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Hit the Road With Chet Garner

Mysterious Message

Prehistoric rock art at White Shaman Preserve seems to tell a story

Who is the White Shaman? It’s a mystery that has intrigued archaeologists ever since the discovery of this rock art mural decades ago. I made the trip to Comstock for my opportunity to ponder the mystery for myself.

You’ll find the White Shaman Preserve, owned by San Antonio’s Witte Museum, on U.S. Highway 90, less than 2 miles from Seminole Canyon State Park, about halfway between Comstock and Langtry. The surrounding landscape, the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, holds hundreds of drawings and murals dating back 2,000–4,000 years.

After a short hike led by Bryan Bayles, curator of anthropology and health at the Witte Museum, we climbed a treacherous path to a rock shelter approximately 30 feet long and 15 feet deep and perched along a cliff near the Pecos River. A mural, a complicated composition covering the shelter’s entire wall, includes figures, animals, squiggly lines and dots. In the middle stands the White Shaman, an ominous figure with tiny arms and legs. Without an interpreter I could not have understood this cryptic scene.

As Bayles began to explain, the complexity of the mural came to life. Figures I didn’t see at first suddenly became clear. Colors that I had missed became vibrant. And I realized that there was much more to this mural than my untrained eye could have noticed. According to tradition, a shaman is a Native American healer and a conduit to the spirit world. And so it’s believed that this mural tells a spiritual story—perhaps even the story of creation.

The most amazing aspect is that it was all painted at one time to tell one story. Deciphering that story’s mystery is something every Texan should try.

Chet Garner shares his Texplorations as the host of The Daytripper on PBS.