The Sierra de San Francisco
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The approximately 300 different painted caves and shelters thus far discovered in the Great Mural area vary widely in size, exposure, rock condition, and other factors that affect the survival of painted art. Many combinations are possible. Large, well overhung shelters often were formed from soft rock and lost their paintings quickly. Here, a small, little-protected site at El Brinco includes a durable rock surface that preserves an attractive group of paintings (below left).
A striking display of Great Mural art (above right) is hidden in a vast open cave high above a minor watercourse in a central but particularly inaccessible part of the sierra . Durable rock and good protection explain the well-preserved paintings of men, women, deer, rabbits, and fish. The remoteness of such places from scenes of hunting or food gathering and the relative absence of artifacts suggest that people visited them only to produce the huge paintings and then to commune with them.
A minor cave with major art, Boca de San Julio is about 70 feet long and 8 to 12 feet high, unfortunately the stone of Boca de San Julio is quite soft - it sheds its substance in a constant sloughing of grains, and all the paintings have been damaged in the process. At the west end is the greatest concentration of works, several large and small deer much overpainted. Under them are a large number of smaller figures including rabbits, birds, monos (actually half-monos as at Cueva de las Flechas), and an odd half-red, half-black image in a damaged state, that appears to be a depiction of a chubby seal or sea lion
. At the right end is an exceptional show. Four birds rendered in dark red, pink, and white decorate one small rock panel. All are badly damaged, but mercifully the two larger ones
are in good enough condition that facsimiles can be made. These depictions of birds with wing spreads of about 30 inches appear to represent some sort of shorebird or water fowl; perhaps one is a cormorant and the other a duck or goose. In each case the painting is beautiful; the basic form has been drawn in dark red and the whole image is outlined in pink and white. The technique makes the display of flight feathers appear alternately red and pink.
Harry Crosby takes notes while sitting below the east end of the single, 50-foot-long painted panel at Boca de San Julio
, one of the Sierra de San Francisco's most beautiful and readily accessible small sites. In addition to elegant images of deer, the cave is notable for paintings of several shorebirds with elaborate plumage.
Cuesta de San Pablo, the walls of this cave eroded from a gray conglomerate made up of fine particles. The form of the eroded surface is unusual in that it mimics the character of draped material. This curtained pattern parts to leave two fairly smooth clear areas about twelve feet high. That on the left was decorated with a rather stylish if unintentional grouping of three distinguishable figures (below left): a deer; a gato montés, or bobcat; and a mono. The bobcat closely resembles the Painters' depiction of a mountain lion except that it bears a well-defined, stubby tail.
Cuesta de San Pablo I
Cuesta de San Pablo II
A few subjects made up the majority of the Painters' artistic images; humans and deer abound. However, if one is patient and looks into every corner, he will find diversity. Here, in a small cave at Cuesta de San Pablo (above right), seldom-portrayed manta rays provide the principal show. The Painters visited their two shores and knew many forms of sea life in detail - as they proved with skillfully created images of fish, turtles, sea mammals, and shorebirds placed on cave walls 25 miles from the nearest arm of the sea.
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