By Nanci Dixon
Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site is a magical destination just east of El Paso, Texas. It’s named for the rock depressions, the tanks, that have held life-sustaining rainwater in the high desert for thousands of years. The Tanks created an oasis for wildlife, vegetation and native peoples.
It was a gathering place for native tribes more than 15,000 years ago, as evidenced by the hand paintings (pictographs) in the deep rock crevices. Later native peoples of the Southwest left pictographs and petroglyphs that are recognizable – horses, people, snakes, masks, and maps. It was later a relay station for the Butterfield Overland Mail, a cattle ranch for 50 years and, finally, a tourist attraction before the state took it over in 1969.
Hueco Tanks is one of the best bouldering destinations in the country. Bouldering, similar to rock climbing, is climbing over boulders without assistance – no ropes, harnesses, anchors or crash pads. To maintain the area, only 72 people a day are issued permits to hike, climb and have access to the boulders. Each bouldering route is referred to as a problem. Ironically, while we were there, I bouldered and got into several problems! I found out that the best way out of one of the downhill “problems” was on my problem-solving bottom. Ha!
Because of the fragile nature of the park, Hueco Tanks requires all visitors and campers to watch an orientation video before going into the park and carry the certification card with them. Plan on checking in at least an hour before the park ranger station closes. Guided tours are available of the most prominent and fragile pictographs. We were lucky enough to have a ranger lead us into a deep crevice high on the mountain to show us the rock paintings made by nomadic tribes 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. As we slid down the deep crevice he pointed out how slick the rocks were from hands and bodies sitting on the rocks for thousands of years.
The campsites in the park have a picnic shelter, water and electricity with several sites large enough for 35- to 40-foot rigs. The views are amazing. The days we were there were hot, in the 80s, and the nights chilly, in the low 30s.
As it is a much-sought-after area for hiking, climbing and camping, make reservations for one of the 20 campsites and a separate reservation to explore the boulders and pictographs early. It fills up fast! You can learn more about booking a site here.