Author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, etc.
GIFTS OF THE ANCIENT ONES:
GREG WILLIAMS ON THE ROCK ART OF
THE LOWER PECOS CANYONLANDS
(APPROX 1 HOUR AND 5 MINUTES)
C.M. Mayo: Welcome to Marfa Mondays Podcast number 15 of a projected 24 podcasts exploring Marfa, Texas and the greater Big Bend region of Far West Texas, apropos of my book-in-progress. I'm your host, C.M. Mayo, and on my webpage, cmmayo.com, you can listen in to all the podcasts anytime for free, and also there you can find out about my several other books.
The most recent book is the reason these podcasts have been coming along a little more slowly this year. That book, which is done and now available in paperback and e-book formats, is Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. For those rusty on their Mexican history, Francisco Madero was the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution and he was president of Mexico from 1911 to 1913, so his so-called secret book, which I translated into English, is in many ways quite illuminating.
This podcast is of my interview with Greg Williams, executive director of the Rock Art Foundation. It was recorded on August 30, 2014 at Meyers Spring Ranch on the conclusion of a four hour tour of the rock art there and of the restored house of the military commander at Camp Meyers.
Meyers Spring is one of a multitude of rock art sites in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, a region around the confluence of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande and extending south into Mexican state of Coahuila by the way, the native state of none other than Francisco Madero. In this region, to quote Harry J. Shafer in the introduction to his anthology, Painters in Prehistory: Archaeology and Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, "Magnificent polychrome, pictographic images, panels, and murals exist that rival any in the world."
Meyers Spring, which I toured with the Rock Art Foundation, is on private property a few miles drive from the tiny border town of Dryden, Texas. To quote from the Rock Art Foundation's website, rockart.org, "Meyers Spring is an isolated water hole in the arid lands west of the Pecos. Brilliant red paintings overlook a permanent pool of water sheltered only by a shallow overhang. Although faded remnants of much older pictographs can still be detected, the majority are attributable to Plains Indians who were latecomers to the region."
You can view pictures of Meyer Spring and other rock art sites on the website rockart.org, and for more about the rock art I can also recommend the books Painters in Prehistory, edited by Harry J. Shafer, and Rock Art of the Lower Pecos by Carolyn E. Boyd.
Before we go to the interview with Greg Williams, executive director of the Rock Art Foundation, an apology for the sound. There's a bit of a roar which would be the very necessary air conditioner. This was recorded in the kitchen of the ranch house so people were coming in and out and there was some target shooting going on from the porch. I managed to edit out most of the shooting, but you'll still hear a few pops.
I would like to dedicate this podcast to my friend and neighbor in Tepoztlán, Mexico, Patty Hogan, because Patty, I am so grateful to you for putting me in touch with the Rock Art Foundation.
C.M. Mayo: Most people that I've talked to have never heard of rock art in this area, and yet there's a lot of it, and it's really important. Why is that?
Greg Williams: Probably the best way I could explain it is explain to you what happened to me. In 1991 in my business I was trying to have some photography done, and so I looked in the phonebook and I saw a man named Jim Zintgraff who is a well-known San Antonio photographer. I hired Jim, and we went out to a photo shoot, and the conversation kind of waned, and my son and I had been camping in West Texas for years, and so the only thing I really knew about that I thought Jim might be interested in is I brought up West Texas, and it went from there. Jim was the director of the Rock Art Foundation then. Jim passed away eight years ago and I became director following him. But what happened is this gentleman brought me and my wife to West Texas to see things that I had never even known about, and they were the remnants of a past culture, a culture that had existed in the Lower Pecos region of West Texas, which is the confluence of the Pecos and the Rio Grande, for twelve thousand years.
I had no idea that people lived out here for that long, And so we wandered around and we looked at the remnants of that culture. We looked at their lifeways, through the floors of these dry rock shelters, and we looked at their language, the stories that they wrote for us on the walls of these shelters, and we didn't know what they meant. You'd have to be in the mind of the artist to find that out, but you could sit and wonder about these folks who lived so long ago here and how hard the life must have been for them, in our context. For them it probably was not quite so difficult at all. They had plenty of food, plenty of water.
But what they left behind was remarkable and it's called rock art. It's a book, it's a story. Some of the images out here in West Texas, you can call them the oldest known books in North America. They are thousands of years old and as we look at cultures of people that exist today, the Huichol in northern central Mexico, the Native American populations around the country, and we look at their art, and we look at this four thousand-year-old ancient art that we have here, we begin to see similarities. We see Lower Pecos images in Mayan art, we see it in Aztec art, and by making all those comparisons you can kind of start to believe that you understand what these people have written, and what's in their book that they've left us.
That's the mystery. Will we ever know? Probably not. You'd have to be in the mind of the artists, I think, to understand that, but to look at an ancient culture, to look at what they've left behind, to wonder about what you're leaving behind in our modern culture, it seems to me that the things that were left for us so long ago seem to be so much more important than what we're leaving behind today. So that's the mystery that keeps, I think, all [of us] coming out here.
We've got 35 people in the Meyer Springs Ranch today and that, what I just verbalized, was the entire reason they came here. They may not realize that, they may not verbalize it in that way, but to come and see a culture that passed so long ago, and to stand in the footsteps that they left, and to look at the book they wrote, and the messages that they left for us... pretty remarkable! And after years you feel that you begin to understand who they are. All of a sudden one day they become alive. You can see them.
We just came back from Camp Meyers and that was a much later culture, but you could hear them talking, you can smell them, you know they're there, and you feel that you're one of the very, very lucky few people that realize they're still here, and they're still here in what they left behind and the messages on the rocks, and I feel blessed to be one of the people that can stand there, and stare at that, and wonder, and have some kind of knowledge to what it might mean. That's what it does for me. I hope that makes sense to you.
C.M. Mayo: It makes beautiful sense. Kind of two separate things here, one is the rock art that we saw today which had images on top of images- we saw some that were very faint and possibly thousands of years old, and then more recent ones that look like they were painted shortly after the Conquest showing priests, showing a cross, handprints, birds, really a wide variety of images. But then we also saw Camp Meyers, and that was something from the late 19th century, which you restored.
Greg Williams: This is 25 years for me out here doing this. And I marvel at what's out here, but the military history, probably because it's not that far behind us, that intrigues me the most, and the life that these people lived here, and how harsh it was, and how gentle our lives are in comparison. I look back and I have great respect for those that came before us, and I look at where we're heading as a culture, and I'm not pleased. And I wish that some of the life values that these people behind us had, that we could adopt those today. Our children aren't, our adults aren't. It's very saddening to me, but to come out here and be a part of a group of people that I admire so much is important. And I learn a lot from that in how I handle my life.
And when we bring tours of people out hereand we've done it for over 15,000 people when we bring people out here that's the message that I try to tell them without using words. If I can show them something that's totally astounding, and show them a better way, things that people did long ago that were much better than what we're doing now, and if you can learn from that, and you can make an impression, I think that's really very important. But I try to do it without words.
C.M. Mayo: What specifically do you think was done better in the past that's not being done now?
Greg Williams: Commitment, toughness, honor. The honor of the spoken word, living what you say, believing what you dream. I think people are inherently good people. I think that's hidden today, and I think we can take a lot of lessons from the past. This is nothing new, every culture goes through the same thing, I'm not talking anything that nobody has spoken of hundreds of times before. I'm certainly not a very bright person. But the world is not about you and who you are. It's about who we are and what we do, and we're doing the wrong things, and we're heading in a wrong direction, and we need to stop and look behind us and put the brakes on, and try to reevaluate what's happening. I don't know that we're lost yet, we're close.
I was raised in a home where your word and your honor were vitally important, and boy, if you said you were going to do something you'd better do it or all hell was going to break loose. I don't see a lot of honor today. A man asked me one time, he said, "What is honor to you?" And I said, "It's doing the right thing when nobody is watching you." Nobody knows what you're doing, do the right thing. I don't see that today. I feel like a dinosaur.
C.M. Mayo: That was a big part of the culture in the late 19th century.
Greg Williams: It was.
C.M. Mayo: And one of the people who is very vivid in my mind today having had this tour is Lieutenant Francis French, who was the commander of the Seminole Scouts here at Camp Meyers, which has been partially restored, and I had the privilege of reading the diary leaves that you sent, which- well, I'm going off on a tangent, but I found them very amusing. Anybody who reads diaries or who reads histories of the 19th century comes across a very strong thread of a very important emphasis on honor, which isn't to say everybody honored honor, you know, there were a lot of scandals and scallywags in that time, but certainly it was an important part of the culture.
Greg Williams: It was a Victorian era. It
was different than
it'll never come back and it shouldn't.
That's not who we are today, but I think honor is important.
It's important to me, but that's more of a personal thing. What
we do here is
the things that I've experienced wandering
around out here in this place that's been occupied for 12,000,
there's things that you find here that are kind of personal,
and there's things that you find here in the silence of just
being here. It's going up to the old camp at night at sunset
and smelling the horses. And if you listen carefully, you can
hear the whispers in the wind. Those things have been very important
to me. They've shaped, I think, who I am, and that's what I want
to share. But you can't tell people that. You do it without words.
C.M. Mayo: I think in normal life we're constantly surrounded by people trying to sell us things. If you just drive through a suburb or a city or on the highway, between the billboards and the gas stations, and you're just bombarded. What I find really remarkable about really most of Far West Texas but certainly this part is when you're on the highway, you know, in your big car with the air conditioning, even in that little cocoon, I do feel the silence of the desert. Moving through the space, it's very different than seeing a picture of it. Moving through the space, it has kind of a calming, like you kind of feel like you're expanding, and then when you're out there by yourself, which of course we were not today with the large group, but I think I know what you mean. When you really are out there by yourself in this much space- you know, you can do a 360 and there's no microwave tower, there's no billboard, there's no McDonald's Golden Arches, it's just
Greg Williams: When I drive out here from San Antonio I love rock and roll. I love old rock and roll music, it's playing all the way. When I hit the Pecos River, I turn the music off and I usually roll the windows down. I don't care how hot it is. I turn the air conditioner off and I usually drive way under the speed limit and then I become at that point it's not about me. At that point I become the smallest thing here and everything out there is bigger than me, everything out there has something to teach me or to show me, and if you don't stop to learn those things, what great missing you have, I think.
And so again, that's part of what we try to do here, is try to demonstrate that without words, and [with] small groups is pretty easy to do that. I've taken people up to that old camp at night with a bottle of wine and a roaming thunder storm in the distance and all of a sudden, you get it. And what you get is nothing about who you are, it's about who someone else is and what they did. And I think that's pretty profound.
It has been for me and I'm stunned by the whole thing. I'm confused about it and always will be, but what I've come to believe is I am probably not very important. I'm probably the least important thing around here, and everything here is bigger than me and everything here has something to teach me, and if I don't stop and look at it, shame on me. And I learn from it. And if we could all do that we'd all be better for it, and quit being so focused on who we are and be more focused on who someone else is and what they have to share for you, because most of us are pretty stupid one-on-one, you know? Just one single person, you know. I hope that makes sense to you. It does to me. [Laughter] I sound like a preacher?
C.M. Mayo: But that's the appeal of this place.
Greg Williams: I think it is.
C.M. Mayo: It is. That is the appeal for me.
Greg Williams: That's what keeps us coming out here. Everything out here will stick you, bite you, hurt you. You can't get on top of anything, and we have great friends and they're all here right now. There's Good Gene, you know, Ken Law is the Third Circuit Court of Appeals Appellant Judge for Texas. I mean, some big people are here today, and some people who are not so big, but there's no uniforms out here. There's no credentials. I mean, you don't bring that with you when you come here. You come out here naked and you get what you allow the place to give you. And if you allow the gift, it's immense. Most people who wander out here get that. People with big egos that don't understand what I'm talking about, they don't come out here because there's nothing out here they could climb on top of.
Anyway, that's my story and I'm going to stick to it. I feel honored and blessed to be a part of this. I was at a ceremony a few years ago, and there was a Huichol shaman there, and out of nowhere he walked up to me, I didn't know who he was, I'd never spoke to him in my life, and he walked up to me, and he put his hand on my shoulder, and he says, "You know you've been picked?" He turned around and he walked away. I never talked to him again. And that just was stunning for me, and I'm like, "What does that mean?" I don't know what it means, but I'm not a mystical person. I'm not into all those things, but the more I travel around out here and the more I come across people like that I realize that I'm not that smart and there may be something I'm missing. So I'm working on that, too.
But there are people that spend their life following what other people believe. There are a few people that will spend their life developing their own truth, for them, and somehow I got into that. I don't know how I did that, but somebody told me one day, and brought me out here and showed me that, and that's what we do. Without words, we try to impart that kind of feeling. The world is not about who you follow, it's about who you are and developing your own truth, and what makes your life meaningful to you, and it's rarely ever following someone else's beliefs. It's developing your own. I hope you understand what I'm trying to say.
C.M. Mayo: I think I do.
Greg Williams: Words are hard when you get into when you get this far into this, the words are very difficult, and I guess at some point you just sit on top of a mountain and evaporate into energy, you know? I don't know.
C.M. Mayo: I do understand what you mean about the mystical aspect of coming out into this kind of space and this place and seeing that I mean, you're literally walking, we were walking over the middens which were where people cooked for thousands of years, and the average person might just walk by and think, it's a pile of rocks. But there were people living there, cooking there, generation after generation after generation, and it is a powerful thing to come and stand in that space.
Greg Williams: I was looking at pictures yesterday of our family, I was digging out old pictures of great grandparents long gone, and I was sitting there and I looked at all these pictures of all these wonderful people that are gone, and what did they leave behind? Well, a lot. And what are we going to leave behind? And what are our children going to say about us? What are the stories that our children are going to tell our grandchildren and their children? Be proud of who you are, do the right things, and try to make a difference in someone else's life, not yours, someone else's. And I think that's why we're here.
C.M. Mayo: So the many thousands of people who've come through the different sites where you lead them with the Rock Art Foundation, have you seen how they've changed as a result of that?
Greg Williams: Absolutely. I have friends that I've made here in doing that. I get emails, letters... but you don't need any of that. On the tour we watch very carefully these people, and you have to do your tour for your audience, I mean, you can have an academic tour, you can have a recreational tour. Who is the audience? And how are they doing to how do they fit in with what you're talking about? So once we decide who they are then you gear the tour towards these people, and you can tell. You watch. You can tell. If they get it, they understand what you're talking about, they've moved on to the next step, and most do. But it's without words.
C.M. Mayo: And you have a lot of people return.
Greg Williams: Oh. Yeah.
C.M. Mayo: Many of the people on the tour today had been twice, thrice, the people I was with this was their fifth rock art tour.
Greg Williams: Yeah. And the Rendezvous that we have every October is filled with people who we see them every year. The gift of the ancient people, if you can accept it and understand it as a monumental... the gift of the past, understanding where we came from, understanding where we're going, and how to change direction if we need to, but it's moving away from yourself. Ego is the most dangerous thing in the world. And if you can get away from yourself and focus on everything around you and other people... and the peace comes from that and learning comes from that and enlightenment. I mean, these are all trite words that are used to mean a lot of different things, but get away from the ego and share what you have that's important to someone else not to make the believe what you believe because that's not required, but share an understanding that they may not have. And understanding is not acceptance, understanding is understanding. I understand the Islamic fundamentalists. I don't agree with them, but I do understand it. It's our job to understand others and to understand these things, and then that leads us, I think, in an appropriate direction most times.
I think there's goodness in people and I think the lessons that you can learn from these past cultures and this country out here, this harsh place where people survived for thousands of years, I think there's a good lesson here. At least it has been for me and so if I can show it without preaching and without words, I'd like to do that because that's how it was shown to me. I'm not going to preach about it. I'm not going to tell people what they're seeing. I think that's very inappropriate. But that's why we're here and that's what we do, and that's what moves me to do that. I consider myself to be the lowest of the low. I don't think I'm a very intelligent person, I don't think I have any gift, anything special about me, I don't see myself as a very important person, but I think this is important, what we do. So.
C.M. Mayo: So what you do is you lead the tours in various different sites, the Rendezvous, and also you have a wonderful website, rockart.org, and that has information about all the different sites, and also some preservation work as well.
Greg Williams: Yeah, it's all driven towards that. There's the physical preservation of the site which we're very tuned into that, we work with the landowners, we try to teach them how important what they have is, and how important it is to preserve it, more importantly, how important it is to understand it and to share it, and we ask them if we can share it for all the reasons that I've been talking about. So preservation is important as part of that.
There's the physical approach to the foundation and what we do, and then there's the approach that's not quite so physical, it's more spiritual. We have many landowners who support what we do, who give us access to their ranches, their sites, and let us take people out there, and they understand what we're doing.
C.M. Mayo: Well, this is a really important point for this series. You can't just wander in off the highway and see this rock art.
Greg Williams: No. There's no BLM land in Texas.
C.M. Mayo: There's no sign.
Greg Williams: All private property.
C.M. Mayo: It's private property. As you're saying, "it's locked up tighter than a drum." So if you want to see it you have to come on to rockart.org and sign up.
Greg Williams: We charge what we think is a fair price for this. Our foundation is all run on private donations. We don't seek funding from government or agencies. We do it all from individual donations and the reason we do it that way is we know what we're doing, we have scientists on our board, we have archaeologists, we have academics. Whenever I have a question I have plenty of people I can ask and we can move quickly to solve a problem, and I don't want to be beholden to any government agency or any private foundation, and everyone in our group works for free. No one is paid a salary. We pay our guides a small stipend to help them pay for gas which is how I'm compensated, but there's nothing other than that, and we have 18 board members, 18 active guides, seven alternate guides who run around West Texas all the time burning gas, burning their time, and it's all a donation to the foundation. All the money that we gather is turned back into research, is turned back into scholarships. It all goes back to where it should be.
Male Speaker: Some of us just have a lot of fun! [Laughter]
C.M. Mayo: You were saying before, the most important site of the different sites that the Rock Art Foundation, where they lead tours, is White Shaman.
Greg Williams: It depends on who you're talking to. Every archaeologist has a different story. We're not scientists. We're aligned with scientists. Whatever the scientists figure out is what they're going to figure out and my input is not required and also not welcomed. So whatever they decide it is, is what it is. I believe in science. That's not what we do. We do what you experienced today, and you saw a very non-academic tour. You saw a tour based on the things I've been talking about. That's what we do.
C.M. Mayo: Let's talk a bit about the Rendezvous because this sounds like something really unusual.
Greg Williams: It is unusual. We do it every October, and it's open to the public, and about half of the people that come to the Rendezvous have never been out here before. And we come out, and we have a 300 acre preserve, and we camp in the desert on the ground with tents. If they have RVs, they can bring them, whatever. We have water trailers, porta-potties, people cook their own food, we offer a dinner on Saturday night, we have a guy that comes out and cooks a barbecue dinner, and we tour for two days. We offer every tour the foundation offers, and you can't go to all of them. You can only go to two.
C.M. Mayo: Meyers Springs that we saw today, White Shaman.
Greg Williams: Halo, Curly Tail Panther, Fate Bell, Presa Canyon, and others, but if you wanted to see every rock art site that we offer only at the Rendezvous you'd have to come out for six or seven years. We have campfires at night and we don't offer a structured program because I don't think that's what people want. People want to come out, get away from the city, listen to somebody playing guitar around a campfire, drink some beers, have some wine.
C.M. Mayo: Marshmallows!
Greg Williams: Marshmallows. Enjoy the day, wonder about what they saw, prepare for the next day, and on Sunday they go home. And they jump back into the city, back into their jobs, but they've had a break. They've had a glimpse at the past, and they've had the opportunity to stare at a book written by people thousands of years ago that tell us about who they
These paintings look at it this way: If you took your kids down to the church at Christmas time and you walked up to the nativity scene, and you use these icons to teach these kids about these Christian concepts, these Christian values, you told the child about Jesus and the Wise Men and the manger, that's exactly that these images are. You walk up into the White Shaman, or to Halo, or to any other place, and there are the icons to tell the story. We don't know what they mean yet. I'm not sure we ever well. I hope we will.
C.M. Mayo: So there are several different layers. There's the very early people where we can barely see it, and then there's some what was the name of it, the narrative, the Plains Indians narrative stuff?
Greg Williams: "Plains biograph" is the style of paintings, and they tell a story. But the older ones tell a story too, and so if you want to and again, I'm going to use the church as an example. The beginnings of the church, the beginnings of that spiritual nature came from a point in time long, long ago. It's a political it encompasses a lot of things, but it's political in its design. So here we are, a couple thousand years after the beginnings of this, and what we see are what people are telling us to see. If we step back two thousand years ago to a culture and we see their story written on the wall, perhaps that's more meaningful than what we see today. I think it is. I see the beginnings of something that I would really like to know about. I see religion and church as a political issue, it doesn't thrill me too much.
This thrills me here a lot because these people believed in something that was bigger than them, they had to. Every culture does, and we see it, and we're that close to it, we can touch it, but wouldn't it be great to know what it was and really understand? And you can, yourself, you're finding your own truth. It's not about anybody else, and whatever you find here belongs to you, and it's private, and you don't need to tell anybody about it. It's private. Where you find peace is where you find it.
These things are very important to me here because I don't believe these people were a whole lot different than we are. They have the same values that we have, the same needs that we have, the same spiritual needs, the same physical needs, and they just were here two thousand years before we are, and I think this stuff is stunning. It's just stunning to me, what's right there that I can't quite understand. I probably never will, but I don't find the questions disconcerting for me. I find them very calming. I'm not a follower. I don't believe things people tell me to believe. I don't practice things people tell me to practice unless I understand them. You got it? You know what I'm talking about?
C.M. Mayo: I do.
Greg Williams: Okay. I'm running out of words to even verbalize these things, but we're a good group of people. We need to refocus on that and we need to be better than who we are.
The Rock Art Foundation, we have about 500 members all over the country.
C.M. Mayo: All Americans?
Greg Williams: Oh. No. Everywhere. All over the world. We take about 15 hundred people a year on tours out here all over West Texas, and those are pretty significant impressions. We've done it north of 15,000 people since we've started this.
C.M. Mayo: That's a lot of people.
Greg Williams: And one of the reasons that we do it and when we started we were on a tour out here and the guy was giving really wrong information, and I said to my wife, "You know, we could do better than this," and I approached Seminole Canyon State Park and I said, "You know, can we do your tours on the weekend? I think we can do a pretty good job for you," and they let us do it. And that's back when we were little, didn't have very many members, weren't viewed as a very strong organization, but out of friendship and mutual respect we grew to be a little bit bigger, and we think we do a good job, we certainly try to, but the message we deliver is important.
There's an academic, archaeological message that we deliver: these aren't Anasazi paintings as we were once told, and then there's the spiritual message, one is with words and one has no words. We don't preach and this message here is done without words, always. You didn't hear any of that today, did you?
C.M. Mayo: No.
Greg Williams: But you felt it.
C.M. Mayo: Yes.
Greg Williams: It's not appropriate to try to change your mind. It's appropriate to give you something you may not have seen before and let you process it. It is not appropriate to make you believe what I believe. That's weird. But there's so many experiences that you can have that teach you and this is just one of them. There are plenty more that are probably more important than this, but isn't that what enlightenment is, is learning? And challenging yourself to be better than you are, and to stop thinking about yourself, and to discard ego? I'm talking too much.
C.M. Mayo: I feel when I'm in these vast spaces you have to use your imagination to envision the people living there, and there's nothing to distract you from that task because you know, as I said, there's no microwave towers, there's no billboards, there's no McDonald's, you know? You are in the space that they were in for miles and miles around, and you're walking on what they walked on, you're walking on their midden, you see their handprints in red on the wall, and you can't help but bring your mind to a very different place than it is really in almost any other environment.
We're in a built environment, mostly. We're in a car, we're in a shopping mall, and we're constantly bombarded with people wanting to sell us stuff, and where that leads our mind, where that leads our values... So I think I understand where you're going with that.
Greg Williams: You know, everybody is chasing a dollar bill all day long every day. You have to live. You have to raise your family. You have to teach the kids. And as you go through that process of chasing that dollar bill, sometimes you lose your way. But you're given a gift in your life, once the kids leave and the retirement comes, you're given a gift, you're given the time to go back and say, "Wait a minute. I think I missed something." And it's a great gift that you're given, and gosh, I hope everybody uses it. It's a time to learn. It's a time to reflect on all these things that I've talked about.
I first bumped into this place when I was 40 years old and it totally turned everything around for me because I was different, and I don't want to get into the religious aspects of all this stuff, but what I thought the world was was based on me and my ego and what I'd been told, and I began to realize that probably wasn't correct, and maybe I should look at it myself, and not believe just what I was told. Go find out what it really was. And it was different, way different. I have no problem with people who find peace in different ways. If you find peace going to church every Sunday, God bless you. You're way ahead of most. If you find peace in questions and not knowing what the hell is going on around you, God bless you. You know? Everyone is different and no one can criticize anyone because of a different belief. We should all support that, with the exception of these Islamic fundamentalist bastards. But anyway, that's a different story.
And peace is private, and I feel that I personally have been given a gift that I can share but I can't use words because words sound crazy sometimes, and that's what you experienced today I hope.
C.M. Mayo: Yeah.
Greg Williams: I told you historically, facts, and I brought you into this place by using historical fact. What you take away from it is going to be a whole lot more than what I told you, I think.
C.M. Mayo: Well, I'll give you a specific example. One of the things that you sent all of us on the tour was a Word document which was excerpts from the diary of Lieutenant Francis French, who was commander of the camp at Camp Meyers. Going through that, one starts to get the flavor of his personality and his life, and you know, hyper-focused on the hay, does he have enough hay, did he dry the hay, did he measure the hay, because hay of course was the gasoline of his day. You don't have hay, you don't have a horse. Things like, he would play Parcheesi, he would have a tiff with the doctor over the card game, and when he ordered potatoes and onions... and you'd see his huge concern with the mail, he was just obsessed with the mail, and then almost every day he was practicing his violin. And so
Greg Williams: And reading his book on Buddhism.
C.M. Mayo: That's right! He had a book on Buddhism.
Greg Williams: The Light of India, or whatever it was.
C.M. Mayo: Light of India. He'd say, "I fell asleep in the chair twice today," or, "Today I finished it." So when I came in to the restored walls of his house it doesn't yet have the roof, but the house has been restored I could not help but imagine him playing the violin in there, and then going outside to weigh the hay, and getting upset about the mail. And then there's the doctor's house if he steps away which is now a pile of rubble but having read the diary and knowing those words in his voice, yes, you see the space with great compassion.
Greg Williams: And you're here where he was. And doesn't it make you feel a little less important?
C.M. Mayo: Well, you're talking to me, I'm a novelist, I'm constantly trying to imagine other people's points of view, which I guess is not normal in our culture.
Greg Williams: No. I think that's healthy, but
C.M. Mayo: I think the primary achievement of a good novel is that it enables the reader to put their feet in someone else's shoes, to imagine what it's like to be someone else, to get out of yourself.
Greg Williams: I read that and I imagine these people here, and I look at pictures of my family that I have in the house that have all gone beyond, and I look at all this and I say, "I'm not really that important. I'm just one little piece in all this greatness."
C.M. Mayo: Yeah.
Greg Williams: It's humbling. I guess that's a good word for it. This place is very humbling to me.
C.M. Mayo: The space humbles anybody. That was the crazy
Greg Williams: Yeah. And people need to be humbled. They need to understand that absolutely, it's not about you. It's about everybody around you.
C.M. Mayo: And how you have to be aware of that to survive, and I think that one of the really neat things that happened today on the tour that we took was that that young girl saw an owl. She saw a grey
Greg Williams: She was focused on that owl, whatever it was.
C.M. Mayo: She picked out that owl and it was this tiny little thing, an adult, but it was a tiny owl in a cave, and I guess we all would have walked right by it.
Greg Williams: I didn't see it.
C.M. Mayo: But she saw it! And of course people living a long time ago here, who couldn't hop into their airconditioned car to go down and get some barbecue at Rudy's, they had to have that kind of awareness. They had to have it, it was life or death.
Greg Williams: One of the most fun things out here for me is children, when people bring the kids. The kids don't hide how they feel, and you can see an aha moment in a kid in a second, and I go to them, and they're fresh, they're clean, they're not poisoned yet, you know? And, again, without wordsno preaching you give this thing to this child which will be with that child all of its life. And man, you better not make a mistake. You better be right. You better do the right thing. You better say the right thing. It's a remarkable responsibility, and I see it that way.
But we have a lot of groups of kids that come out here, not here to Meyers, this is really not a place for children, but to the White Shaman and to Fate Bell, and one of the most fun things is to take kids, and they have the greatest questions, and they have more questions than adults, and they want to know, and they listen to what you say. You have to be careful. But I've had experiences as a child, and so have you, that you still remember.
C.M. Mayo: Sure.
Greg Williams: Some good, some bad. Any experience as a child, you remember the really good ones and the really bad ones. You remember them clearly.
C.M. Mayo: Yeah.
Greg Williams: And the good ones have guided you, shaped who you are, whether you wanted them to or not. You know what I'm saying.
C.M. Mayo: I do.
Greg Williams: But it is a great pleasure for us to do this. We have a foundation of wonderful people. You've met a lot of them today. I'm sure you liked every one of them.
C.M. Mayo: It was a really nice group.
Greg Williams: They're good folks. And we just get a lot of fun out of doing this and we come here, this group comes here twice a year to do this, and it's the same people, Janie and Lacey and Ken and John and Mike. We all are singing from the same hymn book, and without words, we know why we're here. You could ask any one of these people to do anything for you and they would, because it's never about them. It's always about somebody else.
C.M. Mayo: What's the future for the Rock Art Foundation, the goals or the challenges that you see coming up?
Greg Williams: We're concerned about conservation of the sites that are here, and since we are not scientists, we give money to research, we support several different groups that do that kind of thing, research the mud dauber problem, which is a significant issue...
C.M. Mayo: That's the little bugs making their nests that look like little grey pimples.
Greg Williams: They make it on the art and once they put it on the art, the art is destroyed. It won't come off. So the only thing we can do is support that with funding because we're not scientists, and we have the ability to that because we have the money to do that, but that's not what we're about. What we're about is these tours. So we're going to continue to do that. We're always trying to open up more tours, different places and we do that. We've opened up one just this past year, a place called Painted Shelter on the Rio Grande River. As we meet new landowners and but that's our focus.
We maintain a pretty good size bank account for two reasons, to support research which we don't do, and to support land acquisition if something is endangered and we can purchase it, if it's for sale
C.M. Mayo: That's what happened with White Shaman, right?
Greg Williams: Right. We'll do that.
C.M. Mayo: That was going to be an RV park.
Greg Williams: There were some people coming in there wanting to build an RV park and that's kind of what we heard. The rancher that was going to sell it knew who we were and, long story short, we acquired it, it's actually 400 acres, not in our planning to do that, we don't want to own land, that's not what we're about. But it was the right thing to do at that time, and we own that, and we always will. We don't actively seek to purchase land, but if something is endangered, we need to have the ability to grab it, and we do, and we maintain funds for that.
C.M. Mayo: So much of the important rock art, though, is in really obscure places.
Greg Williams: Most all of it is in very obscure places!
C.M. Mayo: So like some little oasis on the tibutary... so from the highway you would never guess that there would be rock art sites out here because it just looks like desert.
Greg Williams: Yeah. Most of the rock art is on private ranches, old family ranches, and the ranchers are probably the best stewards of all. If they don't know what they have we try to teach them what they have, and in knowing, then it becomes important to them like it's important to us. And we want the ranchers to own the sites. We don't want to own them. Again, they can be the best stewards of rock art that there is, these old family ranches, and we want them to allow us to take people out there for all the things I talked about, and they do. There's some that won't and I understand it, they're scared of liability and somebody is going to break a leg and sue them, we maintain a very large insurance policy for all the ranchers, we sign a policy for everyone. And some won't allow us on the ranch, and I get it, I don't have a problem with it. But that's what we do. So the future of the foundation is that.
C.M. Mayo: To continue expanding, to have more sites where you can lead people.
Greg Williams: When we can, but again, we're not the scientists, we're not the museums. This is what we do. We support everyone else that we can. We offer we give student scholarships to the high school in Comstock. Comstock has been so supportive of what we do. That's our way of giving backm and we take the top two or three high school seniors every year and scholarship them for college. Small scholarships, not complete rides.
We scholarship research agencies. We're working on a DNA project now to find out where these people came from.
C.M. Mayo: That would be fascinating.
Greg Williams: It is, and we've gotten some preliminary information, but we're just beginning and nobody has done that here yet.
C.M. Mayo: Really?
Greg Williams: It's hard to believe that they haven't done it. So we're 50,000 dollars into that project right now, and raising more money to do that, and this is going to be a long term research project.
You just saw the end of a huge project here with the restoration of Camp Meyers. That's not been done before. That's the first time. No government. It's on the National Registry of Historic Places but we have no government funding, didn't ask for it, no government, no agency funding, didn't ask for it. We called all the people to tell them what we were going to do, to be sure that we were doing the right thing, we were, it's private property. In Texas, if you own the land you can do whatever you want with it, but we made the phone calls because it was the right thing to do. And you saw today, it had never been done before.
And we're a very small group, very non-political, whereas a university or a museum may not be able to do the things that we do because of you know, the politics of we're not that way. They told me, they said, "Greg, you can't do that. You don't have..." You know, I said, "I can do whatever I want. I can do that. I don't care." If the people who oppose what we're doing want to dance in our front yard, I don't care. It doesn't make a difference to me. I know the right thing to do. I have lots of folks who I counsel with, I don't make simple decisions by myself, and so we move quickly doing what we think the right thing is to do, and we're not a political organization at all so we can move very fast, and it's an awful lot of fun.
C.M. Mayo: What's next? I mean, this was a big project that you just finished to do the
Greg Williams: Right now it's a time for me to take a breath. What you saw today was not easy. It was emotional for people, it was tough to do, we had challenges, we had people that weren't thinking the same way that were working on it. We had some problems and that's one of the reasons it took three and a half years to do it.
And we have this DNA project that we're working on. We just finished raising an amount of money that takes us into phase two. I just sent the last check out day before yesterday.
So right now I'm sitting back with my head spinning. Meyer Springs has really not been a Rock Art Foundation project, it's been a project that I've worked with the landowner on. We've not spent any Rock Art Foundation money here doing that because it's not rock art, it's not what we do. It's just a historical military structure.
C.M. Mayo: That happens to be near the rock art.
Greg Williams: It's something I was very interested in, and so I kind of pushed it around and through, but I told our board, I said, "I'm not going to spend foundation money doing this. This is something... I'm going to spend my time, and you guys don't pay me anything anyway."
And we're all very proud of what we've done here, more proud of what the landowner has done here because he's the one that funded it.
So I don't have an answer to your question. I don't know what the next step is. I'm not sure I want a next step right now. I want to kind of decompress. I want to do a better job in doing what we do, and you can always do a better job, and what we did today we could do better.
C.M. Mayo: It was great, though.
Greg Williams: I know it was. I enjoyed every minute of it and everybody else did too, but I want to do a better job. I want to do a job that's safer. We had four guides here today. That's very unusual. Normally there's just one. I want to increase our guide staff, and I want to do operational things I think right now. We're in kind of an operational change mode right now, but next big projects, I don't have anything in my sights.
C.M. Mayo: Well, the two things that occur to me that there's a lot more rock art going farther west into Big Bend, and I know a lot of that is on private land, a lot of that, just like here, it's inaccessible.
Greg Williams: Right.
C.M. Mayo: And Mexico. The same art that we see here, also comes down into Mexico.
Greg Williams: Yes. And to the Burros. The archaeologist that's closely associated with our foundation is Dr. Solveig Turpin, and Solveig spent years roaming around down in Mexico, and I may be speaking out of class, I'm not sure, but I would think that most of the rock art that's here is across the border. The Burros are full of rock art and it's wilderness down there, but the conditions in Mexico are not such that we would ever set up any kind of tours over there. It just... the kind of liabilities involved over there are just something we can't address. I personally have never been over there and seen it, but I've seen lots of photographs.
C.M. Mayo: I would just love to see more communication and coordination in that regard, but I understand liability is always a huge issue.
Greg Williams: Well, Mexico, I mean, you know better than anybody, it's a little Mexico is tough right now.
C.M. Mayo: It depends on the area.
Greg Williams: Especially along the border.
C.M. Mayo: The border is dicey.
Greg Williams: And the borderlands are I mean, we saw a downturn in tourism because of all the press that the borderlands got, but we never really saw the danger, never experienced that. I mean, I know it's real.
C.M. Mayo: Yes.
Greg Williams: You go to Del Rio late at night and you see all the black Suburbans in front of all the bars, I mean, I know it's real. I encourage people not to go over there along the border lands and that's not something we're going to do.
C.M. Mayo: Well, but coming back to rock art.... I'm just in awe of what you guys do.
Greg Williams: It is the most pleasurable thing. We laugh a lot. Most rock art people are smiling all the time.
C.M. Mayo: Yeah. Everybody on the tour was really happy.
Greg Williams: We have an awful lot of fun and we do it and what makes it this way, there's no money in it.
C.M. Mayo: It just comes from the heart.
Greg Williams: It's just all about the heart. Nobody profits by this whatsoever. If you're here and you're hanging around out here in this desert, it's because you want to be. It's because you want to be connected to this and these people, and what we try to do, and the friendship. We call it the friendship of the fire, the campfire that will be later on tonight. It's just remarkable, it's just an awful lot of fun, and I've talked about a lot of very serious things, mostly very personal things, but getting away from all that, elevate it back up, it's just a fun thing to do.
C.M. Mayo: So anybody can join.
Greg Williams: Sure.
C.M. Mayo: You can just come to rockart.org and click on "membership." Members can come to several of the events.
Greg Williams: Anybody can come anyway. You don't have to be a member to do any well, we have a few tours where
C.M. Mayo: For this one you had to be a member, right?
Greg Williams: No, not this one.
C.M. Mayo: The one on December 13.
Greg Williams: Yeah. Some tours are members only.
Now the reason we do that is of course members get a little nod, but that's not really why we do that. Some of these tours we have to restrict the numbers very carefully because we can't get this many people in hardly any other place. It's just too many people. Too many to watch, to be careful, make sure nobody hurts themselves, so we restrict them that way. That's kind of why we do that, but if you want to be a part of trying to help conserve this archaeological wonder that we have, we do it 35 bucks at a time.
C.M. Mayo: Thirty-five dollars is very reasonable! It's a four hour tour!
Greg Williams: Yeah. But I mean, that's what our membership is too, it's 35 bucks. So if you want to be a member we have a lot of members I've never seen. They just send us the check every year. We do this 35 bucks at a time, and we can do it that cheaply because nobody gets paid.
C.M. Mayo: Well, I thank you. I thank you both for the interview and for the tour, and I thank you for what you do because I loved it.
Greg Williams: Well, I'm glad you came.
C.M. Mayo: I'm very glad I came.
Greg Williams: But all this, every single person that you see here, it's an affair of the heart. It's about nothing else. I know you won't be here tonight, but if you went up and sat beside that old building by yourself tonight at sunset, you'd have a moment.
C.M. Mayo: Oh yeah. Well, speaking of that, I have to ask you what I ask everybody.
Greg Williams: Okay.
C.M. Mayo: Have you seen the Marfa Lights?
Greg Williams: I have and I'll leave it at that.
C.M. Mayo: Oh, tell, tell! I did a whole piece about the Marfa lights, I've seen them and I had many, many people, a lot of old timers, tell me about them, and I love hearing the stories. So
Greg Williams: [Sigh] When I first went there I took a map with me and a compass and a triangle, and I watched those lights, and I took compass headings, and I plotted, and the guy rolls up in a Greyhound bus with all the tourists, and he sits down at the table because he saw I had this map, he didn't know what I was doing. All the tourists were over there against the fence.
C.M. Mayo: Oh, at the Marfa Lights Viewing Station.
Greg Williams: Yeah. And he said, "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm trying to figure out what this is." He says, "Well those are all lights," he said, "They're coming from Presidio over the mountain, those are all headlights in the mountains," and so I looked at that, and I kept drawing lines on my map, and I said, "You know, it could be most of them, but there's some that aren't that way. They're kind of over there and there's no roads there."
I have no clue what those things are, but for a long time I thought they were just headlights from the football game in Presidio. I don't believe that anymore.
C.M. Mayo: I've seen them a bunch. They are not headlights. They are not airplanes. Have you seen any out here?
Greg Williams: No.
C.M. Mayo: No lights out here.
Greg Williams: No.
C.M. Mayo: Thanks for listening. That was Greg Williams, executive director of the Rock Art Foundation.
Next up will be podcast number 16, an interview with Paul Chaplo, photographer, author of Marfa Flights: Aerial Views of Big Bend Country. Paul Chaplo's photographs will be on view at the Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross University in Alpine through January 15, 2015. Don't miss it.
Some of the Marfa Mondays podcasts already online include number 14, Over Burro Mesa and The Kickapoo Ambassadors; number 13, an eye -opening interview with Georgetown University Professor John Tutino, on the history of New Spain, which then included what is now far West Texas; number 12, an interview with Dallas Baxter, founding editor of Cenizo Journal, on living in the Big Bend (watch out, after listening to that one you may want to pack up and move to the Big Bend); number 7, "We Have Seen the Lights," about the Marfa Lights, the eerie phenomena now turned tourist attraction, and many more podcasts.
They're all there,
they're free, listen in anytime on my website,
cmmayo.com. And if you'd like to be notified when new podcasts
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