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2/10 - 2/13/2014 - Hueco Tanks State Park

We left Balmorhea State Park on Monday morning (2/10) and headed west about 200 miles to our next stop, Hueco Tanks State Park.  We drove through desert areas with mountains in the background.  It seemed we were in the middle of nowhere but once we got to the park, civilization (El Paso) was only about 30 miles further west.

This was probably the most interesting park that we've been to in Texas.  Hueco Tanks State Park is a State Park and Historic Site.  Hueco is a Spanish word meaning hollows and refers to the many water-holding depressions in the boulders and rock faces throughout the park. There are numerous pictographs and petroglyphs throughout the park, many in hard to reach canyons.

This park is also world famous for bouldering (rock climbing).  The mountains are low enough that climbing without ropes is common.  It was interesting to see the climbers hike into the park carrying their crash pads on their backs.  Not quite sure how much help the crash pads are if they fall but they all had them.  Climbers come from all parts of the world to challenge their skills on these mountains.  

This park probably has more rules and regulations than any of the others we've been to.  Access to the park and campground was between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m ONLY.  No one was allowed to enter or leave after 6:00 p.m. except for emergencies.  There were three mountains but un-guided hiking was only allowed on north mountain and only 70 hikers/climbers were allowed on that mountain at one time.  Anyone wanting to hike had to register at the park office and if 70 hikers were already on north mountain, they had to wait until someone came back.  The other two mountains could only be accessed with a guide.  Guided tours were offered most morning and we signed up for one on Wednesday.  The main reason for so many restrictions is the damage that has already been done to the pictographs and petroglyphs and to the fragile desert landscape.

 This is a Tlaloc, a pictograph that seems to depict an upside-down person


Graffiti from a "49er"

Pictograph
Solid red mask painted to the curved wall of a cave - pictograph
Our guide, John, has been a camp host at this park for many years usually staying about six months at
a time.  Our group of 12 met at the interpretive center and started our hike.  We stopped often as John pointed out the different desert plants and explained their uses.  We also learned the history of the park.  It was the Escontrias Family Ranch from 1898 until 1956.  It was also a stagecoach stop for the Butterfield Stage which ran from St. Louis to San Francisco.  It ran this far south to avoid the inclement weather of the plains.

We hiked into the canyon and John told us that he was 83 years old and had had a knee replacement.  He told us this so that no one would have an excuse not to try the rock climbing necessary to reach some of the pictographs.  Well, I took one look at the rocks and knew there was no way I was doing it.  The going up may not have been too bad but I always worry about the coming down!  I'm quite happy looking at the pictures Marty takes. 

No Way!  I may be a wimp but I'm a happy wimp.
The mountain goat people
We stayed three nights at Hueco Tanks.  We thought about staying one more night because we realized that Carlsbad Cavern was only 2 1/2 hours away and we would like to see them.  In the end, we decided to continue on west and save Carlsbad for a future trip.