I’m scooting backward down a steep slope into a rocky, cactus-studded canyon, one hand clutching a rope to help keep me steady.
As I pick my way along, one step at a time, someone from above calls out a few words of encouragement. Beneath me awaits one of the more than 300 known rock art sites scattered throughout Val Verde County in the Lower Pecos River Region of southwest Texas. I rest a moment, then keep moving. In another minute I hit flat ground. Now I’m ready for the big reveal.
Each spring and fall in this rugged corner of the state, the Shumla Archaeological Research & Education Center offers guided treks to rock shelters where Indigenous people painted murals thousands of years ago.
For the center, it’s an opportunity to educate the public about this ancient art form and to raise money for researching and protecting it. For the public, it’s a chance to learn directly from archaeologists who are working in the field and studying the paintings before time erases them.
“Getting firsthand experience with rock art is really important,” says archaeologist and trek leader Katie Wilson, who’s also Shumla’s outreach coordinator. “You can see it for yourself, and that makes you want to advocate for it.”