Texas Travel

City Spotlight: Paint Rock

By Chet Garner 3.4.22

Have you ever heard of Texas Big Country? It’s right around San Angelo and Abilene in an area that’s not quite Hill Country, not quite Panhandle, and not quite West Texas. Although it’s the Big Country, there’s a town so small here that it doesn’t even have a stoplight. It’s called Paint Rock, and small or not, it’s got everything it needs to be the county seat of Concho County — and something a little more.

Paint Rock

How Paint Rock Got Its Name

Just a few miles from town on the north side of the Concho River stands the 70-foot-tall limestone bluff that gave Paint Rock its name. The bluff is decorated with more than 1,500 paintings, making Paint Rock (the site, not the town) one of the largest collections of tribal pictographs in the country. That’s what makes Paint Rock so special — most Texas rock art is found further south. So how did it get here?

It wasn’t just Native American tribes who left their artwork on this bluff; some of the paintings are thought to date back to prehistoric times. Others were made by Jumano, Apache, and Tonkawa people long ago, and others made far later by tribes such as the Comanches in the 1800s.

The paintings are absolutely awesome. They depict animals and humans, spirits and rituals, handprints (thought to be the equivalent of an artist’s signature or perhaps simply a “Kilroy was here” kinda thing), and even one that looks like a Spanish mission building. Recently, it was also discovered that some of these paints work a bit like sundials — shadows from the solstices interact with the paint, becoming part of the scene.

Today, the Paint Rock bluffs are part of the private Chaparral Ranch, which gives tours to the public, so you can see the art yourself. If you’re in the area (or just a historical bluff buff), it’s a mandatory stop.

Paint Rock

The Town Itself

There are less than 300 residents in Paint Rock proper, so there’s not a whole lot going on in town. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see! First of all, there’s a blacksmith store in town called 3 Nail Ironware that hand-forges the most beautiful skillets and pans you’ve ever seen. Ask for a tour and you can watch the family do amazing work.

The only place in town to eat is the gas station, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s called Paint Rock Grocery, and they have a little grill in the back whipping up burgers and homemade pies. It’s quintessentially small-town and quintessentially delicious.

If you’re just passing through, there’s another cool restaurant not far southwest of Paint Rock in the old Eola School, in a 1920s-era schoolhouse building now operated by Farm Ale Brewing Co.; you eat in the classrooms with blackboards around you. They’ve even got gyms open for hoop-shooting and pickleball. Outside, they’ve got cornhole and live music. Pretty great school if you ask me.

If you’re the outdoorsy type, check out O.H. Ivie Lake, right where the Concho and Colorado rivers combine. It’s great for kayaking and boating, and you can’t beat the fishing here.

Explore more Texas towns with the Daytripper here.

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