Pics and NotesToday, more than a hundred years after his death, the faithful and the curious continue to visit the shrine of this South Texas folk saint — his final resting place. The whitewashed interior walls of the modest building are adorned with handwritten notes and photos of those either seeking help or who claim to have been helped or healed as a result of their visit to the shrine of Don Pedrito. Don, by the way, was not Pedro Jaramillo’s first name. Don is a title of esteem and respect in the Hispanic community.
Don Pedrito SignThe shrine is open daily from sunup to sunset. To get to the shrine, take Highway 285 east out of Falfurrias and look for the sign pointing the way just before you get to FM 1418. The shrine is located two miles north of Highway 285 on your right. Everyone is welcome. The curio shop next door sells candles, herbs, incense, and snacks.

Regardless of your own spiritual beliefs, take a quick detour to visit the shrine if you happen to be in the area to see the place where a poor Mexican laborer earned a widespread reputation as a beloved curandero. The story of this South Texas folk saint is, after all, a part of our rich Texas history.

Tamales in Texas

Whenever I hear the word “tradition” I can’t help but think of Tevye, the milkman in “Fiddler on the Roof” whose struggle to maintain his Jewish traditions was made even more challenging by the choices of his three older daughters. In the month of December, the word “tradition” in South Texas is all about La Tamalada or a tamale-making party.

"Tamalada" | Painted by Carmen Lomas Garza

“Tamalada” | Painted by Carmen Lomas Garza

One of my very favorite memories of growing up in South Texas is of the Tamaladas that my beautiful mother would host in our home. The annual Tamalada was a big family and social event when our home was filled with extended family and friends who gathered to make tamales, empanadas, pan de polvo, and other Christmas goodies. It was a great time of the year to be a kid in our home because the house was filled with people we loved, with music, laughter and conversation, and the opportunity to sample lots of food.

Tamales have been around for a long time. Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar and ethnographer who came to New Spain (Mexico) in 1529, documented that the Aztecs served tamales to the Spaniards in the mid-1500s. We have traced our ancestry on my Dad’s side of the family to the 16th century, so perhaps our ancestors were among those who sampled Aztec tamales.

The word tamale is derived from the word tamalii from the Nahuatl language spoken by the Aztecs. The word means “wrapped food.” However, the Aztecs were not the only people to enjoy tamales. Tamales were also a favorite food of the Mayans in Central America and the Inca in Peru. Warriors from all of these peoples survived on tamales because it was a portable food.

My mother taught my wife Cheryl how to make tamales. Making tamales is a time-consuming, labor intensive, messy, and creative process but one that is worth the effort when that first batch of tamales is ready to be sampled. In keeping with tradition, Cheryl has hosted tamaladas in our home. My job is to sample the various fillings and making sure that the masa has the perfect taste.
TamalesA Tamalada is hard work but fun. It takes lots of hands to soak, dry, and sort the corn husks, to prepare and spread the masa on each husk, and then to add the filling, tie and bundle each tamal (singular) and then finally steam all of the tamales. Because the process is so labor intensive, families that keep the Tamalada tradition make as many tamales as possible. And then, the best part — eating and sharing tamales at Christmas.

Traditions are not all bad, especially those that keep us connected and grounded to faith and family. I hope that you will consider your Christmas traditions and help create memories that will bless and comfort your family and friends for years to come. And, whatever you do, be sure to eat plenty of tamales this Christmas.

Dichos Sabios

Dichos sabios are wise sayings. Every culture has their “dichos” — sayings, proverbs, and nuggets of folk wisdom passed from generation to generation by means of everyday conversation. As a Hispanic kid growing up in South Texas, dichos were the spice of parental advice. I heard my fair share of dichos throughout my growing up years.

The beautiful thing about dichos is that they have their own rhyme and rhythm that makes them easy to remember but often harder to translate. Nevertheless, these little sayings are pregnant with wisdom. Here are a few of my favorites. Even if you don’t speak or read Spanish, try sounding out these dichos to get a sense of their rhythm.
Don Quixote Dichos SabiosA quien madruga, Dios le ayuda. | Translation: God helps the one who gets up early. This dicho is related to “the early bird gets the worm” and is an admonition to work hard.

Acabándose el dinero, se termina la amistad. | Translation: When the money runs out (or ends) so do friends (friendships). This dicho addresses fair-weather friends who stay around as long as they can benefit.

Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente. | Translation: The current carries away the sleeping shrimp. This dicho cautions against slothful and lazy living.

El diablo sabe más por viejo que por diablo. | Translation: The Devil knows more because he is old than because he is the Devil. This dicho reminds us that experience is the best teacher.

La lengua del mal amigo más corta que el cuchillo. | Translation: The tongue of a bad friend cuts deeper than a knife.

Para un niño con un martillo, todo es un clavo. | Translation: To a child with a hammer, everything is a nail.

El que quiere baile, que pague músico. | Translation: The one who wants to dance should pay the musician. This dicho teaches that the one who wants to see something happen should take responsibility for making it happen.

Lo que bien se aprende, nunca se pierde. | Translation: We will never lose what we learn well.

Si quieres el perro, acepta las pulgas. | Translation: If you want the dog, accept the fleas. Regardless of what you do, every endeavor or profession has its respective challenges.

Del dicho al hecho, hay mucho trecho. | Translation: There is a great distance between word and deed. This dicho is akin to the old saying, “It’s easier said than done.”

Despacio voy, porque de prisa estoy. | Translation: I am progressing slowly because I am in a hurry. This dicho reminds us that it is better to take the time to do things right than to have to make the time to make them right. Or, in the words of the carpenter, “Take the time to measure twice and then cut once.”

Mejor solo que mal acompañado. | Translation: It’s better to be alone than to be with bad company.

These are just a few samples from among hundreds of dichos. Every culture has their respective collection of folk sayings and proverbs. I encourage you to explore your own culture and discover some of the timeless truths that have  been shared across your family’s generations. You may just discover some “dichos sabios” that you can pass on to the next generation.