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Cholla Site


Davis Mountains, near Fort Davis


Nomadic tribes frequented this region for hundreds of years. This area was the range of the Mescalero Apache at the time the first Anglo settlers arrived.

The Site

A shallow indentation in a jumbled granite mountain forms a shelter against the elements. The opening of the rock shelter is just a few feet above ground level, so it was easily accessible. Small boulders are strewn across the shelter. The shelter is decorated with dozens of pictographs. A few seem to depict humans, while others show deer and other local wildlife. There are also human handprints.

The site is named for the abundant cholla cactus found in the region.

Astronomical Significance

The rock shelter opens to the west, and provides a perfect view of the setting Sun. At the summer solstice, light from the setting Sun shines through a crack in a large boulder at the front of the shelter, and forms a double-arrow shape on a second boulder at the back of the shelter. Archaeologists speculate that early inhabitants noticed this alignment and decided the site held special significance.

An odd pictograph at the front of the rock shelter further solidifies the connection to the summer Sun. The picture seems to depict two conjoined human figures. Just before the Sun drops from sight on the summer solstice, the shadow of another boulder casts a shadow across the center of the picture, so one of the human figures is in sunlight, the other in shadow.

Tribes may have gathered at the Cholla site at the solstice to hold special rituals.

Public Access

The Cholla site is on private property and is not open to the public.

The nearby Davis Mountains State Park offers hiking, camping, a 1930s lodge, a small visitor center, and other amenities. The park entrance is four miles northwest of Fort Davis. Entry and camping fees vary. Contact: Box 1707, Fort Davis, Texas 79734, (432) 426-3337.

The Museum of the Big Bend, on the campus of Sul Ross State University in Alpine, offers exhibits on the history and culture of the Big Bend region. The museum is open 9-5 Tuesday-Saturday and 1-5 on Sunday. Admission is free. Contact: Box C-101, Alpine, Texas 79832, (432) 837-8143.

References, Resources

"Observations at a Trans-Pecos Rock Art Site," by Eileen Thompson; The Journal of Big Bend Studies, Volume 10; Sul Ross State University, 1998. http://www.sulross.edu/~cbbs/jbbs10.html

The Indians of Texas: From Prehistoric to Modern Times, by W.W. Newcomb Jr.; University of Texas Press, 1961, reprinted 2002.

Rock Art of Texas Indians, by Forrest Kirkland and W.W. Newcomb; University of Texas Press, 1967, reprinted 1996. Contains hundreds of Kirkland's watercolor paintings of rock art throughout Texas.

Handbook of Texas Online: Davis Mountains

The Nature Conservancy: Davis Mountains


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Eileen Thompson

Eileen Thompson

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