Hueco Tanks is an area of low mountains in El Paso County, Texas, USA. It is located in a high-altitude desert basin between the Franklin Mountains to the west and the Hueco Mountains to the east. Hueco is a Spanish word meaning hollows and refers to the many water-holding depressions in the boulders and rock faces throughout the region. Hueco Tanks is thus a redundant phrase. Due to the unique concentration of historic artifacts, plants and wildlife, the site is under protection of Texas law; it is an offense to alter or destroy them, although before the park was formed, considerable changes were attempted during private ownership. At one time, the site was the Escontrias Ranch. It was a stagecoach stop for the Butterfield Stage, the names of Texas Rangers, US Cavalrymen, and the artifacts and paintings of Native Americans attest to its historic nature.
Hueco Tanks State Historic Site is located approximately 32 miles (51 km) northeast of El Paso, Texas, accessible via El Paso's Montana Avenue (U.S. Highway 62/U.S. Highway 180), by turning at RM 2775. The park consists of three syenite (a weak form of granite) mountains; it is 860 acres (3.5 km2) in area and is popular for recreation such as birding and bouldering. The syenite pluton was formed 34-38 million years ago, as part of a larger range, the Hueco Mountains, which range in age to over 320 million years ago, when this area was covered by an inland sea. The pluton was eventually exposed through weathering to form the rock formations visible today, which jut from the desert floor. The site contains enough water to support live oaks (a specimen is visible in the image to the right) and junipers, species which survive from the last ice age. Freshwater shrimp and spadefoot toads survive at the site (for this reason, visitors are cautioned against touching the pools of water at Hueco Tanks to avoid destroying the eggs of the animals of the site, for example).
The syenite rock formation is covered with 'desert patina' (visible in the image below), the result of thousands of years of weathering of the rock surface by sun, sand, and water; the site is culturally and spiritually significant to many Native Americans, such as the Mescalero Apache, the Kiowa, the Hopi, and the Pueblo people. This significance is partially manifested in the pictographs (rock paintings) that can be found throughout the region, some of which are thousands of years old. Hueco Tanks contains the single largest concentration of mask paintings by Native Americans in North America, of which hundreds exist at this site.
In centuries past, the region was inhabited by various peoples, from the Paleo-Indians who used Folsom points to hunt the Megafauna of North America, to the people of the 'Jornada Mogollon' (pronounced mo-goi-YONE). This site was once a Jornada Mogollon village, according to an archaeological dig of the ground between North Mountain and West Mountain. By about 700 years ago, the population of the village could no longer be sustained by the small agricultural area surrounding Hueco Tanks. At this point, a population shift occurred and settlements were formed on the nearby playas to the south, west, and northwest. There, they flourished until about 1450 A.D. when the area suffered from a series of severe droughts. Although it took time, by about 1600 A.D. the region was inhabited by the Apache people, who moved in from Canada (see the Athabascans).
This site had originally attracted people due to its critical resource needed to survive life in the desert-water. The huge rocks and boulders have cracks and are pocketed with holes-huecos that trap and hold rainwater for months at a time. Passing people found this out and had made it known for future travelers by encrypting the walls with pictures and symbols on the rocks.
Hueco Tanks is also widely regarded as one of the best areas in the world for bouldering (rock climbing, low enough to attempt without ropes for protection), unique for its rock type, the concentration and quality of the climbing. In any given climbing season, which generally lasts from October through March, it is common for climbers from across Europe, Asia, and Australia to visit the park. Since implementation of the Public Use Plan, following a brief closure of the entire park due to the park service's inability to manage the growing crowds of international climbers, volunteer or commercial guides are required to access more than 2/3 of the park's area. Only North Mountain is accessible without guides, and then only for about 70 people at any given time. The park offers camping and showers for about $7.00 a day or, as is most popular for climbers, the nearby Hueco Rock Ranch offers camping where climbers can relax and socialize. This is also where commercial guides can be found, and where many volunteer guides stay during the climbing season.
Hueco's future as a climbing site is currently in deep question, threatening closure pending the site's transfer to the Texas Historical Commission. The Texas Historical Commission has a policy of closing sites to climbing due to damage to vegetation, damage to rock formations, and issues with trash clean-up. Climbers contend that these concerns are exaggerated.
- Sutherland 1996 p.25
- Video of Hueco Tanks State Historic Site and Climbing opportunities
- Sutherland 1996 p.18 and also title page.
- Interpretive Center, Orientation Video, Hueco Tanks State Historic Site, 2009-12-26
- Spadefoot toads have re-spawned in Hueco Tanks, September 2010, due to the heavy monsoon rains this year. —Ed Woton, Interpretive Guide, Hueco Tanks State Historic Site, Oct 17, 2010.
- Konate, a Kiowa was wounded at Hueco Tanks during an 1839 ambush by Mexican militia. Konate survived to return to his home in Oklahoma, where the story was preserved.
- Forrest Kirkland & W.W. Newcomb (1967), Rock Art of the Texas Indians, Austin: University of Texas Press. Kirkland distinguishes two different styles of mask: 1) the outline mask 2) the solid mask.
- "Hueco Tanks." Texas Beyond History. Jan. 2008. Web. 22 Mar. 2011. <http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/hueco/story.html>.
- "Texas Beyond History". Retrieved January 2008.
- Sutherland, Kay, Ph.D. (1996). Rock Paintings at Hueco Tanks State Historical Park. Austin, Texas: Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. PWD-BK-P4503-095D-1291.
- Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine, September 2004, The Rocks that Speak, Carol Flake Chapman, p41-45.
- Turquoise Ridge and Late Prehistoric Residential Mobility in the Desert Mogollon Region, Whalen, Michael E., Salt Lake City University of Utah Press, 1994.
- Gale Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, Volume II, p203-205. (Mogollon)
- Firecracker Pueblo discusses the extent of the Jornada Mogollon.
- "Hueco Tanks State Historic Site Park information". Retrieved April 14, 2013.
- The rock paintings at Hueco Tanks - Online version of the Sutherland booklet cited above.
- South and West Texas: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary
- Hueco Rock Ranch for climbers.