Hueco Tanks State Park

Hueco Tanks State Park is a famous rock climbing destination (primarily bouldering), a sacred place for Indian tribes, a historical site, and a place of political controversy. It's the only park I know of that makes you watch a twenty-minute video filled with do's and don'ts before you can camp there. The video orientation is because the park is home to still-undeciphered and fragile petroglyphs and pictographs and also because of the park's historical and religious significance to the recently-recognized Tigua and other Indians. Therefore, you're advised to tread lightly and not break anything.

Hueco is 32 miles east of El Paso, TX off US Highway 62/180. Head north at the junction with FM 2775. It's a fairly small park, consisting of a North, East, and West Mountain, although they're quite small mountains. Only North Mountain can be accessed without a ranger guide. The Texas parks page has the official word and some pictures.

For the unofficial word, including a difficult-to-follow discussion of the PURP ("Public Use-Restriction Plan") that restricted access to all but North Mountain, go here. The claim appears to be that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wants to convert the park into a museum of a sort and keep all rock climbers out. As can be expected, some people say the glass is half full. Here's some historical background with notes on the controversy.

But, wait, there's more, even a connection with Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff:

[Representative Robert Ney of Ohio], 51, in 2002 agreed to insert language in federal legislation to allow an Abramoff client, the Tigua Indians of El Paso, Texas, to reopen a casino closed by state authorities. The provision didn't make it into the final measure.

On a less controversial note, here's more information on birding there, and here's some climbing info. The pictographs might go back to the 600s. Some pictures are here, and the computer process by which pictographs which are nearly invisible can be seen is illustrated here. More on the historical side of things here.

The name refers to hollows (the Spanish meaning of "hueco") in the rocks which contains collected rain water. These have served as a water source for thirsty travellers for hundreds or thousands of years, thus explaining the large collection of petroglyphs from disparate groups. Here's a hueco:

hueco tanks water

I spent a chilly December 4th, 2003 in the campground there. The temperature was above freezing, and at first I hadn't set up the rain fly. Then, at around 10pm the wind stormed in, making it quite cold. It was probably in the 20s with the wind chill. I put up the rain fly and spent the night hearing the flapping of the tent. At least there were stars:

hueco tanks night stars

(Camera settings: ISO 400, f2.8, and 32-second exposure. That's the longest that my Minolta DImage 5 is capable of besides the bulb, and I didn't have a remote shutter with me.)

In the morning, I took the Pictograph tour, led by the park's superintendent, John Moses. Unfortunately, the others in the tour weren't 5.16 climbers like me, and they slowed it down a bit. Despite that, I saw several ancient pictographs, as well as some from when this was a stop on the Butterfield stage in the late 1800s. Much to everyone's chagrin, there's also some graffitti from much more modern times. What's even worse is that after being on the rock for a few years, the graffitti becomes basically part of the rock and cannot be removed. That partly explains the video orientation.

After the guided tour, I took the chain trail up and over the North Mountain. The chains weren't necessary, but if you were carrying a heavy load they might. I then explored the top and looked for a way off that didn't involve a rope, since I didn't have a rope. I saw several huecos on top, some of which were filled with water. The name "Waco" is apparently derived from the "Waco Indians," and their name may be related.


United States
31° 55' 34.464" N, 106° 2' 32.352" W
May 6, 2006 – 9:43pm