Hueco Tanks State Historic Site

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Hueco Tanks
East Mountain at Hueco Tanks
Located in Texas within El Paso County
Located in Texas within El Paso County
Hueco Tanks
Located in Texas within El Paso County
Located in Texas within El Paso County
Hueco Tanks
Nearest cityEl Paso, Texas
Coordinates31°55′13″N 106°02′19″W / 31.92028°N 106.03861°W / 31.92028; -106.03861Coordinates: 31°55′13″N 106°02′19″W / 31.92028°N 106.03861°W / 31.92028; -106.03861
Area738.5 acres (298.9 ha)
NRHP reference #71000930[1]
Significant dates
Prehistoric1000-1499 AD
Historic Aboriginal1500-1824
Added to NRHPJuly 14, 1971
Designated TSHSJune 12, 1969

Hueco Tanks State Historic Site is a Texas historic site in the Hueco Tanks area, approximately 32 miles (51 km) northeast of central El Paso, Texas. The park is popular for recreation such as birding and bouldering, and is culturally and spiritually significant to many Native Americans. This significance is partially manifested in the pictographs (rock paintings) that can be found throughout the region, many of which are thousands of years old.[2]



Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site was obtained from the county by special deed on June 12, 1969, and by purchase of 121 additional acres on August 10, 1970. This site was opened to the public in May 1970. This 860.3-acre park is named for the large natural rock basins or "huecos" that have furnished a supply of trapped rainwater to dwellers and travelers in this arid region of west Texas for millennia.[3]

The park consists of three syenite (a weak form of granite) mountains. 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 adjacent image) 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).[4][5]

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,[6] 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.[7]


In addition to the fascinating and diverse plants and animals of this section of the Chihuahuan Desert, of unusual interest in the rock basins are seasonal explosions of tiny, translucent freshwater shrimps that attract gray foxes, bobcats, prairie falcons, golden eagles, lizards, and other predators.[8]

Early inhabitants[edit]

Metates and White Horned Dancer in the Cave of the White Horned Dancer,[9] Hueco Tanks

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.[10] 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.[11]


A unique legacy of lively and fantastic rock paintings greets are found at the "tanks." From Archaic hunters and foragers of thousands of years ago to relatively recent Mescalero Apaches, Native Americans have drawn strange mythological designs and human and animal figures on the rocks of the area. The site's notable pictographs also include more than 200 face designs or "masks" left by the prehistoric Jornada Mogollon culture. Apaches, Kiowas, and earlier Indian groups camped here and left behind pictographs telling of their adventures. These tanks also served as watering places for the Butterfield Overland Mail Route.

Outdoor activities[edit]

Bouldering on North Mountain at Hueco Tanks

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, and after which the Hueco bouldering grades are named. 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 a small fee 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. In February an outdoor bouldering competition known as the Hueco Rock Rodeo is held. The event is a world class outdoor competition that attracts many professional climbers every year.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. ^ Mulvihill, K. "On Rock Walls, Painted Prayers to Rain Gods", The New York Times. September 19, 2008. Retrieved 9/19/08.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Interpretive Center, Orientation Video, Hueco Tanks State Historic Site, 2009-12-26
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Sutherland 1996 p.18 and also title page.
  10. ^ "Hueco Tanks." Texas Beyond History. Jan. 2008. Web. 22 Mar. 2011. <>.
  11. ^ "Texas Beyond History". Retrieved September 2, 2016.

External links[edit]