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Mankind and wildlife, both ancient and modern-day, have been attracted to this state park in west Texas
By Kathy Thompson
Down through the years these ancients were followed by the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa. Prairie schooners on the "Texas Route" and the Texas 49ers bound for the gold mines of California passed through, and in the 1850s the Butterfield Overland Mail Route from St. Louis to San Francisco stopped off at The Tanks. Always, one thing remained constant, the water in the huecos. It was the traveler's lifeblood.
Today, the popular Hueco Tanks State Historical Park strives to preserve the history of those who used this oasis, from the ancient hunter–gathers, to the last owners who raised sheep and goats on this land until 1956 when the park was purchased by the state of Texas.
Visitors to the 860–acre park can hike miles of trail winding in and out of the massive granite mounds, consisting of the North, West and East Mountains.
You can literally spend days exploring these curious pockmarked rock formations. All ages and physical levels can find many ways to enjoy the park. Even just sitting and contemplating the setting sun across the rocks while listening to a plethora of birds can do wonders for one's soul.
Basis for Oasis
While walking the trails, notice the course, igneous soils underfoot that act like a sponge. This soil is adept at capturing and holding the waters that help create an oasis of Arizona oak and one–seed Juniper woodland within the granite mounds.
You'll also find ocotillo, cacti, feather dalea, fragrant sumac and beebush. During the summer monsoon season, 10 different species of fern appear and wild flowers galore, all abuzz with the attendant birds and insects in search of pollen.
Scrambling over and around these granite mounds, you'll find where many of the ancients left their mark while spending time at the Tanks, enjoying the bounty of water and wildlife. These galleries of irreplaceable prehistoric art scattered throughout the rocks represent at least three distinct cultural periods: the Desert Archaic, the Jornada Branch of the Mogollon Culture (from about 1000 to 1500 C.E.) and the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa Indians period.
There are an estimated 5000 pictographs (rock paintings), some dating back as many as 6000 years. Most rock art remains enigmatic but the Kiowa left tales of war. One example in particular has been traced to the 1839 battle between the Kiowa and Mexican soldiers. Although most of the rock art is rock painting, some is chipped out of the rock, called petroglyphs.
The rocks that once meant shelter and water to the ancients have become a modern haven for rock climbers. Hueco Tanks is world–renown for its premier rock–climbing. Experienced climbers from all over the world head for the area during the peak climbing months of October through March for the warmth and what many consider to be the best winter climbing in the United States.
Bouldering (free climbing without a rope, just a spotter) is one of the park’s key attractions for the adventurous. If you want to know more about the sport you can pick up
Huecos Tanks, a Climbing and Bouldering Guide
, by John Sherman at the visitor's center.
Climbers aren't the only creatures that flock to the Tanks in the winter months to enjoy the warm weather. Migrating birds are drawn to the area by the steady supply of water and woodland of oaks and junipers.
It's one of the few—and far between—resting spots on the migratory flyway over West Texas. More than 150 species of birds have been observed, including the rare Lawrence's Goldfinch to the more common sandpipers and ducks.
Nature's abundance comes out in other ways in this area, too. The seasonal monsoons in the summer months spark explosions of tadpole–size translucent shrimp in the huecos that entice hungry gray fox, bobcat, prairie falcons, golden eagles and occasionally enable the rare sighting of a mountain lion.
This desert region supports the greatest diversity of animal life in Texas, according to the park guides, and even small mammals and reptiles are especially well represented at Hueco Tanks. A favorite is the horny toad, and if you look real close, you can see it blending in with the rocky soils. You may even have the good luck to spot a gray fox in the late afternoon or early morning.
Camping facilities consist of 20 campsites, three with water nearby, that are best for tent campers; and 17 RV campsites with water and electricity. A restroom with showers, a playground, and a sanitary dump station are on–site. The park is open every day year–round. The busiest times are the spring and holiday weekends.
If You Go
Average temperatures range from 44 degrees F in January to 82 degrees F in July. Reservations are recommended and can be made up to 90 days in advance by calling 915/857–1135, or writing to the Park Superintendent at Hueco Tanks State Historical Park, Hueco Tanks Road, Rural Route 3, Box 1, El Paso, Texas 79935. Heuco Tanks State Park is located in El Paso County, 32 miles east of El Paso on Ranch Road 2775, just north of U.S. Highway 62–180.