Paint Rock

While out and about documenting the Texas frontier forts, I had to stop by one of the neatest pictograph sites I’ve ever seen.   I can’t really write anything better about Paint Rock than what is in the wonderful Handbook of Texas so here you go!

Paint Rock, two miles northwest of the city of Paint Rock in Concho County, is one of the major rock art sites in Texas and is certainly the premier site in Central Texas. There appears to be little, if any, connection between the rock art at Paint Rock and that of the Lower Pecos region, its nearest neighbor. The site is composed of hundreds of pictographs painted onto the limestone that forms a cliff seventy feet high, 150 to 200 yards north of the river. There are an estimated 1,500 paintings spread out over a distance of one-half mile. The site is on private land owned by Kay Campbell. The range of time covered by the pictographs is fairly long, extending from the dim prehistoric to the early historic period. Dating the pictographs precisely has not been possible. Several artifacts and prehistoric features have been found, however, in association with them that help in establishing a rough date. Sherds of Leon Plain ceramics and burned rock middens suggest a date of 1,000 years before the present. No evidence has been found that would suggest an earlier date. Most of the figures at Paint Rock are “small and appear to have been painted as individual designs rather than part of a large cohesive mural. Geometric shapes, animal and human figures, and negative and positive handprints predominate.” Tally marks have also been found. The colors red, yellow, orange, black, and white predominate. The red, yellow, and orange pigments were derived from oxides of iron containing ochers, while the black and white are respectively carbon and chalk. These materials were all available locally. Several of the pictographs depict scenes that are unmistakably historic in nature. Horses, a devil, and a mission recall the early Spanish presence at Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission, which was near the site of present-day Menard, forty miles south of Paint Rock. The mission was established in 1757 for the Lipan Apaches, so it is quite possible that the artists of these pictographs were Apache. With this one exception, the tribal or ethnic affiliation of the Paint Rock artists is, for the most part, unknown. The mission is depicted as a long rectangular building with two cross topped towers. Clouds of black smoke are drawn near the mission, perhaps commemorating its burning the year following its construction….

My next couple of posts will detail some of the art found at Paint Rock:

talley count?


the serpent?

Part of the allure for me of these pictographs is trying to decipher what these ancient artists meant.  Are they telling a story?  Recording exploits?  Documenting astronomical events?  Or just somebody out bored to tears and drawing squiggly lines on the walls?

Mental note to self… if you are ever going to go to Paint Rock with the intention of taking pictures, bring a long lens!  I only had one lens with me – my 17-40L and as a result had to do quite a bit of cropping to get the images in as tight as they are here.  I imagine a 70-200 would serve you very well!


~ by Derrick Birdsall on November 16, 2011.

8 Responses to “Paint Rock”

  1. Interesting place. Soooo, you aren’t allowed to get closer to the rocks? Do folks continue to add paintings to them?

    • the art is up on top of a shortish hillside/cliff. You can easily access the art but the folks that own the property are rather protective of the place and want you to stay at the base of the cliff. Folks have vandalized the cliff over the last hundred years or so – but not so much in the last few decades – and I think they are both trying to protect the art, and make sure that some idiot doesn’t climb up there and fall down and get hurt for liability reasons.

      I would imagine that if you became a known entity to them and showed them that you were both a capable hiker/climber and that you weren’t going to tarnish the art then you could get closer to the images.

      It’s a pretty impressive place, there’s nearly a half mile of artwork!

  2. I’ve seen some of the pictographs in BBNP. I swear there is a primitive Homer Simpson (ha, thats redundant) on a rock out there. I’m still searching for Marge.
    I’m looking forward to hearing more about Paint Rock. Thanks for posting Derrick.

  3. These are wonderful, Derrick. I wouldn’t want to climb with all that cactus so a longer lens would be a great idea.


    • Thank you – there were ways to get up there without getting stuck to death, but a wrong step could have some potentially negative consequences. They were also concerned with rattlers!

  4. Cool! I’ll have to keep that place in mind.

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