Paint Rock Indian Pictographs

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We were driving south from Ballinger, Texas, on US 83. It was about time to stop and stretch our legs anyway, when I saw a skinny brown and white sign -- an official -looking, state-placed sign marking a recreational or historic feature -- that said "Indian pictographs." I stopped some yards further down at what I thought was a historical marker. (It was a dedication plaque for the 1930s bridge over the Concho River.) On a whim I turned around and turned in at the sign.

The road was a winding gravel ranch road which led to a small house. We passed a couple of bison along the way. My expectation was a 10-minute stop and a look at a some faint paint marks on rocks. The Paint Rock pictographs turned out to be much more.

Ranch owner Fred Campbell came out of the house to meet me. He told me about the tours, and we discussed the logistics of bringing along a 2 1/2 year old along a 1,000-foot-long trail. He offered to lead us down to the start of the trail -- we in our minivan would follow him in his small utility truck -- then I could drive the utility vehicle along the trail with the toddler on board, while the rest of the family walked along beside him. (Visions of piloting a stickshift on a bumpy, twisting trail filled me with fear, but I agreed anyway.)

The ranch, we learned, had been in his wife Kay Campbell's family since her grandfather settled there in the 1870s.

The house turned out to be a very nicely appointed visitors center. A couple of persian cats and a border collie roamed the shady yard. Inside, Fred demonstrated how the Indians used rocks like hematite to make paint, explained some of the symbols we would see and the lore behind them, and showed us a time-stamped video of "daggers" of light crossing certain pictographs on the solstices and equinoxes, indicating that the rocks were used as a kind of calendar.

Then Fred got into his utility truck with the two big kids riding shotgun, while we followed in the Odyssey. He led us through a gate, past some of his angora goats, down to a flat camping ground between the Concho River and the limestone bluff on which the pictographs appeared. The 1,000 foot trail was a level path along the base of the bluff, easy to navigate. We stopped briefly at about a dozen stations along the bluff, as Fred pointed out and explained some of the most interesting of the pictographs. The pictographs were easy to make out.

Back at the visitors' center, we paid for the tour ($6 each for adults, $3 each for children), picked out some postcards, and chatted with Fred, as we took a final pit stop before getting back on the road. (The visitors' center has very nice restrooms.)

(Fred told me an interesting story about meeting the Duke of Wellington, who invited him to his Spanish estate to discuss its suitability for raising angora goats. The Duke was affable, but his wife was standoffish as soon as she had been introduced to Mr. Campbell. On the last day of the visit, the Texan learned why -- Lady Wellington told him she was descended from Clan McDonald, which had been massacred by the Campbells of Argyll at Glencoe in 1692. For his part, Fred apologized for what happened three hundred years ago, but pointed out that he hadn't been there. Old grudges die hard over there.)

As we got into the van to leave, Fred gave the kids some small rocks of the type used to make paint. While it wasn't in our plan for the day, all five of us thought the Paint Rock Pictograph site was a very worthwhile and fascinating detour.

To arrange a tour, phone 325-732-4376, or write:

Fred and Kay Campbell
Paint Rock Excursions
Box 186
Paint Rock, TX 76866

This Google map shows directions from the town of Paint Rock ("A") to the visitor's center ("B"). The loop in the road about 1500 feet west of "B" is the at eastern end of the pictograph-covered limestone bluff (which looks like a thin white road), but you may only go there as part of a tour.


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RELATED LINKS:

An American Profile article from February 2008 about the Paint Rock pictographs will give you an idea of what happens on one of their tours:

Kay Campbell, 80, walks along a dusty trail on her central Texas ranch, leading a tour group of school children. She stops along the way to point out dozens of crude drawings painted on a rock bluff overlooking a once popular American Indian campground. Ranging from a few inches to several feet in size, the rock art is the legacy of American Indian tribes that roamed the area centuries ago. Some of the drawings--animals, human figures, weapons, stars and suns--tell stories that experts can decipher, while others remain mysterious, vague communications from cultures that existed some 200 to 500 years ago....

At the beginning of each tour, she scrapes hematite rock, mixes the red shavings with water, and uses this to paint symbols on her arm. A retired school teacher, she uses "show and tell" to demonstrate the process by which American Indians made the paint that they used to fill in designs etched by flint. "I try to show how people lived thousands of years ago and how they wrote history without letters or words," she says.

This brief 1999 press release by archaeastronomer R. Robert Robbins of the University of Texas explains what has been observed, with photos showing the interaction of sunlight and pictograph on the solstices.

An article on the Concho Valley Archaeological Society website tells what has been found in excavations on the plain below the decorated limestone cliffs.

Bob Anderson, a gourmet garlic grower and amateur astronomer, has written about the astronomical features of the Paint Rock pictographs. He believes some of the drawings depict the spring sky, widely-observed supernovae, and an eclipse.

This article is about visiting the pictographs on the winter solstice.

Here's A January 27, 2008 San Angelo Standard-Times story, in which Fred and Kay talk about the Sims/Campbell ranch.

The pictographs are just across the Concho River from the town of Paint Rock, population 300, seat of Concho County.

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3 Comments

webworm Author Profile Page said:

Very interesting! Many in my family lived around there. Read "Fort Concho And The Texas Frontier" for lots of historical memories. I have ancestors all the way from Honey Grove to Gouge Eye to Mobeetie, Texas. They generally were not fond of our predecessors, the Native Americans. And not too fond of other minorities of the early to mid nineteenth century. But they were tough people and I like to read some of the old, Texas history.

Trait said:

I grew up in Brady, TX, not far from Paint Rock. When I was in the 3rd grade, we took a class trip to view the cliff art. I've traversed U.S. 83 many times on my way to and from Ballinger, where my Dad used to live.

Lisa S. said:

On Feb. 18, 2010 myself and my dad was heading to paint rock to photograph the cemetery there. We noticed the brown signs going into town, but didn't think much of it. After finding some of my dads family in the cemetery we began our trip home to Joshua, Texas. Since time was not an issue we decided to see what the "brown" signs was all about. We traveled down the rocky road, not really sure what we were getting into. We too dove upon the two male buffallos and what a sight they were. We meet Mr. Fred at the small house and asked about the indian history. After a discussion and tour of the sites, we have realized the amount of history that was hidden away in the bluffs. If you have a chance to take the tour, my family recommends it!!!
FANTASTIC!!!!!!!! well worth the 6.00 per person. They did not have a problem with me taking my own pictures.

Thank you Fred!!!!!!
from the Stanley Family in Joshua Texas


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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 13, 2008 2:56 PM.

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