Hueco Tanks. The stories and more.

Well we finally made it to Hueco Tanks, a Texas State Park located about 30 miles away from El Paso.  It is about an hour from our house through a sketchy part of town but once you get outside the city, the desert is beautiful.  Once you enter the wild area there is a huge discouraging quarry that is eating away at what little resources the desert offers.  The company is harvesting cement materials but a lot of it is being swept away by the wind. 

Travel farther down the road and you start to notice the random rocks that make up Hueco Tanks.  Hueco means “hollow” and tanks refers to water storage.  What happened in this area is magma heated up and rose to the surface.  The magma did not erupt into liquid but instead rose up and then retreated back into the Earth.  The gases that were left over crept up out of the magma over time and created air pockets that stayed behind in the rocks. The limestone was eroded away and now a granite “like” rock with several characteristic huecos is left.  When you enter the park you must pay a small fee ($5) and watch a video to understand the importance of not altering the park.

The area has many pictographs dating back thousands of years ago to archaic hunter gatherers to Indian cultures.  Hueco Tanks was a very important stopping ground for water for travelers moving across the arid desert.  Even in drought periods there are areas in the park that would still have potable water.  We visited one of those sites! 

We took a pictograph tour at the park that lasted about four hours, although it is only supposed to last two.  Every time the guide asked if we wanted to take a small side trip to extend we eagerly said YES even when the other group members dropped out!  The tour was worth well beyond the $1 we paid for it.  Our volunteer guide Joe, led the small group of eight to places we would have never found and pointed out pictographs we would had never noticed or understood. 

The one disappointment was… I recently broke my camera.  So I did the best I could with my extremely old iphone but you get the idea.  Here are some pics:

Most of the park is open only to guided tours.  But the North Mountain, which encompasses a large area is open to 70 guests per day and you can hike, climb, picnic or just enjoy.  About 75% or North Mountain is self guided, the rest is guide only.

 This insect was everywhere!  So many of them, I had an insect field guide with me but still could not find it.  Looked it up when I got home and it is in the Genus Megetra and is a Blister Beetle. Read more about their toxins and what the Navajo called them here.
David is getting after it.  I chose to just enjoy the sunshine!
Hueco Tanks is an international Mecca for climbing.  The park has to monitor the number of climbers that enter daily to make sure areas are not being over used.  Climbers are not allowed to use ropes and no alterations to the rocks can be made.  But for bouldering (low climbing without a rope) no roped are needed.  Climbers use chalk to keep sweat off their hands to allow for a better grip to the rock.  We met a couple from Holland that was there to climb.  Joe, our group leader said the park will be packed with climbers from November to March from all over the world that camp for extended times so good luck getting in then!  Sad, because I want to make Hueco Tanks a habit for us. 

On my random side venture I stumbled across water.  Shocking to me in the desert. 

 A ceremonial mask.  Throughout the park there are several ceremonial masks and one area that is full of them.  Joe gave us directions and hopefully I remember them next time!

 Lots of these huge huge Horse Lobbers too!  Beautiful.
Our guide, Joe, holding a picture of the pictograph story you see behind him.  

This pictograph tells the story of a battle between the Indians and Mexican Soldiers involving “El Paso”.  It even depicts a horse being killed in the battle and falling in their water source.  As they ate parts of the horse and drank the water they became very sick.  They escaped the Mexican soldiers by climbing through a tight dark cave.  All of that on this little wall with a few pictographs.  Joe emphasized how pictographs are not graffitti like it may look like to us.  They had no written language and were trying to relay a story via drawings.  He would ask, could you tell all of your stories in short drawings?  Probably not. 

Loved that our group was small! 

Super dork apparel. 

This one is speculated to be done by a shaman that was asking the gods for rain over and over again without any success.   Next to it were several that were very similar done by future shamans of the group.

 These were some of my favorites! 

 Can you see the snake?  The snake’s head usually is a landmark that they used to point to water.  This one points to one of the potable year round sources of water.  

There are also four wind dancers depicted several times in this picture.  Here is the story of the wind dancers as best I can remember Joe telling us: There were two members of a traveling group that were sick, one was old with sickness and the other had a broken leg.  The group new they would not make the journey so they left them behind but put them in an area where predators could not get them.  After days go by, the two men become delerious with no food and water and are met by four wind dancers that promise to help them get out and meet up back with their people.  In return they can not speak a word of who helped them.  No one knows who the wind dancers were but the two men were known to return to their group.  The proof is found in their signed names with the group later on after being left at Hueco Tanks alone.

Ever been to Speaking Rock?  It is an Indian preserve in south east El Paso.  Mostly known these days for having free concerts such as Korn come through.  But this is where the symbol they use comes from.  The symbol is actually a map they used to remember how to get home. The arrow through the middle is the Rio Grande. 

 Down below is where one of the few year round supplies of potable water lies.  The water was crystal clear!

This one is thought to be a Canadian goose. 

The last three pictures were taken in the same area.  An area you would never find without a guide.  Below is the picture of us squeezing up to see these pictographs. 

This one is awesome and the picture does not do it justice but you need the background info to bring out how cool it is.  The wall is facing East, so at the right time of year, when the sun rises this little guy actually looks like he is holding the sun up.  Below is a picture of where it is located on the wall.  On the very bottom.

A pictograph of one of the crops they grew.  Any guesses? 

My favorite is last.  At first I did not get it and the guide had to explain.  But once he did I loved it!  They are bighorn sheep looking over the horizon of the mountain.  It is evidence that bighorn sheep were in the area.  So cute!

The sad part about Hueco Tanks, is the amount of graffiti on the rocks and also on the pictographs.  It is amazing that people have destroyed areas in the past, but even more amazing that with all the precautions the park takes to avoid graffiti it is still happening today!  In the picture below you can see one of the walls that has pictographs and graffiti.  Joe had recently been there about a month ago and he noticed new graffiti that he reported back to headquarters.  They are using laser technology to try and remove some graffiti off of some of the sites. 

Joe mentioned, the fees you pay at the gate, go into helping to pay for laser removal.  Or that is what they say, but I know that when you go to a Texas State Park, the fees go back into a general fund that is distributed throughout the state in the park system.  So yes, maybe some of that money ends up back at Hueco Tanks but most is distributed.  Not to say that other parks are not worth while and need support as well.  But, maybe they should put out a donation bin for funds to directly benefit Hueco Tanks, that way the 200,000 people that visit the park each year can help preserve the direct area.

Graffiti.  Done in the right areas can be amazing.  Done in the wrong areas is a disgrace. 

So, here is a challenge: Pictograph your life!


This entry was posted in bighorn sheep, blister beetle, bouldering, ceremonial mask, climbing, el paso, Hueco Tanks, pictographs, speaking rock. Bookmark the permalink.

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