Heritage, Volume 9, Number 2, Spring 1991 Page: 22
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The Lewis Canyon Petroglyph Project:
A Labor of Love
W hat is hotter than West Texas on
the Fourth of July? West Texas on
August 31. What is windier than
West Texas on April Fool's Day? West Texas
on the Ides of March. Why do two dozen
people from different walks of life and different
parts of Texas congregate on a flat and barren
exposure of limestone bedrock overlooking the
Pecos River to spend long weekends moving
rocks, shoveling dirt, and cutting thorny
brush? For love of archeology and especially
the rock art of Texas Indians.
The object of this intense activity is a
site called Lewis Canyon where for
centuries, perhaps millennia, Native
American artists created hundreds of
enigmatic designs by pecking and abrading
the bedrock to remove the dark outer
"skin" and expose the lighter substrate. In
an area famous for its elaborate multicolored
cave paintings, Lewis Canyon is an
anomaly whose rarity begs an explanation.
Surrounded by hundreds of pictograph
sites, the colorless petroglyphs are emerging
from obscurity to become one of the
intriguing research topics of this decade.
Fifty years ago, Forrest Kirkland, a
commercial draftsman who devoted his life
to recording Texas' Native American art
(see article in HERITAGE, Fall '89, Devils
River: Rock Art Preservation by David
Robinson), laboriously copied the glyphs
he found in two different areas of the site.
By Solveig Turpin
A.T. Jackson, one of Texas' first professional
archaeologists and a contemporary
of Kirkland's, also photographed and catalogued
the designs, reporting them in his
1938 compendium "The Picture Writing
of Texas Indians." When rock art research
resumed after a hiatus imposed by World
War II, Lewis Canyon, high and dry above
the river, was overlooked in the rush to
document the remarkable pictographs,
especially when plans to impound Amistad
Reservoir were finalized. For fifty years, the
glyphs faced the empty Texas sky, visited
only occasionally by hunters, ranchhands,
Then, in the late 1980s, a conjunction
of events brought Lewis Canyon back into
the limelight. The owners of the site, Marilyn
and Howard Hunt, became concerned
about the increase in trespassing, evidenced
by defacement of some of the
glyphs and additional graffiti. Jimmy
Zintgraff, well-known photographer and
devotee of the Lower Pecos pictographs,
became alarmed at the damage being done
to the site by automobile traffic and vandals.
Dr. Joel Bass of Sam Houston State
University developed an interest in the
possible astronomical implications of the
Lewis Canyon glyphs. Zintgraff, with help
from Dr. Bass, organized a concerted effort
to document the petroglyphs, clear the site
of debris, erect a protective barrier around
the glyphs, and analyze the motifs and their
distribution in the hopes their meaning
might be clarified.
A plan of attack was formulated and the
call went out for volunteers. On August 31,
a caravan left the county road and bumped
across the desert terrain, taking over ninety
minutes to reach a campsite on Lewis Canyon.
There a tent city was erected, complete
with chuck wagon. The next three
days saw the entire cycle of West Texas
summer weather, including 110 degree
heat, momentary rain showers, and sudden
gale force winds that would collapse the
cook tent, only to return to clear skies and
blazing heat a few minutes later.
C.K. Chandler, of the Witte Museum
Archeology Committee and our field
director, enlisted the aid of two expert
surveyors, Van Van de Meer and Ray
Smith, both members of the South Texas
Anthropological Association, to make a
site map and install a grid. The latter was to
serve as a control for vertical photographs
taken by Zintgraff.
Joe Labadie, National Park Service
archaeologist at Amistad Reservoir and
chairman of the Val Verde County Historical
Commission, was in charge of the
clean-up crew. He and his wife, Kathy,
22 HERITAGE * SPRING 1991
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 9, Number 2, Spring 1991, periodical, Spring 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45424/m1/22/: accessed October 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.