Thursday, Dec. 22, 2005 dawned cold and clear as I headed up to the Pecos River high bridge launch site for my paddle to Seminole Canyon and Seminole Cave. I had been planning this for a long time and was really looking forward to seeing the caves again. I launched at 9:02 and headed down the Pecos to the confluence of the Rio Grande, then headed left down the river. Amistad Lake has backed up both rivers so there isnt any flow, just flat water and high canyon walls. I had the river to myself this morning except for some goats high up the canyon wall in a cave and a pair of hawks circling above. The river was calm and clear until I turned the corner and entered the Rio Grande. Here the wind picked up a little and made the first couple of miles pretty chilly as I was in the shade from the high cliffs on the Texas side. However, by 10:30 I was able to shuck the fleece and enjoy the sunshine and warmth.
Several miles downriver I was surprised to see a large power line going across into Mexico, but soon saw there were several large houses there. Around the bend I saw a couple of houses on the Texas side. I remember a Mexican rancher tried for years in the 70s to get a line run from the US side, and I guess he finally did. I dont know who owns the houses, but they would make a nice place to stay as they are on a small side canyon.
The Texas side of the river is prettier with its many caves and erosion features. The Mexican side is shorter and has no caves at all-both sides are the same rock, so I dont know why. The caves arent caused by river erosion as they are too high above the old river bed-the Mexican side being lower would mean the river would have had to be several miles wide to carve the caves that high up. You can see evidence in many of them of water seeping out leaving stains so I imagine this is how they were formed. Its amazing how much a little seepage can erode the soft limestone pockets (there isnt enough rain to help speed the process)-many of these caves are as big as houses. There are a few that can be accessed by boat and will be explored on another trip. The cliffs are so steep and the original river so far below that few have been inhabited or used as rock shelters. They would still be interesting to explore and take photos from.
About a mile down from the confluence of the rivers is Parida Cave on the Texas side. There is a boat dock there and you can access the small kayak landing on the left of the big rock on the left of the ramp. As I had explored this on a previous trip, I didnt even stop. There is a wonderful canyon on the Mexican side of the river that is well worth exploring for its beautiful high walls and incredible erosion features-many look like works of art.
There are a couple of canyons on the Mexican side that will require further exploration and two short ones on the Texas side that I did explore and found some interesting caves in them. One would make a great hike out of the canyon and offer a wonderful view of the river. The cave, Pink Cave, would be fun to explore and supposedly has some paintings in it. Since it doesnt have a landing and the water was cold, I didnt get out of the boat to explore it this time. In warmer weather this would be easy to do. Many of the caves that are accessible and would be fun to explore require getting out of the boat and getting wet up to your waist as you scramble up the rock piles.
Seminole Cave is one of the best examples of cave art in the US as it is in a large under hang and the dry weather has protected them for thousands of years. There are dozens of paintings along the wall with the Panther being the most famous. The park service has a nice boat dock here as this is the only way to access the paintings-there is no trail to the cave. The cave is fenced off to protect from vandalism, but the mesh is large enough to take photos through and there are several signs explaining the paintings and some history. I remember growing up in Del Rio we used to go up and touch the paintings - this was way before we knew we werent supposed to! It is difficult but not impossible for a kayak to land here. There are two places on either side of the dock where you could get out into the water and then climb up the rock. Since it was still cold and didnt want to get wet, I got under the docks ramp and used it to pull myself up out of my boat onto the steps that go down into the water. That wasnt a pretty site and Im glad no one else was there at the time! Getting back in was a lot easier.
After eating lunch, I headed up Seminole Canyon to see if there are any places to camp and found a great place where the water ends. It gets real shallow at a wide flat spot and there is plenty of camping room as well as the canyon to explore. If one could camp here, this trip would be an easy overnighter and allow plenty of time to explore the canyons on the Mexican. As it is, it is a long day trip-it took me 11 minutes shy of 7 hours to complete the 19 mile round trip with a hour stop for lunch at Seminole Cave. I averaged 3.9 mph and was feeling the fast pace by the end of the day. Exploring the side canyons and some of the caves would add a couple more hours to the trip, so spending the night in Seminole Canyon would really make the trip more pleasurable.
[Editor's note: Most of Seminole Canyon is closed to the public to protect significant culture resources and camping is not allowed in the canyon. A few hundred yards into Seminole Canyon there are several "Boats keep out" buoys that designate the closed part of the canyon (note included June 2010)]
This is a wonderful and beautiful trip and well worth the effort because of the scenery and the cave paintings. There is plenty of parking at the put-in along with a potty. Theres an incredible view at the put-in of the high bridge and the high canyons. There isnt a potty at Seminole Cave however there are some places to get out of the kayak and answer the call. I will be doing this trip again Memorial Weekend and hope to explore the side canyons.
boat ramp with port-o-potty
no, unless you are fishihng. The Mexican game wardens are getting strict about fishing w/o a Mexican fishing license.
Launch from the Highway 90 bridge over the Pecos River north of Del Rio, TX