Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, El Paso
Hueco Tanks are three huge outcropping of igneous rock which resulted about 35 million years ago, when hot lava pushed up and cooled! The rock is a completely different than the soft limestone of the nearby mountains and desert. The cracks and indentations in the rock hold precious water, making it a popular place for people to stop. Ancient Indians first came to seek shelter and water, as well as food from the animals the water attracted, and man has been leaving him mark in the rocks ever since, creating some of the best preserved rock art in the state! The Butterfield Overland Mail also relied on the life-giving water, and the tanks were a way-station on their route. Today, people come from around the world to see the rock art, and the rocks courses offer a premier climbing destination!
Know Before You Go
Take PLENTY of water and sunscreen!
Before entering the park, EVERYONE must watch a short orientation video about the park.
Do not touch the rock art, as the oil in your skin can damage the images.
Because of the fragile nature of the huecos, only a very limited number of people are allowed in the park at one time. To avoid what can be a long wait, make your reservations for park entry in advance.
Park tours do not assure you entrance into the park, so you need to make 2 seperate reservations if you are also doing a tour.
We arrived very early, and there were several cars in the parking lot cooking/tailgating breakfast while they waited their turn in the park!
About the Huecos
Indentions in the rocks, called huecos, can be small or very, very large! The depressions would hold water for days, weeks or months, which attracted wildlife and visitors. Do not step in the Huecos, which may appear dry but contain fairy shrimp which can lie dormant until it rains, providing a food source for the native birds and reptiles.
Hueco Tanks is a World-Class Rock Climbing location, and from November – March the park is full of climbers!
Bouldering is climbing with no rope or harness.
The park offers rock climbing tours, taking you into restricted areas to climb, however they do not offer lessons and you need all your own equipment.
We hired a guide to instruct us. Guides can also take you into the restricted areas, but you can’t explore around while you are there, you can only climb in specific locations.
Since we wanted to see as much as we could, our guide took us to North Mountain, where we could climb and also look around! He had all the equipment we needed, too!
A chain helps you climb up the highest part of the mountain!
Some of the best climbing at Hueco Tanks isn’t up, but under ledges!
My 8-year-old looks so little! You can see the crash pad on the ground, which we moved along under him as he climbed! Crash pads, shoes and more can be rented as the Hueco Tanks Climbing Shop. Click HERE to visit their website.
The Cave Gym, El Paso
Want to practice a few times in a climbing gym BEFORE you try the real thing? The Cave Gym in El Paso is scheduled to open late May, 2016, and can help prepare you, they even have kid’s programs! They will also be offering climbing trips in Hueco Tanks. Ben Waggonner, owner of The Cave, is an American Mountain Guide Association certified climbing instructor and a certified commercial guide for the park, also! Click HERE to visit their facebook page!
Rock Art Tours
I absolutely LOVED the Rock Art Tour at Hueco Tanks! Our guide, Jorge, was incredible at explaining the delicate art in the park, as well as bringing to life the ceremonies of the ancient visitors who left it!
You’ll find both ancient pictographs (drawings) and petroglyphs (carvings in the rock), as well as historic graffiti, like the horse in the picture above, during both the guided tour and while exploring on a self-guided tour on North Mountain, including the Jornada Mollogon mask, dating back thousands of years! My goal is to tell you what to expect on your tour, to read more about the history of the Rock Art at Hueco Tanks, click HERE.
The first thing we did at Hueco Tanks was the guided Rock Art Tour. I booked our tour weeks ahead, and while I recommend booking ahead of time, it is possible to get on a tour as a walk-in. Be sure to call ahead to check on tour dates, as they are not offered every day. Remember, being on a tour does not give you access into the rest of the park without a reservation, so to avoid waiting, make your reservations in advance.
Before your tour, or entering the park, everyone must watch a short video about the park.
Many of the drawings are in tight little caves in the rock, where the artist knew the art would be protected from the elements. They appear to be just tiny little crevices that we climbed into, but once inside there were large spaces!
Much of the Historic Graffiti in the park is from Texas Rangers who also came for the water found here when the rest of the desert was dry!
My youngest son, 8, was busy playing with the rocks on the ground, when Jorge explained to him that each rock there, as well as the dirt and ashes on the ground, are part of the story of Hueco Tanks, and by disturbing even a little rock, you are disrupting it’s story. My son’s 2nd grade class had been assigned a project over spring break from their teacher, to bring back a rock from each place they visited. Instead of rocks, he brought back the story of the rocks, which I think was much more important! (It is against the law to remove rocks from any state park.).
Not part of the tour, but there are also Jornada Mollogon mask inside Kiva Cave on North Mountain.
We followed a large herd of javalinas as they crossed through a parking lot and headed down toward the campsites. There were very little ones, and some older ones in the back.
There are about 20 camping sites at Hueco Tanks, but we didn’t camp and I don’t have any pictures. No campfires or charcoal fires are allowed in the park.
We stayed at a climber hostel just outside the park, Hueco Hacienda. We absolutely loved it, and it was VERY family friendly. Click HERE to read more about it.
Things To Do in El Paso
We loved going to the top of Franklin Mountain on the Wyler Aerial Tramway!
The rolled tacos, deep-fried and covered in enchilada sauce at Chicos Tacos have an almost cult following! My husband loved them so much he got a shirt, and whenever he wears it, someone stops him to talk about Chico’s!
Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site
6900 Hueco Tanks Road No. 1, El Paso
Click HERE to visit their website.
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